On Halloween, you won’t find me playing dress-up as a sexy (insert any animate or inanimate object here) and going out to a party with alcohol and peers parading around as “slutty rocks.” (I don’t get out much, but that’s probably a costume by now, right?) No. You’ll find me curled up in a pair of sweatpants and armed with a bag of candy and my fluffiest blanket, completely prepared to marathon Wes Craven’s masterpieces.
Craven, the master of horror and ultimate suspense, passed away this August. And while people tweeted 140 characters about how much his works would be missed in Hollywood, I grieved with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s and a marathon of “Scream.” But this year, though I will still be watching these films, I will be viewing them with a slightly different perspective.
This past summer, as a part of my volunteer work at the Henry Ford Hospital, I visited patients in the behavioral health section of the emergency room. Suddenly, the monsters depicted in some of my favorite flicks seemed to be making fun of the patients I visited on a daily basis; the people I would get warm blankets for and chat with about things like the weather or if I had a boyfriend waiting for me back at school.
My most recent viewing of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” in mid-summer gave me a new perspective on the horror genre. In an iconic scene, Norman Bates runs into the cellar after Marion Crane, knife-happy and screaming, “I’m Norma Bates!” dressed like his deceased mother. Suddenly, a scene I had once found entertaining, funny even, became sad. Norman Bates, the best-known serial killer in cinematic history, was deeply, mentally disturbed, and I thought it was funny?
It was the small pop-in visits during the day that slowly started to change my perception of how I was watching these movies. These monster creations of Craven and Hitchcock were loosely based off real, underlying mental disorders that often lead to so much suffering.
Growing up in a cinematic melting pot that included a spanned from Disney movies to “The Addams Family” reruns, I didn’t have to be scared of ghosts and ghouls or the monster under my bed when Frankenstein was a blue-collar worker with a family, did I? I loved the black-and-white shows my parents let me watch. “The Munsters” reassured me, more than anything my parents told me, that monsters were the creation of entertainment. Monsters belonged to normal families just trying to fit in. I could understand that as a 10-year-old girl, which took a lot of fear away when I was young. But at 19, how could I ignore the reality of my monsters?
Craven was my superhero. His films bathed in pure cinematic genius that always found a way to give me chills regardless of the number of times I watched them. I jump in fear, shake in anticipation and yell at the victims to “run out the freaking door into safety,” and “don’t hide in plain sight unless you want to die there!”
His films made me genuinely scared, which is a feat most contemporary horror films don’t come close to achieving. And it is in this aspect that I still appreciate his work, especially the classic “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Scream” franchises. They create that rush, that scare that only really good classic scary movies can.
I still watch horror movies, but how I choose to interpret them has changed since last Halloween. And although I still consider “Scream” my favorite horror movie, I’ve found that the experience is much more enjoyable when you can separate the fiction from the reality. I’m not telling everyone to stop watching horror movies or that you can’t enjoy “Psycho” without feeling guilty. I’m just asking that you respect that there are people who are actually sick and behave in certain ways due to their illnesses, which is something that horror films exploit at times, even subconsciously, to create characters such as Freddy or Norman Bates.
So, this coming Halloween night, consider staying in and watching “Scream” with some friends, honoring Wes Craven’s memory the right way — not as a slutty rock. I can’t promise you will have more fun — that part is up to you. But I can say that you’ll stay a lot warmer and make lifelong memories of “that one time you scared the pants off your jumpy friend” and ate those little candy pumpkins all cuddled up in an extra-large cozy blanket with your besties.
And who knows? Maybe you’ll learn something new along the way and come to appreciate horror movies the same way I have. Overall, I guess I just have one thing left to say: Thank you. Thank you for the screams, Mr. Craven.
In Memory of Wes Craven, master of horror (1939-2015).
Megan Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com.