Thursday, April 3, 2014

Crazy Ones: From Cry-Baby to Zombie Killer


My life has been an extended episode of Black Folk Don't. At times, it seems I purposefully throw myself into subcultures where I'll never see people that look like me: metal music, sci-fi and fantasy literature, goth subculture, alternative religious beliefs... it goes on. I admit I've had an easier time, but only if because in the21st century people tend to disguise things under a veneer of “colorblindedness”.

Really, the only place that has definitely never told me "no" is horror. When I was growing up, horror films were a rite of passage. Popcorn, blankets, cuddled up in front of the TV in the dark, remote in hand ready to stop the movie for whoever dared uttered a peep. And, for some reason, the AC was always on to make the room frigid. Maybe that was just us.

The scarier the better. 

If you couldn't sit through it, you were branded a cry-baby the rest of your life, stamped on your life's permanent record and doomed to follow you around like a bad rap. I was a cry-baby. I always closed my eyes on the scary parts. Couldn't sit through anything without crying and screaming. What got me the most—and still does—was possessed, inanimate objects. That's right; dolls, fans, televisions... needless to say, I never got through much of the Child's Play series or Poltergeist at that time. I had way too many stuffed animals and lamps in my room to be playing around like that.

At sleepovers, my cousins or friends would pry my hands away from my eyes and make me watch the killings and jump scares. They'd laugh in good fun, but something was happening that no one noticed. I didn't get the “rush” of being scared. My palms would sweat, my heart would race, I would have vivid nightmares for days and weeks afterward and break down in tears whenever something happened that reminded me of a scary movie—a sound, a poster, the music, anything. The whole point of horror movies, right?

As it turns out, I was possibly experiencing anxiety attacks that would later ramp up as a part of my depression, which I would be diagnosed with much later. Now, the line between, “you were just a kid, of course you were freaked out!” and full on panic attacks becomes a little blurred, but even without understanding all that back then, I knew I was extremely pissed that my family and friends were making me feel so uncomfortable.

Horror movies weren't very fun for me. But something changed when I was about six years old. I saw a movie on one of the “adult” channels my Dad and I could agree on—AMC. It was The Fly (1956). I knew this was technically a “horror” movie, but something about it drew me like a fly to... well, you get it.

I sat and watched the movie with a round green laundry basket over my head in case I got too scared. It was slow moving and in black and white. Something my dad would like, so basically boring. As I fiddled with the laundry basket, there was Vincent Price on the screen—I knew him, I liked him. The lady in the movie was hysterical and that was pretty funny to me. When the big reveal of the titular abomination of science came, I quickly twisted the basket around, but peeked through one of the holes to see what I was afraid of.


A guy in a fly's head costume. I thought, 'What? Seriously? Was this all there was?' I laughed; the rush didn't hurt, I didn't start panicking. I was fine! The final ending of the movie shocked me, but suddenly I wanted to gab about the movie for days with my parents to their surprise. I even wrote my very first fan-fiction around it: a very melodramatic tale about a housewife and her mad scientist husband. Wonder where I got that from.

So that's all horror was to me. But for balance and measure, I watched my dreaded nemesis—Psycho, a movie I had steadfastly avoided because of the murder scene and the skeletons. I watched it all the way through again with a laundry basket on my head. I didn't understand a lot of what was happening, but it blew my mind. I declared Alfred Hitchcock a genius that very night and eventually made my way through his filmography but that's another story for another time.


I had developed my own little ritual until soon I didn't need the basket at all. Watching scary movies by myself had become a minor way of taking back control and healing from what my peers had done to me. I could watch things on my own terms, and it demystified the whole experience for me until it was actually as fun as everyone claimed it was. It wasn't long before my interest in all things spooky bloomed and I was reading articles on serial killers and the movies inspired by them, watching slashers and exploitation films like it was my job.

So all's well that ends well, right? Not quite. There's another bump in the story. Post-Columbine, I suddenly found my interests turned against me. My spookiness and all-black dress and shrinking violet demeanor were no longer quirks but branded me a future school shooter. Not many of my fellow girls wanted to talk about Freddy Krueger and Leatherface, so I hung out with a lot of guys (whether I wanted to or not). That clearly meant I was gay. I was crazy because I knew a lot about Ed Gein. I also had the distinction of visible self-harm marks on my arm. These traits helped me fit in seamlessly with the outsider groups at my high school, which was okay for a while until that too became a problem.

It didn't take me long to note my token status in the groups. There were other girls, finally, but I was definitely the only black kid. And the butt of many racist jokes that I either had to tolerate for the sake of having friends or knock someone out over. I slowly began to draw away from them without much fanfare. I managed to bypass a lot of high school angst but, as my untreated depression became acute, I had a lot of inner turmoil.

Films became an escape. Horror, in a twisted way, became a cathartic release for me. I had fantasies of torturing the rich, popular, snobby white girls and horror was all too eager to grant me that vicarious pleasure. The Final Girl was pure, virginal, white, and sane—I didn't see myself in her at all. I related with the giggling psychos with the tortured backstory. Or the mindless killers with voices in their heads screaming for revenge. As my self-harming routines amped up, I became obsessed with gore, stumbling on to movies like Mondo Cane and Ichi the Killer as an outlet for what was happening to me. 

Maybe I AM nuts,” I began wondering after awhile.

Fortunately, the internet would be my salvation. Sometime in high school, I discovered horror movie blogging and I never went back. I loved it. I maintained a Livejournal for years, but never thought of actually blogging with a purpose. And here were a bunch of people that shared my interests, talked, and thought like me for the most part. I would brought in my over-analytical film analysis powers and started blogging on my own, finding a nice niche in forgotten horror films and obscure sequels. I loved it. I had followers to talk to about things I couldn't talk about offline. I was very happy for a while. And then I discovered the black feminist blogosphere. Oh dear.

Learning about social justice was perhaps a more traumatic revelation than the first time I learned I had depression—everything suddenly made horrible, vivid sense. Everything about my world changed and I couldn't see things the same way again. On one hand, it was beneficial in opening my eyes to what was really around me and encouraging me to seek help for my depression. But on the other hand, it made me really angry. All my old friends began to fall by the wayside as I sneaked in more race and gender analysis into my regular movie viewing, which is apparently illegal.

Mentioning that horror films make great use of racist and ableist tropes will get you ridiculed because, “it's just a movie!” It was hard to explain what these things meant to me, even with my expanded vocabulary. At this point I was getting tired of the whole “crazy = axe murder” trope as I was working through my therapy. Unfortunately, American films love this so it got harder to watch some of my old favorites without feeling a little miffed. I got really heavily into K-horror at this point, which seemed to me more culturally-based and thus far more interesting in that I couldn't relate to it.

While I continued my blogging and got more political and self-aware, I got the expected calls of being divisive or playing the race card. Fortunately for my sanity, I had discovered the excellent Day of the Woman blog doing similar written work so it was easy to ignore these jackals and their hit-squad posse's running all up in my comments. What I did soon get tired of was “tricking” people into thinking I was some white dude in his 30s waxing nostalgic about film. That was what people expected and never thought any different. Heaven forbid a teenage black girl exist on the internet. Admitting I was female-bodied on the internet was bad enough (I had learned that already from a certain imageboard), but a woman of color? Nah son.

After a long series of mishaps in feminist blogging, I frankly grew tired as hell of the harassment and ignorance. I took my film adventures increasingly to micro-blogging platforms where I had a little more control, shirking off my old “friends” one by one and connecting with my fellow black lady filmophiles. And yes, all those qualifiers are necessary. I needed to find a place where I COMPLETELY belonged, not just get my foot in the door because of one thing or another.

What about horror? It was a little harder to find a clique of horror obsessed women of color, although I knew darn well plenty of us existed. It was kind of like the Heisenberg principle for a while, never quite running into each other and never knowing where they are. After awhile, every time I met a fellow slasher flick loving sista, felt a little bit more whole, like another community was growing and my needs were being met.

From terminal cry-baby to future high zombie-body count champion, this horror movie journey has taken me in and spat me out. Maybe for the better, maybe for the twisted. I just still get a little spark of joy squealing over my favorite scenes of gore, and the occasional raised eyebrow of “you watch what?”

So I encourage my fellow horror movie loving ladies to never give up on finding your community, because we're out here reaching out for you with our knife glo—I mean, caring, compassionate hands!

About The Author
E Young is a genderfluid individual from the South who loves tentacles, cats, violent video games, and B-movies. Ze talks about at least three of these things (not cats) on When The Urge Strikes and Twitter (@dandyxands)
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