Three Formative Horror Films

I didn’t realize how much Drew Barrymore impacted me as a horror film fan!

I recently started the podcast Attack of Queerwolf, and yesterday morning I listened to episode 7 (titled “Born in Corn“) where they discussed three horror movies that were integral to their queer development. Even though horror films tend not to consciously intersect with my queerness too much, I decided it would be fun to do my own version because as they talked I instantly knew which horror films were the most formative for me.

As long as I can remember, I liked horror. I remember telling my sister this. She was a teenager, and decided to take it into her own hands to help introduce me to the genre. The first movie she decided to “officially” screen for me (vs. me trying to sneak in and watch slashers at her sleepovers) was Firestarter:

Firestarter Poster

I can barely remember Firestarter. This movie is Rated R like the rest, but I think in this case she wasn’t trying to blalantly disrespect my parents by showing me a Rated R film. I think this was mainly chosen because the protagonist was a little girl who would have been around my age and who sort of looked like me when I was young. It reads to me as “this tiny little girl says she wants to watch horror films so I guess one staring a tiny little girl will work?!”

Firestarter is based on a Stephen King novel, and to me it feels like the children’s version of Carrie in the sense that it deals with a girl who has powers she cannot always control. I feel like they would be ripe for a double screening.

I told her this wasn’t quite what I had in mind. Low and behold, the next film I remember her screening for me was, I shit you not, Friday the 13th:

Kevin Bacon, Adrienne King, Ari Lehman, Robbi Morgan, Betsy Palmer, and Jeannine Taylor in Friday the 13th (1980)

So I think I was in third grade when I first watched this film.

In true American fashion, I was allowed to watch ALL the violence, but my eyes were covered for the sex scenes. Because I watched it at such a young age, I have a real soft spot for Jason (my favorite of the big three) and these films. To me, that cheap looking film and frantic violin shreds are what I associate the most with horror as I know and love it. The older I get, the more I appreciate the soundtrack to this film, which really elevates it above the sum of its other parts. It is so all over the place and frenetic with energy. It combines the strings of Psycho and the impending sense of the killer’s approach in Jaws, and somehow deconstructs the pattern enough to make it feel unpredictable at the same time.

Obviously I didn’t know all this when I first watched it in elementary school. But what I did know was THIS was what I meant when I said I liked horror. And my sister then knew what it was I really wanted to watch: slashers.

This leads me to a film that will shock literally no one who knows me:

Drew Barrymore in Scream (1996)

As I discuss in my Why You Should watch post on Scream, I was 8 when my sister took me to see it. A good time did not ensue. But I was riveted. I felt so terrified during that first scene with Drew Barrymore being on the phone with a masked killer who was invading her home. That scene really scared me at that age. It took something that seemed incredibly fun to me (being home alone), and made it the stuff of literal nightmares (being home alone during a targeted home invasion). When I finally finished the film I loved it. In the podcast, they mentioned chasing the first horror film high you had. Scream is that high for me. That combination of terror, thrills, and laughs always gets me. Everytime I watch that last scene of Gail starting her news report, I wish the movie would somehow just keep going.


I have always veered towards slasher movies, so this list came together pretty quickly.

What is interesting is trying to think about how horror relates to my queer identity. I knew since the first grade I was into girls, so falling in love with horror happened at a similar time. But I never looked at horror and really saw any insights into my sexual identity. I certainly watch horror with that lens, but unless there is an overt LGBTQ character I tend not to think about it. Still, I think part of the reason I really appreciate horror is because I think it is one of the most progressive genres when it comes to telling women’s stories (which to be fair is an incredibly low bar). So I think for me it was nice falling in with a genre that showed more lead characters who I could relate to my gender identity, even if the queer element was missing.

Mostly, horror is subversive. It provides the shock, awe, and unexpected moves other genres tend to fail at for me. When I watched Child’s Play as a kid thinking it was a movie for children and not about a homicidal doll, I was shocked because it was not the movie I was expecting. Also, I never wanted a doll ever again (this is probably ALSO because I was a lesbian so I didn’t want dolls to begin with).

Horror in general can be very predictable and full of tropes, but it also stands the best chance of surprising me. In horror, ALL the characters might die. Or live. A teenage girl is often the hero. But the reason I have always liked it is because it always stands the chance to surprise me or do something completely unexpected.

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