When I was little, my nerves were unshakable. I read and watched anything that was scary and age-appropriate (and quite a few things that weren’t). Goosebumps? Had it covered. Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Sure thing. I wrote short stories that were likely
ripped off from inspired by the Poe and Bradbury I was reading and the episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark? I was watching. The only time I can remember being scared by something I read was the topiary scene from The Shining. I must have been twelve.
When I entered college, however, something changed, and I’m not really sure what. I think I felt the first inklings when I saw 28 Days Later. I loved the movie (still do, and maybe I also have a bit of a crush on Cillian Murphy) but I was a ball of nerves the entire time. Then, later, Dawn of the Dead came out – the “other” movie with “fast zombies.”
I don’t know what happened, but it’s like something broke in my brain. I did not like that movie at all. Furthermore, I realized I was not a fan of the fast zombies. This wasn’t one of those “afraid, but also fascinated” things – I saw a zombie, or thought about that movie, and every part of me went NOPE.
Of course, right around this same time, zombies began to become terrifically popular. Especially the fast-moving, modern ones. Especially with geeks, it seemed. Or at least everyone I knew. And here I was – the girl who loved any and all things spooky, who was in charge of the scariest, most over-the-top haunted house on campus, who was a former Goth, for crying out loud – who strangely didn’t want to go to any campus zombie events or watch a Living Dead marathon.
Until I was faced with a situation I couldn’t avoid. See, in Florida we have the Universal Studios theme park (most recently notable for The Wizarding World of Harry Potter). And every year in October after sunset, Universal Studios turns into Halloween Horror Nights – a fog-filled, chainsaw-wielding screamfest. In addition to the usual rides, haunted houses are set up – professional ones, Hollywood-caliber makeup and sets and effects. On this particular year, one featured, as you might guess, zombies.
I’d been going to Halloween Horror Nights since I was thirteen. Now I was having a panic attack in the line.
I don’t know what I was afraid of; I don’t think zombies are real. I knew the haunted house didn’t have actual zombies. I knew it was probably staffed by teenagers who just hoped no one would freak out and punch them. And yet… If my brain was somewhat broken after Dawn of the Dead, it was really crumbling now.
Somehow, I was talked into staying in that line. Somehow I walked myself into that haunted house.
And I survived. I wasn’t infected. Zombies basically came through the cinema screen to get me but I lived to tell the tale. But the really weird thing? After that, I wasn’t afraid of zombies anymore. Well, not really, anyway.
Since then I’ve watched Shaun of the Dead and Zombieland. I’ve seen Planet Terror more times than I can count, of course, thanks to my love of Rodriguez and Tarantino. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Plants vs Zombies (and I even got my very own cardboard traffic cone hat during PAX East one year).
I wouldn’t say I’m exactly cured, though. I am definitely, definitely not a fan of zombie-related video games. I haven’t ever seen an episode of Walking Dead. That episode of Castle with the zombies gave me real chills (seriously, is nothing safe?). And guess what? Since my college days, zombies have only gotten more popular, more embedded in pop culture.
Furthermore, I’ve realized that I’m not really fond of trying to scare myself anymore. Maybe because, unlike in my youth, I might actually get scared. I don’t really seek out the horror, and as there’s been so much overlap in my life and interests with the horror community, that’s kind of unfortunate.
I do still wonder why all this stuff is scarier now, though. And I’m constantly trying to figure out where the line is drawn. Paranormal Activity-type movies? Right out. Dexter? Totally acceptable. Murder mysteries? Still love ‘em and they’re almost all I read. Freddy and Jason? Not scary, per se, but still no thanks. I’m pickier and less logical than the FCC.
Now what about you? Where do you draw the line when it comes to horror? Have you ever been freaked out by a haunted house? Have you ever been to Halloween Horror Nights? And any theories on my year of zombie fear? Share your thoughts below!