As Thanksgiving is coming up in America, I wanted to take a brief break from my usual complaining and wet-blanketing to give my thanks. My thanks to Horror, because of the genre and especially of movies, I am very grateful for. So, join me, won’t you, in this list of how horror has changed my life for the better?
First of all…
As you may know, I have dual citizenship in Michigan and Missouri, but I am now in Detroit. Proudly so.
However with the shadow of Thanksgiving upon us, now more than ever, I think it’s the time for a brief land acknowledgement.
Detroit has a rich history and was home to Native American tribes before the involvement with the French (but they were pretty much chill bros), the colonization of the British (d-bags to everyone for a while), and the displacement from the new immigrants, the Americans.
I’d like to take the time to honour those who were/are indigenous to the Great Lakes, the Anishinaabe, particularly the Three Fires people who are the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi (also seen spelled as Botawatomi).
In 1701, Detroit was founded with a large population of Indigenous people. However, in 1807, these tribes ceded the land of Detroit to the U.S. government. They were further displaced by the Treaty of 1836, after political, governmental, financial, and societal pressures forced their displacement from their own lands.
Although I will never fully know, nor understand, the full atrocities that happened during the founding of Detroit to these stewards of the land, I want to honour them and I find it important that I do.
“What Does This Have To Do With Horror?”
Have you NOT watched horror, pal? Have you not seen what not reflecting on our past brings? Have you not seen what happens when our history is not honoured or respected?! That’s, like, Haunted Houses 101. That’s a huge and major theme throughout horror. Contempt, ignorance, and dismissal of the past is met with repeating the past, often with tragic consequences.
Contempt can be seen in movies like Sleepy Hollow, Hocus Pocus, and The Disappointments Room. Ignorance in movies like A Nightmare on Elmstreet, Ernest Scared Stupid (yeah, I went there), and ParaNorman. And dismissal in The Amityville Horror, Poltergeist, and The Shining.
Which leads to the 4 Things I’m Thankful For in Horror. Or what I’d like to call the 4 C’s.
As mentioned above, there’s a theme in many, many films of respecting the past. It’s easy for ghost stories to present this. Ghosts exist in these narratives to echo our past mistakes, whether societally like in Poltergeist or personally such as The Grudge.
Horror has taught me appreciation and interest in our history, as a race and regionally. To be honest, my favourite segments in Ghost Adventures or Buzzfeed’s Unsolved Supernatural are when people talk about the history of the place they’re investigating. Spooky goings-on are fun and all, but it’s the stories and past that give me a deeper appreciation of where we are in time and space, and who we are from then until now.
As I’m writing this, I am in my home built in 1946, with its drafty original windows, looking out onto trees that were seeded about a hundred years ago, and listening to an RCA (Vitrola) album that was produced about fifty years ago.
Horror makes me appreciate all of this. Not out of fear that something will come back to haunt me (trust me, I’ve tried, no luck), but genuine interest. Who placed their feet here before me? Who slept, ate, bathed, and dreamed here, years before I was even born? And who will live here after me?
And will I one day haunt a Chipotle that is built on this very spot where I now exist?
Speaking of Ghost Adventures, let’s give a hand to the show that made me stop believing in ghosts, or more aptly, what stopped me from being scared of them.
So, when I was younger (and much more Catholic than I am now), I had an intense fear of the supernatural. Fear and shy interest. They’re generally a two-sided coin. But I would actually refuse to watch anything scary because I was horrendously afraid of both what could happen and also my inability to deal with it when it inevitably did.
Little by little, though, I was slowly introduced to scary things, and by scary I mean not-at-all-scary 80’s cheesefests. First this was due to Mystery Science Theater 3000’s influence (another huge thanks to them, got me through many rough times) and the second was a ex-BFF who loved 80’s horror schlock.
Slowly, after time, I saw the inner workings of tropes, convoluted plots, the stiff acting, the…fishing wire, and so on.
I became more confident, not just in being able to watch spoopy things, but in my ability to analyze and assess in a tense situation. I had the ability to find flaws in the fear and fully confront many of mine.
Many of our fears are formulaic, habits even, and being able to accept that and embrace that took a lot of time, energy, and 80’s cheesefests.
Being able to see the flaws and fishing wire makes me feel more in control of my fears, or at the very least, the ways that I can relate and react to them.
So, you’re sitting on a plane and no one believes that there’s a dude in a gross fursuit on the wing of the place, but, like, YOU JUST SAW HIM.
I had such a huge fear of this growing up. That I would see something that no one would believe. Actually that happened, quite a bit, but maybe not in an ugly-fursuit-on-the-wing-of-a-plane kind of way that you’re thinking.
You see, I was…(sigh) the weird kid growing up. Yeah, I know, hard to believe since I’m a groovy stud now.
But when I was first dating Glorious Spouse, I specifically instructed, “If I tell you something, even if it sounds coo coo bananas, I need you to believe me.” And that’s because I would often be dismissed when I did speak up.
However, now that I’m in the fleshy, meaty thick underbelly of Horror, I’m finding out that a lot of people are afraid of that exact thing, actually. A lot of us have been cast aside, especially at pivotal moments in our lives. We are afraid of that solitude from the dismissal of others. We crave that open and genuine acceptance of our experiences. We need someone to say, “Dude, I did not see that uggo fursuit, but I trust you and your conviction…Also, are you William Shatner? I loved your Christmas album.”
And when I was watching Irrational Fear, the music really stood out to me when the characters were having a panic attack because it felt so familiar. The score sounded like the rushing of blood in my ears when I have a panic attack. Suddenly I realized that, in that moment, we shared something. We (the musician and director) had a similar experience; we had a connection.
Sometimes it’s through a moment of panic and vulnerability that we make a true, human connection and realize that we are not alone in the night. Yeah, sure, still afraid, but we’re not alone and we don’t have to be.
Which brings me here. Literally here, at HauntedMTL. I joined HauntedMTL one year ago this month.
Within that year, I have had the chance to meet some fantastic people in a moment of time that was crucial to have a community, a tribe. Prior to the pandemic, my social structure was already fractured. I had moved away from my BFF. I had changed jobs. My close friends had their own lives that they were busy with. And I was nursing the heartache of the death of a close friend/mentor.
Then I saw a small posting in Submittable for horror reviewers and thought, ‘Sure, why not?‘ I have been watching horror since my teens and doing silly haiku reviews every year for Halloween. Let’s take a shot at this.
Although a year can be chump change in the long run, it really depends on the year, doesn’t it? This year I have been able to find people, good people (and also Voodoo Priestess), to talk to everyday because of this site.
I found friends to make podcasts with and talk about real and serious issues close to heart.
I have found interesting and engaging fans of horror on Twitter (love specifically out to @BrotherGhoulish, @AllanaSmithee, @SpecterM91, and of course @thestitchkeeper).
I wrote my first full-on queer non-fiction piece (and for a good cause).
And I have been able to interview the DIRECTOR OF SKY SHARKS!!!
I mean, what a ride.
So, to those who have welcomed me in, either with your Hellraisers, Puppet Masters, Trick ‘R Treats, or Sadakos – it’s you I honour now.
Thank you for everything. Truly.
Stay safe. Be well. Happy Thanksgiving.