It wasn’t until the credits rolled on the fifth Friday the 13th movie on a single Sunday afternoon that I noticed a macabre trend in my quarantine watches.
We’re all stuck inside right now, consuming content like The Blob at a bottomless brunch, and even though our binges all take different forms we’re all essentially just trying to build a happy place with the media we watch, play, or read. So imagine my surprise at finding my happy place is made of body parts and blood puddles. I started with the Final Destination franchise, five films about how there is no escape from death’s hilariously elaborate design. Followed those bad boys up with all nine Saw movies, roughly 20 hours of people getting their heads stuffed into bear traps and thrown into syringe pits, as a treat. Then, as mentioned, the ultra-marathon of the Friday the 13th franchise, a whopping 11 movies filled with people—most around my age, probably means nothing—getting hacked to bits by hulking hockey enthusiast Jason Voorhees*.
(*Except for the first film, an important piece of trivia to know if you want to avoid getting stabbed to death by the killer in Scream, a tremendously violent movie I have also watched during this time.)
To recap: The only franchises I’ve marathoned at a time a global crisis has confined me to a 460 square-foot studio apartment are death-obsessed horror movies with a body count that could flood Crystal Lake. A quick “Hey Google, am I a serial killer?” led me to the good folks at Atom Tickets and this fantastic article breaking down horror’s positive effects on the psyche. Boiled down, it’s a survival thing; you walk into a theater or sit down in front of a screen and get your heart rate raised, your flight-or-flight response triggered, and then the film cuts to black and you’re still safe as can be. Even on tiny, subconscious levels your brain is flooded with the fact you survived an ordeal. What’s more, you often survived it as a group. What’s more bond-building than the moment a well-executed jump scare turns you into that freaking AMC popcorn guy and you can turn to your seat-mate, heart still racing, with a smile on your face?
It all tracks, and it all bleeds into why I’ve always loved cinema’s darkest corner, a frequently misunderstood genre that often straddles the line between distasteful and illuminating. (Or, if you like, the line between pleasure and pain, shout out ya boy Pinhead.) But it’s safe to say our reality has changed. In a perfect world, I’m writing this at the end of all this as a reflection, a 20/20 vision “what the hell was that all about?” But I’m writing it somewhere (hopefully) in the middle, firmly mired in this muck, because right now there doesn’t really seem like there’s an end in sight. So we’re essentially discussing horror’s positive effects that no longer exist in this reality. It’s hard to foster a feeling of community in a one-man quarantine. And when you watch something like Friday the 13th back to back to back, hitting “play next” on a 90-minute machete slaughter like it’s freaking Schitt’s Creek, you’re getting the tension without the release. It’s no longer a cathartic thing, it’s an endurance test.
It’d be nice to arrive at the conclusion that slashers make the perfect quarantine binge because of something tidy like, I don’t know, “monsters CAN be beaten!” But that’d be ignoring about 40 years of slasher movie history and also reality. No matter how modest a slasher franchise begins, the point eventually becomes that you can hack, slash, impale, drown, or electrocute these monsters all you want, that ghoulish mother effer is going to open his eyes.
It’s hard to remember a time when even daily routines felt more like swinging an ax at a beastie that can’t be beaten, with the added bonus of locked-room isolation. It’s fucking John Carpenter’s The Thing out here, every day, except the hidden enemy with the face of a friend is every surface of your house. There’s no “winning” right now, just small moments between big jolts. Even writing this thing I was interrupted by a text with bad news so personal I’m not gonna’ put it down on Collider dot com, and it registered as just one of the million little jabs we’re asked to endure just by being conscious in 2020. If going to bed each night relatively healthy is the small victory at the end of a slasher, the first time you scroll through Twitter the next morning is that final moment when the killer pops right the fuck back up.
But eventually, that’s also the exact thing that became a comfort for me. If watching a single horror movie builds fear muscles, I need goddamn decathlon training. It’s the catharsis that the horror genre naturally brings melded with the escapism of an easily-bingeable half-hour comedy. It’s not the death and dismemberment you find solace in, it’s the way violent horror still makes you feel empathy in the middle of inevitable bloodshed. When a global pandemic forces you into quarantine, you start to relate a little harder to characters whose innocence doesn’t stop something terrible from infiltrating their lives. All of a sudden, what used to feel like shallow horror cannon fodder seems a little more heroic just for trying in the face of the unavoidable.
Is it healthy to find comfort in that? My dudes, I’m a psychologist the way Freddy Krueger is a registered au pair. There’s a chance someone with the proper credentials reads this entire thing and says “actually you’re just a deeply troubled person making bad personal decisions.” Harsh, but fair. But I won’t begrudge anyone whatever small comforts they can find in entertainment at a time like this. We’re all trying, all just putting one foot in front of the other to reach the other side of something unimaginable. What’s the quote? We beat on, boats against the current, except for me that current is in Crystal Lake, which actually might not have a current, because it’s…a lake, but also it somehow connected to the Atlantic Ocean in Jason Takes Manhattan? I don’t know. It doesn’t make sense. Not much does make sense right now. It’s a weird, frightening time, so I’ve just accepted slashers as a violent, depraved, and crucial reminder that just because a monster seems unbeatable doesn’t mean you stop trying to survive.