For most of my life, I avoided the horror genre.
If I saw a poster with Freddy Krueger on the front, I struggled to sleep for a week. Classic horror monsters like the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Nosferatu gave me the heebie-jeebies. The giggling of the Green Ghosts from Scooby Doo could make my hair stand on end as a teenager (and even as an adult, if I’m completely honest). I couldn’t even be in the same room as my mom when she watched CSI or Law and Order, because I found those horrifying incidents as terrifying as any otherworldly creature.
I couldn’t handle these scary things. With anxiety, life itself is already plenty frightful. Give me a horror flick or book, and my overactive imagination would take those freaky scenarios, make me the main character, and turn the terror dial up to 11.
But this week, I am going into a crowded movie theater (with a friend) to see the latest adaptation of Stephen King’s It.
When the first trailer dropped, I watched it three times in one day. I followed all the news about its release, checked out all the behind the scenes and teaser photos, listened to cast interviews, and even watched a few leaked scenes online.
When something scares me, I research it like crazy. Spoilers have always been acceptable when it comes to scary things. I don’t want to be surprised. I don’t want to be a victim of “jump scares.” I want to know when every monster appearance will occur, when any victim breathes their last, when any twist comes out of no where.
But I never had a reason to research horror movies before. I just avoided them like the plague. Somehow, I found It’s premise and story fascinating enough to want to engage with it, despite (and even because of) my fear.
It all began in 2016 as I was finishing up my final year of seminary. In an effort to really hone my craft, I read Stephen King’s On Writing. His tips were helpful, but more importantly, I fell in love with his writing style and storytelling voice. I wanted to keep hearing what that voice had to say.
I knew horror and I had an all but absent relationship, so before I went to the library, I set up a boundary: I would not read any of his books in my bed, in order to keep a bit of distance from me and the horrors. This often meant I would read on a mattress pad in my room below my bed, giving me at least one degree of separation, but eventually, I became so engrossed with the stories that I broke the boundary and read them until I fitfully fell asleep.
One of the first King books I read was ‘Salem’s Lot. It seemed like a safe choice. King’s monster in this one is vampires, and I figured an upbringing of Twilight and Buffy made me immune to vampire terror.
I slept with a cross by my bed for a week after I finished the book.
And yet, ‘Salem’s Lot, a story about “a vampire’s attempt to colonize a modern-day New England town,” is one of my favorite books.
To pacify my fears, regarding the horror genre and my own anxieties, people often tell me they are “made up” and the products of a “dark imagination.” While I understand this to be true, I continue to believe in the scary things. That’s why I find them so damn scary.
I believe the darkest parts of our human brokenness can be made manifest physically, in everything from racist microaggressions to lynching, from “harmless” sexist jokes to rape and victim blaming, from “hating the sin but loving the sinner” to traumatizing LGBTQ+ people by putting them through “therapy.”
Because I believe in these very real horrors, I believe in the power of horrific symbols to help us better grapple with the ones we encounter everyday.
And that’s why I embraced Stephen King’s storytelling, not in spite of how much his writing haunts me, but because of how it does.
From shape-shifting clowns and colonizing vampires to abusive husbands and high school bullies, King confronts evil, both supernatural and terrestrial, head on.
King gives us the scary monsters to teach us how to deal with the real ones. He teaches us how to look the things that terrify us right in the eye, even if our bodies tremble as we do.
The scary stories, even more than the Church of my youth and beyond, taught me how to look evil in the eye and fight it.
‘Salem’s Lot taught me about the importance of forces of good combating against evil, even if that doesn’t necessarily mean an easy or immediate victory. The Stand helped me make peace with a chaotic world and an equally chaotic but just God. Revival kept me thinking about unbound science and untested religion long after my final seminary course. 11/22/63 reminded me of the dangers we inflict when we act on our own Messiah complexes.
And collectively, King’s stories taught me how to look white supremacists in the eye as I defended my friends of color from them, to know they were scary, but we were stronger than the fear they induced.
The Church of my youth taught me to avoid anything evil and monstrous, to put my hands over my ears when hell whispered at me. King taught me how to be bold and brave when the monsters broke loose and threatened to take over the world, and how to look into the depths of hell while pushing it back from whence it came.
So even though I’m freaking out about going to see It, I’m also encouraged that I will walk away not only with an adrenaline rush and a good story, but more strength and ability to deal with the world around me.
It will haunt me, and It will embolden me to keep showing up against evil in this world.
Thanks be to God.