Skeletons in the Closet – Horror, Rediscovery and Reconnection

9 mins read

I’m a horror fan. If you had asked me a couple of years ago, I would have said that I didn’t really know; horror wasn’t a genre that was part of my life; I don’t have time to watch horror films; my friends don’t like them. I had a lot of reasons that never made much sense, and I didn’t have the energy or emotional bandwidth to examine deeply my relationship with horror films.

As a teenager, I considered myself a real horror fan. Looking back, my tastes were very basic – Friday 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre were staples, but at 17 I looked much younger, so my viewing horizons were limited to the DVDs my brother borrowed from friends.

My mum worked hard to make sure we had food and a roof over our heads, but my brother and I were largely left to our own devices when it came to keeping ourselves entertained. Somewhere in between trying to skip school and staying up late to talk to friends on MSN Messenger, we discovered horror films.

Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Image Credit: Bryanston Distributing Company

To give a little context, my brother and I fought like cats and dogs in the early teen years.

He’s just 17 months younger than me but we were a world apart. So, when we got closer as we both got older and matured a bit, horror films were part of how we bonded. As we got closer, sharing the raw emotional experience of horror became more possible – the vulnerability would not have been possible previously. Now that it was, we seized it.

We watched, mouths agape, as Leatherface bonked innocent teens with a hammer and Freddie Kruger hunted the residents of Springwood. Sharing media is a deeply human experience, horror doubly so.

Being with someone as they ride the same emotional rollercoaster as you and then emerging, blinking, into the sunlight. The giddy relief when your psyche releases the fear – it is not you in a summer camp with a killer on the loose, you are a British teenager, and it’s the summer, and you’re invincible.

And then, just as we aged into each other, we aged away. I went to a university 200 miles away and stayed there after dropping out; he moved on with his life in Wales. I rarely made the journey back; the cost was very high and way out of my unemployed budget. So, I kept busy but, without my brother, I didn’t watch horror films. I figured there’d be chances on the occasions we were together.

And then, I got a job and he got engaged at 20. I was happy for him. Although, I felt, as I still sometimes do when in periods of transition, a very uncomfortable sadness at my changing life. We wouldn’t be teenagers together in the sun, gasping and heedless, fear dissipating into joy.

And then, something happened. Emotions running high but not horror movie adrenaline. Familial trauma, stepparents, a controlling partner – details unimportant but resulting in snapped nerves and an estrangement.

It would be over ten years before I spoke to my brother again. More than seven until I watched a horror movie again.

Jennifer from Jennifer’s Body. Image Credit: Fox

I didn’t come to realise that my relationship with horror films was inextricably bound to my relationship with my brother until very recently. Over time I did slowly start to dabble with horror again. I watched Alien for the first time when friends visited in 2021. A different friend started providing me with a horror movie education. We watched The Thing and Halloween, It Follows and Jennifer’s Body, and more.

For the first few years of our estrangement, I didn’t think much about my brother. Frankly, I was more concerned with how much I knew my mum was hurting. Eventually though, as time marched on, I really began to miss him.

My 30th birthday passed during COVID lockdowns in 2020. Then his 30th birthday passed. I began to think about the shortness of time and the brief nature of life.

It’s hard to say how connected these things have been, but I do believe that one of the appeals of horror as a genre is a gentle grappling with one’s own mortality.

When writing this piece, I asked some people I know to do some introspection of their own. Why do you like horror movies, I enquired. I am not alone in the sense that it’s something important to share.

“I think this ties into WHY I love horror rather than just how I like to enjoy it: Braindead was such a singular vision, delivered on a small budget, and it made me feel things viscerally: I laughed, I was scared, I was almost sick at one point. Horror is such a visceral genre, and societal fears run very close to the surface in it, whether intentional or not, it makes it really approachable and easy to dig into.” Said Peter, an engineer living in Edinburgh, continuing: “I really like watching films with my friends and talking about them in a really nerdy way. It’s a social experience I guess; horror does turn some people off COMPLETELY I know but otherwise, it’s a really straightforward reaction, if nothing else you can get some cheap thrills – and who doesn’t like a cheap thrill?.”

friends sitting on the couch and watching film
Watching horror movies is a communal activity. Image Credit: Ron Lach/Pexels

Erin chimed in: “I started exploring the genre with friends. And we engaged in that sort of one-upmanship that teenage boys do with gore and violence. I’m definitely not interested in gorror or torture porn anymore- I’ve had my fill of that thank you very much. Though, I do still love a good scare.

I’ve always loved the inversion of the safe and the mundane into something dangerous and scary. It’s always been fascinating to me how the emotional resonance of something changes based on context.”

It was a strange realisation that I don’t enjoy horror films in a vacuum. Even now, I have returned to the label of horror fan, but I don’t watch them alone. I believe it’s well worth examining the reasons behind our actions, our likes and dislikes, and our attitudes. For me, the things I watch horror films for are intrinsically tied to how I experience them with others. Being able to turn, wide-eyed, to your companion and say, “I can’t believe that happened”. This may be a me-thing, of course. I know I don’t experience media in the same way when I’m alone. Knowing this has helped me understand my viewing habits and prioritise.

Earlier this year, when my brother reached out, tentatively enquiring about mending a long-broken bridge, I was glad to reconcile. As we got to know each other as adults, we were both gratified to learn the other was still a horror fan. I am a horror fan, and I know why; do you?

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Student journalist & freelance writer

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