Fear for Fun: Writing Horror About Horror

Photo by Carlos Nunez on Unsplash

When I was a kid I used to think horror movies were the stupidest things on the planet. I never understood the appeal to sit and watch a movie to be scared; it made no sense to me. It wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I actually started watching horror movies, and even then it was only to impress my high school girlfriend. I would act all tough and stuff as if I was unfazed, even though I was screaming on the inside. We all know how it is.

However, that all began to change as I grew older and paid closer attention to the world around me. During the summer of 2020, I became a horror fanatic in almost every way. I searched each and every day for any pieces of literature, movies, short films, art, music, or anything else that could scare me. It started with the classic movies like The Shining or The Exorcist but very quickly stretched out to many different lesser known fan favorites or other media forms entirely. Every night I stayed up late to watch movies alone in the dark, just to be scared. Why?

Well, it’s no secret to any of us that 2020 was a “special” year. By special of course I mean a dumpster fire inside a dumpster fire in hell. I’m also not afraid to admit that I was scared. Every day there was something new going on that only amplified the fears I had for the future of our whole planet. The goal was simple: find something scarier than the current reality we live in. After a year of watching hundreds of movies and consuming so much horror content, I can confidently say that I have failed.

However, in the process I became a horror junkie and found something that I have grown to truly enjoy. Even if it came from a depressing place of trying to feel something again. Now, I’m working on my own pieces of horror literature; taking inspiration from all of the greats as I write poetry reflecting on many of the movies I have seen in the last year. I have tried to write about things that I have never seen before, making my reflections or experiences with them all the more raw. That being said, I simply cannot have a horror poetry chapbook without my favorite movies in there as well.

I have never specifically watched or read something with the intention to write about it. Sure, I would do it on my own time anyways, but doing so as a part of my process for this project has created an interesting dynamic. I find myself interacting with these various media forms in a different way than I would have normally. Instead of sitting down with a snack to enjoy a movie, I’m there with a notebook ready to note anything that I could use in my writing.

Even in rewatching some of my favorite horror films, the viewing became more of a scavenger hunt for potential content than an invested experience. Now, that’s not to say that I’m not getting anything out of the experience, I’m just watching from a different perspective. One of the biggest examples of this was when I rewatched Ari Aster’s Hereditary (my personal favorite horror movie) last week. The first time I watched this movie, I shat my pants and stared at the TV screen for another half hour after the credits rolled. The next couple times I watched, I started seeing all of the genius clues that Aster placed throughout the movie to hint at the events to come. This time, I watched and looked for anything and everything that I could write about after watching. Don’t believe me? Here’s a look at my notes for Hereditary (minor out of context spoiler alert?):

That is very clearly a mess, but it illustrates just how different this experience is from a usual movie night. What worries me with this dynamic is what happens when I watch a movie for the first time. For example, I watched Vivarium for the first time for this project and I enjoyed it quite a bit. However, I spent most of the movie thinking about the poem that I decided to write based on one of the first scenes. Here’s an example of the early draft from my Vivarium viewing:

This nest

With Cuckoo eggs,

Held a robin’s offspring.

Foreign fledglings remove her young;

Unseen.

Many birds

Build their children’s graves in the trees.

Arrange death before life.

Unknowingly

Alone.

Does that take away from the movie itself? I want to say yes, but at the same point I am interacting with these pieces on a different level than most, which makes me value the film even more. It’s likely too early to have a concrete answer, if there even is one. One thing is for certain though, sharing the floor with the masters of horror has been a dream come true. I look forward to continuing along on this journey into their disturbed minds as I create something incredible.

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I like writing stuff.

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Ryan Hiemenz

Ryan Hiemenz

I like writing stuff.

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