Our Favorite Essays and Stories About Horror Films
Make tonight's Evil Dead marathon more literary with our best writing about the genre
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It’s the spookiest day of the spookiest season, but you already had your party last weekend, and now you have to stay home and either hand out candy to grabby children or turn out all lights visible from the street and pretend you’re not home. What makes a night in both fun and seasonally appropriate? Horror movies, of course! So while you’re waiting for, or hiding from, trick-or-treaters tonight, put on a Nightmare on Elm Street marathon and make your way through some of the best stuff we’ve published about scary films.
“There’s Nothing Scarier Than a Hungry Woman” by Laura Maw
Maybe you haven’t noticed this, but horror movies contain a lot of scenes of women eating—and not only eating, but eating voraciously. Laura Maw has noticed, and she thinks she understands. This essay is both a sensitive cultural analysis of a horror movie trope and a beautiful personal narrative of coming to terms with both the threat and the banality of hunger.
As a woman, to say that you have found eating uncomfortable at times is not particularly groundbreaking. The anxiety has become mundane because it is so common for women, but isn’t that in itself noteworthy? Horror invites us to sit with this disgust, this anxiety, to acknowledge our appetite, to refuse to let us suppress it. There is something uncomfortable and enthralling about watching a woman devour what she likes with intent.
“Horror Lives in the Body” by Meg Pillow Davis
This Best American Essays notable is about the physical experience of horror—both horror films, and the familiar horrors we encounter in our normal lives, the ways we brush up against mortality and violation and fear. Why do we seek out this physical experience—”the pupil dilation, the quickening heart, the sweat forming on your upper lip and the surface of your palms, and the nearly overwhelming urge to cover your eyes or run from the room”?
If those other viewers are anything like me, they watch horror movies because they recognize the horror, because its familiarity is strange and terrifying and unavoidable. It is the lure of the uncanny filtering into the cracks and crevices of the cinematic landscape and drawing us in.
“What ‘Halloween’ Taught Me About Queerness” by Richard Scott Larson
Michael Myers wears a mask to hide his face while he kills—but is that the only mask he wears? Richard Scott Larson talks about watching Halloween obsessively as an adolescent, while he was starting to understand that his own desires were also considered monstrous.
The experience of adolescence as a closeted queer boy is one of constantly attempting to imitate the expression of a desire that you do not feel. Identification with a bogeyman, then, shouldn’t be so surprising when you imagine the bogeyman as unfit for society, his true nature having been rejected and deemed horrific.
“If My Mother Was the Final Girl” by Michelle Ross
The “final girl” is the one who’s left standing at the end of the film, the one who survives the carnage. But what do you call someone who’s still standing after childhood trauma? This short story is about horror films, but more than that, it’s about mother-daughter relationships—a deeper and more mundane form of horror than the kind in slasher flicks.
The one thing my mother and I share is a love for slasher films. When the first girl gets hacked up or sawed in half or stabbed in the breast, my mother says, “Now there’s real life for you.” And I glance at her sideways and think, you can say that again.
“A Love Letter to the Girls Who Die First in Horror Films” by Lindsay King-Miller
Unlike the “final girl,” the girl who dies first doesn’t have a catchy title. Lindsay King-Miller writes about the lost friend who taught her that we don’t all have it in us to be a final girl—and that we should celebrate the girl who dies first, because she’s not living in fear.
To survive a horror story you have to realize you’re in one. The girl who dies thinks she’s in a different kind of story, one that’s about her and what she wants: to dance, to party, to fuck, to feel good. She thinks she is the subject of this story, the one who watches, desires, sees, the one who acts upon the world. She does not feel the eyes on her, does not know she is being observed, that her fate is not to reshape the world but to be reshaped by it.
“Nothing Has Prepared Me For The Reality of Womanhood Better Than ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2’” by Sarah Kurchak
Yes, Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 is a cheesy horror-comedy hybrid in which women are menaced and their bodies are treated as set dressing. But so is adolescence. Sarah Kurchak writes about the many ways in which this movie taught her what to expect from the world.
Sure, this was, on many levels, a schlocky B-movie with so many of the expected hallmarks of the time — women in hot pants and peril, over-the-top gore. But it was a schlocky B-movie in which a woman faced men’s threats, both implicit and explicit, and was left breathing but almost unrecognizable at the end of it. That felt familiar.