Fuck this spooky shit.
Halloween is the worst time of the year — mostly because I’m a spineless, sniveling scaredy-cat when it comes to horror movies. Halloween is in theaters and all anyone can talk about is Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, but I have nothing to say about either of these pop-culture phenomena or the classics that informed them. I saw Fallen when I was 12, stayed up for three days straight with “Time Is on My Side” in my head, and decided that was the last scary movie I’d ever watch. I haven’t looked back.
Why do people subject themselves to anxiety by choice? When I posed the question to other guys, I was happy to find fellow adult male spookophobes — like Ben Knapp, a 21-year-old social media manager in Chicago.
Knapp says he was able to sit through IT because he was too ashamed to flee, stuck in his seat by the sheer force of manly pride. (The ability “to get more and more drunk” during the film helped, he says.)
“I’ve never found joy out of getting scared shitless,” he tells me. “I’ve never seen a scary movie in theaters. I’ve never been to a haunted house in my life, and I’ve never tripped on acid or any other psychedelics because I hear about bad trips and I’m like, ‘How is this fun?’ Same goes for horror movies.”
The Scare That Stuck
What causes a guy to “nope, nope, nope” his way out of the horror genre for good? The men I talked to who still fear scary movies distinctly remember the first time they were scared shitless.
“As a kid, we watched a movie called When a Stranger Calls Back, and it was truly terrifying,” says Logan Cummins, a 38-year-old Chicago marketing manager. “Mostly because it wasn’t about a supernatural force or a fictional character: It was something that could actually happen to you. I avoid scary movies at all costs now.”
For Kelly B., a 31-year-old dad in Westchester, Illinois, the formative fright was Jurassic Park. Kelly recalls “many nights where I lay in bed looking out my bedroom door and waiting for a raptor to walk up the stairs and finish me off.”
Jacob Hagman, an academic adviser in Ohio, remembers watching Batman Returns when he was 9. “There’s a scene near the end [where] Walken gets electrocuted and they turn and show a burned-out skeleton. That put me over the edge,” he says. Since then, Hagman says, he can’t recall watching another scary movie, and now feels grateful for his son’s fear of scary movies so he can recommend “silly Halloween movies” instead.
Mike, 30, says his trauma came from Jeepers Creepers 2, “the one with the bus stranded on the side of the road. Now just the thought of ever having to re-watch that piece-of-shit film that terrifies me,” he says.
Eliot Payne, a 38-year-old in Washington, D.C., avoids jump-scare movies at all costs. “That’s not fun to me!” he says. “I don’t like the tension of knowing something bad is about to happen, and then it happens! Ugh.”
Chuckie B, an expat living in Ireland, tells me he doesn’t know why, but “Super Grover, the superhero version of the Sesame Street character, used to scare me to tears.”
What about Ben Knapp? He remembers the scene in The Shining “where the camera zooms in on the guy in the bear costume going down on one of the partygoers.” It “really fucked with me,” he says.
When Horror Bleeds Into Real Life
Lots of horror haters say it boils down to an unwillingness to give themselves more anxiety. “I can’t stand being startled,” says Mike. “It’s one thing to not know it’s coming, but the build-up makes me incredibly anxious. No thanks.”
“The everyday world is scary enough,” says Cummins. “I don’t want to waste my time or money to bring unnecessary fear into my life. I’d rather spend that time or money laughing and being happy.”
Chuckie agrees. He’d rather watch a movie to laugh or feel good, “rather than get the shit scared out of me. I already double-check locking the doors of my apartment before going to sleep, so I don’t need the extra anxiety.”
He’ll tolerate scary movies for his girlfriend, he says, but only if he has “a blanket to hide my face during the moments of heightened suspense.”
Kelly B. blames the realistic narratives. Signs really spooked him as a child, he says. “It’s the ones that follow a fairly believable story line with a little bit of fantasy sprinkled in, like The Shining or some of the Hitchcock movies,” he says. “If you have a wild imagination like me and start believing the story could be real, or it hits home with a personal fear, then it gets embedded in your memory bank and will rear its head the next time you’re walking down a dark alley — or when the power goes out.”
“My nightmares can be so realistic sometimes,” Knapp admits. They “fuck me up throughout the day.”
Being a Manly Man in a Spooky World
In a world where guys are supposed to be tough, stoic and capable in the face of danger, what do we do on Halloween? Is it possible to avoid any kind of horror during October?
Mike just pretends Halloween doesn’t exist. “I put out the Christmas decorations on the first of October,” he says. “Anytime someone comes over and suggests watching a scary movie, I ask them why they hate Christmas and suggest putting on a Christmas film. Thanks, Fox News!”
Cummins, who “had an anxiety attack watching Dance Moms,” follows suit, opting to shift focus from scary things into “more basic activities like apple picking, pumpkin patches, hayrides and couples’ costumes.”
But you can ignore scary movies only for so long before your bros start asking questions. Knapp says he was only recently talked into watching IT — “mostly because of pride and the crushing weight of maintaining outward masculinity even though you’re a quivering pussy on the inside most of the time.” Plus, he adds, the booze helped.
“My friends roast me all the time,” Mike tells me, “particularly when they know I’d probably enjoy the movie if I wasn’t so craven.”
According to Chuckie, his friends aren’t aware of his aversion to scary movies. But if they were, he says he’d “assert my alpha status and put them in their place: ‘Pussy? Who are you calling a pussy? I’ll kick your ass!’”
Embrace the Fear
Payne admits being “too chicken to watch Get Out, even though I think it’s really culturally important.” He does, however, leave his fellow scaredy-cat bros with a message of hope: “I’ve had a much better experience when I’ve embraced who I am,” he says, and that’s much more important to “your core self than whether we like a genre of movie.”
So, my fellow He-Man Horror Haters out there, let’s embrace our fears — it’s sure better than facing them. Our insecurities make us who we are; our anxieties are little roads to self-discovery. And they endear us to our best friends, who get to roast us in the group chat every Halloween.
If anything, take some inspiration from Knapp: He’s basically scared of everything, but hasn’t ruled out going to a haunted house on a date. “Thrilling dates are aphrodisiacs,” he insists. “That’s why every person needs to go skydiving on first dates. Then the potential sex is no biggie.”