Since roughly the middle of March, for us horror nerds and non-nerds alike, it’s been a surreal turn of events. For horror fans especially, it’s felt like the universe has been smugly leaning over our [former] cubicles: “Well well well. How goes that survival/isolation/dystopia fandom now? My my. How the tables have turned.”
And we’ve all been too busy being bundles of anxiety to return with a witty remark.
I’m not going to waste typing out the explanation of what earth-shattering event I might be referring to.
Horror nerds are the adult versions of kids who play with their food—only we like to play with fear. And we’re looked at like we’re weird and doing something we shouldn’t be doing, but we’re having fun and not hurting anybody. However, every now and then—much like when playing with food—you find yourself in a mess, crying, and oddly angry at spaghetti sauce.
This is one of those times.
Horror is something I truly love. It gives me an escape. It makes me think. It gives me catharsis. It gives me a creative buzz. But currently, it’s tremendously psychologically difficult to engage with.
So here are some thoughts / coping mechanisms for horror nerds like me who love the genre but don’t know how to stay sane and connect with it right now
1) Even Horror Was Never This Cynical
Alternatively: ‘Just bask in the reality that People are Reacting Worse than Dystopian Fiction Ever Imagined.’
Seriously. Even in ‘Masque of the Red Death’, the rich aristocrat assholes had the sense to try to quarantine themselves.
I could absolutely be missing some pieces of fiction out there (I am, regretfully, not Horror Wikipedia in human form). But I can’t recall any piece of disease-centered fiction—be it zombies, Grey Scale, Mega Flu, etc—where people willingly exposed themselves and others. I don’t remember a scene even in Shaun of the Dead where someone steps in front of the zombie hoard calling ‘bollocks!’ before getting eaten.
Usually in disaster disease plots, every day people are victims due to helplessness and a lack of information. What fiction didn’t anticipate was rampant misinformation. Although, the horrific ‘success’ of the anti-vax movement should have been a warning sign.
Yet neither imaginative authors nor data-driven analysts were prepared for people to completely deny an epidemic in front of their eyes.
In scenarios like ‘The Stand’ and ‘Outbreak’, the government takes the role of over-stepping its authority to the point of innocent civilians in the name of containing the outbreak. What, again, no one was prepared for was that the government would be so inept that it would do jack-shit in the face of a plague.
And no one was prepared for the twist on top of that: the Commander in Chief encouraging rebellion against the states because the plague isn’t that bad or the President telling the public to drink bleach.
At this rate, this orange idiot is going to be responsible for his own voters literally not making it to November alive. While John Oliver referred to the impeachment events as ‘Stupid Watergate’, I’m calling this ‘Stupid Jonestown.’
It is astounding that neither fiction nor analysis had the imagination for things to have taken this turn. Weirdly, we had too much faith in humanity. We figured that if things were going to go bad, they would go bad for reasons that were cold but understandable: survival.
And sure, in the midst of an unemployment spike with an unprecedented speed, it would be understandable if people are feeling pressure between getting sick and keeping a roof over their heads.
However: those demanding we ‘reopen’ states for economic purposes are NOT the ones most economically at risk. Those making $50k and less annually in the US are the most likely to support continued public health efforts like stay-at-home.
So we’re seeing things go bad purely out of ignorance, misinformation, and greed from the privileged. It is the worst breed of denial.
This is incredibly depressing information to digest. I suppose it is somewhat comforting that the artists that have crafted horror were rarely this cynical about their fellow man.
2) Step Away from Horror for a Bit
So yeah, it’s a BIT MUCH out there right now guys.
Many horror fans glomp onto horror for escapism, because it is removed from real life. Even when it reaches you through universal fears or powerful metaphor, an essential piece of horror genre is ratcheting things up to the level of the fantastical. For example, ‘Silence of the Lambs’ would merely be a ‘thriller’ movie without Hannibal Lector’s escape scene taking things to a far more surreal, grotesque place.
But we’re now in a situation where every day has become bizarre, paranoid, and horrific. Not just in isolated places but everywhere on the planet. This is something that has occurred with speed and spread previously imagined only in fiction like ‘28 Days Later’ or ‘Station Eleven’. Ironically, most authors and actual disease defense analysts assumed that such a disease could only occur if done intentionally through bio-warfare, not through organic means and human incompetence.
So, yeah, it’s a little difficult to actually feel an ‘escape’ by playing ‘Resident Evil’ or watching ‘Cabin Fever’. Trauma is close to us at all times right now, which makes fictional trauma difficult to engage with.
Plus, for some horror nerds like me, the fresh scares we’ve been gearing up for have all been put on hold. I had a whole schedule for film releases going into May that is now useless. And it’s a shame because we are in the middle of a great horror age. This season was to be no exception with films like ‘Saint Maud’, ‘Antlers’, and ‘A Quiet Place: Part II’.
The absolute biggest disappointment is the delay of two Jordan Peele projects: ‘Antebellum’ [starring Janelle f*cking Monae!] and ‘Candyman’. Peele has helped to elevate the horror genre in pop culture, including by bringing a diverse perspective to the broader horror audience. Crossing all fingers and toes, these projects will get released one way or another and continue to inject greatness into horror film.
In the meantime? This is what ‘Great British Bake-Off’ was MADE for. You even have the time now to try to learn the stuff they’re making! I have—I’ve been baking and cooking my ass off in a tie-dye apron because DAMN IT if blood and existential terror won’t fill the void in me, I guess cupcakes will.
3) Jump Into True Crime
I have never felt more comfortable watching true crime shows. Sure, sometimes real life cases can get a bit much. Stalkers, break-ins, serial killers, etc. You can get paranoid. But for right now, most of us can comfortably indulge in some murder in mayhem.
‘Aw yeah–no one is coming to get me because no one is going anywhere.’
But genuinely, true crime is one of those things that can suck you in and distract you. Ann Rule, Keith Morrison, and Robert Stack can each effectively creep the shit out of you from the comfort of your living room. I’ve even found watching old clips of ‘To Catch a Predator with Chris Hansen’ a worthy (and yes, trashy) guilty pleasure during these times. And hey, look on the bright side: No cyber predators are going to any houses for ‘milk and cookies’ right now.
Of course, I would be much remiss if I did not bring up the short true-crime series on Netflix.
Yes: watch ‘Tiger King’. It’s possibly my favorite true crime documentary of all time. Not because it is particularly chilling or makes me feel feels. Nope. That’s the beauty of it. It is a sideshow of utter scumbags completely admitting their scumbaggery on camera without shame. No one you see at any point on screen is a good guy (except maybe for Carole Baskin’s second husband, Howard, who seems like a total sweetie pie). It’s entrancing sort of like watching a car accident. Not a deadly car accident, but more like the ones you see on r/IdiotsInCars.
It’s also overly fitting that while we’re all trapped at home, we can get a taste of what some of these captive animals endure every day of their natural lives. Maybe some good can come from the doc in getting real reform going to protect these animals. Also, it might help solve a disappearance—or as some are saying, ‘disappearance’.
Part 2 of ‘Surviving R. Kelly’ was recently released on Netflix as well. This is the show for you if you want to watch some true crime that makes you angry, makes you tear up, and also makes you go ‘this is fucking insane, how could it possibly get crazier, oh shit it just got THAT much crazier.’
There are very few true crime series out there that focus on crimes committed against black women and that dive into the African American perspective on those crimes—including systems that let it go unpunished. Part 1 will provide dread but also immense hope. Part 2 will give you despair but also righteous anger. If you need something to distract yourself and really give you an outlet for Feelings, watch it.
If you want the fictional side of crime, I’m riding pretty high on international crime series right now. The 4 different versions of ‘Criminal’ (UK, France, Germany, Spain) and the series ‘The Trial’ (Italian) are on Netflix and will help you check out for a bit while indulging in cat-and-mouse murder games.
Other crime picks:
• Don’t F*ck With Cats
• American Crime Story: The Assassination of Gianni Versace
4) Read more Stephen King. Seriously.
Reading books right now can help provide escapism. It can help pass time as well as mark time. While days tend to be running together right now, reading a book is a project where you can tangibly observe making progress.
One author you can count on for an unending pile of books to choose from is Stephen King. He has written about one and a half novels every year for the last half century. Perhaps he has been overly productive to some.
But King remains the kindly uncle of the horror world. He even adorably apologized if you feel like you’re in one of his books right now. Some of his short stories are bittersweet gems (‘All That You Love Will Be Carried Away’ is a personal favorite). His book ‘On Writing’ is required reading for any aspiring writer, serving as both memoir and offering sound perspective on the craft. [Yeah, I called it ‘the craft’. I got a BA in Creative Writing and I blog: it’s in my marrow to be pretentious about putting one word in front of another.]
But ya know, Stephen King is not a best-selling author merely due to his massive trove of works or because of horror fans. Stephen King’s writing style flows perfectly. His narrative voice takes you places and keeps you there, like a gentle kidnapping.
Interestingly, while supernatural threats are what he’s known for, King’s works often highlight that people are our biggest threat. My favorite works of his are centered on supernatural persons or environments only being made dangerous because of the actions of some particularly rotten humans. They make for great fodder to appreciate being left the Fuck Alone.
Personal Stephen King Picks: ‘Carrie’, ‘The Shining’, ‘The Green Mile’, and any of his short story collections. These are good picks to crack open if you haven’t read any Stephen King and want to see him at his best.
5) Feel Close While Distant Through Podcasts
Podcasts have become a popular medium because of how listeners report to feel a more intimate bond with their hosts. Podcasting captivates people equally to or greater then visual mediums.
Podcasts can provide a level of comfort and familiarity for their listeners not easily found in other entertainment. And podcast hosts in particular tend to be very generous with their gratitude, emotions, and experiences with their listeners.
Because podcasts are produced with a quick turnaround time, hosts are relaying to listeners their pandemic challenges and thoughts in real time. They’re also able to quickly respond to and acknowledging pandemic ordeals or victories brought to them by listeners. That kind of connection can be vital for people during this time of anxiety and distance.
For me, it’s been great to hear the perspective of hosts that are also pseudo-adrenaline junkies via horror and true crime yet having to grapple with the new, stressful world. There’s a little spark of happiness I get when I know that I’m [kinda] not alone.
Personal Podcast Picks:
• The Mental Illness Happy Hour: My only non-horror related recommendation. But this podcast has been a partial lifeline for me lately. Host Paul Gilmartin is using surveys submitted by listeners to share stories of fear, victory, and coping through this pandemic. It has done the best job of helping me feel connected to a bigger world while physically alone.
• My Favorite Murder: Yes, the legend, the phenomenon. I think MFM’s success can be directly linked to how the hosts Karen and Georgia promote selfcare. Listen to tales of murder and woe while also being hekkin’ sarcastic and promoting the importance of therapy.
• True Crime Obsessed: Pals Gillian Pensavalle and Patrick Hinds break down various true crime documentaries to their raw and ridiculous elements. During the pandemic, the hosts have been checking in via their patreon (which I do recommend). Gillian has been riding things out in the middle of NYC while Patrick and his family have high-tailed it to Air BnBs in the countryside.
• Let’s Go to Court: This one is my ‘hidden gem’. Maybe it’s the lifelong friendship of hosts Brandi and Kristin, maybe it’s that they’re Midwesterners, or maybe it’s that they are one of the few podcasts hosted by folks not bred in showbiz. But I consider their banter and general attitudes to be the most genuine out of almost any other podcast I listen to. Lots of cases are murders (yay!) but many are also just interesting or funny legal cases (lawsuits against Sketchers Shape-Ups, homes infested by snakes, battles over amputated feet, and more!). In addition, one of the hosts is currently pregnant—it may comfort pregnant listeners to hear a host facing the same challenges of pregnancy during the pandemic.
6) Let Fear be Fun
So as it turns out, lots of articles are recommending watching horror movies right now.
Partly, this is because of the gift horror gives us: safely confronting fears. We are all dealing with fear right now. There may be something cathartic about just digging into it from a safe distance—on a screen at home. It’s no coincidence that pandemic and zombie movies are currently being streamed at higher rates .
Right now, I think many are looking to the horror genre for a safe thrill. For a way to engage with our heightened stress in a way that also gives an escape. Or it can help us engage with gallows humor. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the current popular meme is a literal danse macabre.
It makes sense if we alternate between taking a break from horror and digging into it more than ever. According to experts, the best way to reduce your anxiety now is what has always worked for you. Coping strategies you are familiar with are going to be the more effective than trying to find a new one from scratch.
For horror fans, that genre has proved to be an effective coping strategy for all kinds of anxieties. While the crisis we’re in is novel to us, our usual go-to comfort of monsters and screams can still do the job.
It is healthy and normal to be feeling like absolute shit right now. It’s okay to just sit in that for a bit. Remember why you love horror—it gives you a chance to sit in the catharsis of despair. Or it helps you escape from real world terrors. Or it helps you feel stress under safe conditions.
We are in many ways surrounded by fear right now. And sometimes that means backing off of fear when you have the choice. But it can also mean that we have to let ourselves embrace fear in a way that helps us stay sane.
For the best horror to help you kick back and have fun, I recommend:
• Video Game: Until Dawn: This game hits every horror genre cliché possible in a way that’s still entertaining. The real hook of the game is that choices you make in the game can decide which protagonists live or die—even if the choice seems unimportant).
• TV Series: American Horror Story: I could spend pages praising Ryan Murphy’s horror anthology series. Simply put: great character actors in well-crafted worlds, each designed with a love of horror genre and history.
• Podcast: Small Town Murder : If you want about 2 hours talking about various small towns and the murderers that dwell in them, listen to this one. It’s flavor is much more like morning radio hosts—which isn’t as much of a turn off as you might think. And if the overly-feely feels of other podcasts isn’t what you’re looking for right now, this is for you. This is one of the few murder podcasts that sticks to a single story throughout and offers an in-depth look of the environments where these murders take place. It’s kinda funny to think about how a population of 230 with an annual prune festival could also produce a family annihilator. …ya know, depending on your sense of humor).
• Movie: Any 90s teen horror flick. You get yourself cozy. Get your snacks and [definitely] [ample] alcoholic beverages. Get a watch-party going with pals from afar. And just watch these pretty whiny young people get slaughtered, elaborately so. ‘Final Destination’, ‘Scream’, and ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ are particularly choice options for this task.
So for all of you really sick of this shit: you are not alone. Do what you need to do to stay safe and stay sane. Be kind to yourselves—including if it means getting your scare on in a healthy way. Hang in there. One thing horror inspires in us is a will to do what we have to in order to survive.