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How Can Horror Help Us Cope with Tragedy?

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Our world in 2022 is scary. There’s so much worldwide tragedy right now that some people wonder why on earth anyone would want to engage with horror content. But the horror genre is as popular as ever. Squid Game (2021) made a HUGE splash, and many Sandra Oh and horror fans alike are pumped about the release of Umma (2022) this past month. There’s a reason why horror helps us cope with tragedy, trauma, and disaster. However, there are important conditions horror must meet to be enjoyable and helpful for everyone.

There is a science to why people love horror, and benefit from consuming it. The thrill and excitement horror can cause produces natural opiates in the brain and spurs dopamine production. It’s hard-wired in our nervous systems for us to want another rush! But horror can only be enjoyable for the viewer if we feel safe. That’s when the combination of the fear reaction in the brain and the relief that the fear isn’t a true threat come together to produce a chemical concoction we keep wanting more of.

These chemicals help us escape the pains of our everyday lives. When we’re in that state of fear, our conscious, worrying brain turns off. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think about my student loan debt when I’m running through a haunted house.

When we watch horror with our friends, family, or partners, and we share that chemical experience that comes with the combination of fear and safety, it brings us together. We’re in a great mood because of the controlled fear, and we associate that feeling with the people we’re with.

Science also tells us that the sense of accomplishment we experience after watching a horror film makes us feel strong, and further connects us with those around us. It’s like we all went on a journey together and came out unscathed! What could be a better bonding exercise than that?

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So of course horror is cathartic! It actually does something in our brains to help us cope in a healthy way.

But wait—it’s not that simple. Science isn’t the only factor here. The ideas perpetuated by the horror genre can range from fear-mongering to justice-oriented. This can make all the difference for marginalized people.

There’s a lot at stake here. Horror has a huge impact on our society’s beliefs about fear and danger. It’s the genre that helps us determine what it is we’re scared of, what is threatening to our livelihood, and what we can do to stay safe. Fear is political. Controlling someone’s fear is a great way to change their behavior and shape how they see the world.

So, what do I mean by fear-mongering horror? It’s when the film presents a message aligned with the capitalist, racist ideology of our society. It places human beings in a hierarchy with a singular ideal at the top. Anyone who differs from the ideal, whether in race, sexuality, gender identity, social class, or physical ability, is deemed less than and seen as a threat. In these films, danger equals difference.

It’s no secret that the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color are historically underrepresented in horror, and doubly so when those identities intersect. When they are present, their characters are often reduced to stereotypical tropes like the black man lusting after and violating the white woman—like The Birth of a Nation (1915) and Candyman (1992)—and the male serial killer who dresses in women’s clothing—like Psycho (1960) and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). Other times, they’re simply there to be the victim of a gruesome murder that the pretty white girl watches in terror before escaping unscathed at the end of the film—like Scream 2 (1997) and Wrong Turn (2021).

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That fear-mongering message aligns with the real-life horrors faced by queer youth across the country. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott sent a letter to Texas State Health Agencies claiming gender, citing medical procedures as “child abuse” and calling for doctors, nurses, and teachers to report any parents who help their kids receive this life-saving care to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. In Florida, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill sits on Governor DeSantis’ desk, waiting for his approval. The sentiment is spreading. Currently, there are fifteen proposals in nine states that discriminate against LGBTQIA+ students.

Contrary to public (predominantly white) opinion, racism and police brutality are ever-present threats to people of color in the U.S. Brianna Taylor’s family STILL has yet to receive the justice they deserve. Hate crimes against Asian Americans rose by an astounding 339% in 2021 due to scapegoating Chinese people for causing the COVID-19 pandemic. Queer and trans people of color are even more likely to face violence and are less likely to receive the help they need.

So how can horror help us cope when it’s othering us and propagating dangerous, hate-filled messages? Now more than ever, we need the horror genre to switch thematic gears. Instead of spreading fear-mongering rhetoric that hurts minorities, horror can be a tool for social justice and equity, as long as it portrays stories that humanize historically underrepresented people and critique the evils of our society.

The best type of horror doesn’t see difference as a threat. Instead, justice-oriented horror portrays diversity as an asset. What the viewer is meant to fear in these films are the oppressive, violent systems that harm anyone who doesn’t fit the traditional American ideal: a white, straight, cis, able-bodied man. Danger equals systemic oppression.

Luckily, the shift towards justice-oriented horror is in full swing. Jordan Peele’s films Get Out (2017), and Us (2019), along with his modern-day twist on the 1950s sci-fi show The Twilight Zone (2019), are hugely influential in changing the face of horror. Jordan Peele is a HUGE deal in the horror industry. His films are some of the most popular modern horror films in existence. These aren’t little niche films. They’re box-office legends. Justice-oriented horror proves time and time again to be a hit. Peele’s films humanize black and other marginalized individuals and make it clear that the true evil of the story is white supremacy.

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My favorite horror podcast is Nightmare Magazine’s podcast, edited by Wendy Wagner. Each week, they share a new horror story from their publication, read by award-winning voice actors and audiobook narrators. They only publish the best of the best, focusing on sharing justice-oriented horror stories with the world. They feature stories by a diverse set of horror authors like W.C. Dunlap, Maria Dahvana Headley, Seanan McGuire, and Caspian Gray.

When horror movies highlight evil as society itself, marginalized people feel heard and are able to feel that chemical rush that creates a sense of catharsis. It allows us to take a step back and see the movie as fiction rather than a perpetuation of our very real traumas.

On a sociological level, this thematic shift in horror can shape the beliefs of our nation. As we continue the fight for justice and equity in our society, we need all of the help we can get to make it there. Because horror films are so directly connected to our society’s collective idea of what is scary, it is pertinent that these stories educate us about the very real dangers in our society instead of upholding traditional racist, homophobic, and transphobic ideology that serves only those clinging to hierarchical power.

ADDITIONAL VIEWING: Documentary Film, Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror (2019) on Shudder.

That’s why it’s so important that horror in the United States is finally turning away from the idea that otherness is evil, and instead embraces diversity and difference. It’s time for the dominant narrative to shift and present racism, sexism, and other systems of oppression as the true evil. That way, the horror genre can help more and more horror fans cope and find some enjoyment in this dark world.

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*Special thanks to Lauren Zou, my intelligent, beautiful, horror-obsessed girlfriend, for helping me conceptualize and write this complex, sensitive article. I couldn’t have done it without you!

Hey! I’m Maya, a snarky, queer freelance writer, horror enthusiast, and history nerd. My hope is that my writing both entertains my readers and provides educational commentary on human behavior & society. In my spare time, I love to eat food, hang out with my girlfriend, and needle felt little monster sculptures.

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Editorials

Black Witches Exist.

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If you ask any Black woman horror fan who their favorite Black witch is, I’d bet all the money I don’t have, that most—if not all—of them would say Rachel True’s Rochelle in The Craft. And what’s not to love about Rochelle? She’s delightfully weird, supportive of her friends, and perseveres in the face of racism much like we do in similar predominately white spaces.

But The Craft is 26 years old. Even though we were blessed with a reboot in 2020, I expected the beloved cult classic to produce more Black Witches to bring into our Coven of Black Girl Magic.

Hell, I don’t even think the two Black actresses that portrayed Angelina Johnson in the Harry Potter movie franchise ever had any lines. And while the Broadway production of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child made history by casting Black actresses to play Hermione, I do take issue with a beloved (and Black-coded) character being depicted as a cruel time-warp-multiverse version. (I’m sorry, but I came here to fight and tell you there is NO universe in which the only character committed to emancipating the magical slaves/house elves would ever turn out to be a cruel professor in her worst subject!)

Even most of the magical Black characters I’ve tried to include in this piece actually practiced Hoodoo or Voodoo.  There’s been a dearth of Black witches on the silver screen and in the horror genre, and it leaves me wanting more. White witches have depth and complexity to them. They can be good or evil, sensual and alluring, motherly, or even cycle through all of the above. Black witches are either nonexistent, relegated to a mammy role to aid a white protagonist, or their witchcraft is conflated with Hoodoo or Voodoo.

Voodoo is actually an organized religion with deep ties to African culture and American slave practices. Hoodoo is considered to be a folk magic that is also connected to the African Diaspora. Hoodoo is more similar to how witchcraft is depicted and is known for spells connected to practical needs, like love and money. Both Hoodoo and Voodoo are incredibly nuanced and highly regarded practices in Black culture, but in less diverse production spaces, depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo from a colonizer’s gaze can be, well, racist and reductive.

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One could argue that Black witches have representation through depictions of Hoodoo and Voodoo on the silver screen, my favorite being the beautiful southern gothic film Eve’s Bayou. But overall, we deserve to see more expansive and nuanced Black Girl Magic on screen.

So here I am wondering, where are all the Black witches?

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WELCOME TO THE CHURCH OF CHUCKY: Chucky Season 2 Full Trailer Breakdown, Theories & Predictions

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Forget the Season of the Witch. It’s the Season of the Dolls again.

I mean it might as well be, September is the new October, which means Halloween is basically tomorrow. And with the arrival of the spooky season comes the second season of SYFY’s instant hit and continuation of the Child’s Play series, Chucky. Since it’s returning on October 5th, this is pretty much all I’m going to be talking about for a few months, so why don’t we speculate on the incoming eight episodes of bombshells Don Mancini will be hitting us with soon?

BLOODY REUNIONS

The teaser trailer that premiered at San Diego Comic Con and the full trailer above that just recently dropped all but confirms this leaked list of episode titles that has been floating around, given they’re laden with religious references we’ll cover soon. The titles give a rough idea of what might happen with the Chucky and Tiffany dolls back on the saddle.

While the episode “Doll on Doll” could be about the myriad of Chucky dolls running around, I wouldn’t be surprised if this was an episode focused on Doll Tiffany going up against Chucky. Since the schism between Team Ray and Team Valentine from season 1’s gnarly decapitation, Tiffany’s plastic iteration would probably find herself in conflict with her old lover after kidnapping Nica and cutting herself out of their deranged master plan to attack all of America.

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Temporarily, at least. Given their torrid romantic history and Tiffany’s obsession with starting and preserving a family, it’d be on brand that the episode “Goin’ To The Chapel” may just involve them renewing their vows, with the Bride and groom reuniting to cause terror once more.

SAINTS, SINNERS, AND SILICON

So, what about location then? Well, with all we’ve seen of Jake, Devon, & Lexy’s matching school uniforms, the episode titles, and all the religious décor/symbology all over the place, it’s safe to say the series is finally taking the leap and sending Chucky into outer space.

…Jokes people. I’ll be here all week.

The latest trailer tells us the school is called Incarnate Lord (Academy?) and seems to be a Catholic boarding school for reforming disturbed youth. This is likely an homage to Childs Play 3 but riffing on the humor of private schools rather than military academies. Mancini may have been inspired to use this location because he also went to a Christian prep school when he was younger, a lesser-known detail mentioned in an interview with Dread Central.

With legal custody of Jake & Devon up in the air following their respective parents perishing, and their dubious involvement in dozens of people dying a year prior, it looks like the trio is being sent to an institution by the state– possibly at the behest of Mayor Cross, Lexi’s mother, instead of seeing the kids jailed. Given the chaos caused by Chucky in the season finale, it’s fair that she’d send the boys and her distraught daughter to a boarding school for their protection, hoping to distance them from the massacre. On the topic of troubled daughters…

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PUTTING LEXY THROUGH THE RINGER

Maybe stating the obvious here, but Lexy is going through it this season, even more so than last. One of the shots in the teaser trailer heavily implies she’s doing drugs to cope with the stress and trauma of Chucky’s massacre. But I think there might be even more reason she’s down and out.

We saw younger sister Caroline opening the door for Chucky in the teaser, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Chucky’s first act of retribution against the Hackensack gang would be taking her out, or at least attempting to. It would also make sense to get them out of town as an inciting incident if the one-year time skip they mention means something has to break the relative peace in Hackensack.

For anybody skeptical about this, given it’s a very dark train of thought, remember that one of the series protagonists, Nica Pierce, had all her limbs cut off in the Season 1 finale and is currently being wheeled around by Tiffany. A tonal shift seems like just the thing Mancini might have hinted at with Nica’s cruel entrapment.

…Bummer. How about a joke to lighten the mood?

HOW DO NONBINARY SLASHERS OFF SOMEONE?

They/Them! And the they & them slashing in question would be the doll in two persons, Glen & Glenda, who is back after a long absence in the series (and seems delighted at the updates in their mother’s love-life/murder sprees). Hopefully, I will finally get a serious answer to my question of whether G&G have an explosives dealer! It seems doubly likely now that we see Chucky using a (stolen?) chemical explosive in the final shots of the full trailer…

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Portrayed in a double role by Lachlan Watson, former Chilling Adventures of Sabrina star, these two are more likely than not going to be blending into the school as delinquents and aiding one or more of the Chucky dolls in their rampage. But I think that one of the two could also be a new protagonist in the making.

Though the plot point fell by the wayside for doll martial arts in Seed of Chucky, it was clear that a part of Glen/da has a distaste for killing. I wouldn’t be surprised if the two halves of Glen/da ended up feuding and making enemies out of each other. One of the big themes of Chucky as a rare coming-of-age horror is that you’ve sometimes got to reject the roles placed onto you by your parents, so it’d track if Tiffany’s twin terrors end up against themselves.

Suppose one half doesn’t become wholly good, however. In that case, there’s the distinct possibility they might end up taking sides with their respective favored parents and getting dragged into a messy “divorce” and the couple’s endless doll wars. Speaking of people who got dragged into that war,

REST IN PEACE, KYLE…

But not really. At least, I don’t think so. Even though Andy screams “This is for Kyle!” while presumably facing off with an unseen Tiffany or Chucky in the trailer, she seemingly survived the bomb blast from “An Affair to Dismember” and was hinted to be watching over the kids, the final shot of the first season being her hand gripping a tree with the black leather gloves gifted to her by Andy at the gas station.

Of course, nothing is ever that easy. With Christine Elise confirmed to be back for an unspecified number of episodes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kyle is another dormant victim of possession like Nica, and that Tiffany may have done another soul split bamboozle. Not only would it give Tiffany a leg up against Andy & Chucky, but it would also mean that the kids would have to deal with their former protector turning heel.

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Regardless of how many of these darts land on the bullseye, I’m unflinchingly hyped for Season 2 of Chucky. Until then, I ask the question: do you have any pet theories you’ve been sitting on? Tell us on Twitter & comment down below, and as always, stay tuned for more horrifying content from Horror Press.

Chucky season 2 will premiere on USA and Syfy on October 5th.

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