Haunted houses and boogeymen

Views from the Outside

Emily Bi/Staff

Related Posts

I‘ve been watching horror movies for as long as I can remember. It was my parents’ philosophy that if my siblings and I were exposed to the very unreal world of kitschy, campy and scary films, we would be able to call bullshit more easily.

My dad found a love of horror in our tradition of extra-scary Halloween costumes — helping me dress up as a demon-fairy-clown hybrid among flocks of princesses. My mom, on the other hand, raised us in her own personal library devoted to Stephen King and Dean Koontz. No matter the medium, horror was something I got to share with both of them, even after they split up.

So, from “Carrie” to “The Lost Boys” to “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes,” I consumed enough horror content through my parents that it was only natural that their love of the spooky and sinister manifested in my love for horror films.

I’ve always felt a little bad about calling myself a horror fan, though. As a woman, a feminist and a person of color, characters that represent me in scary movies generally get the short end of the stick. As a Black person, I already spend enough of my time looking over my shoulder for very real threats to my safety. Now we have to add supernatural threats to the list? Come on, guys. Give it a rest.

Jordan Peele is one of the few filmmakers today who seems to gets this.

“Get Out” perfectly captures the double edge of horror that cuts Black folks like a knife. The audience is continuously gripped with the fear that the worst fate will befall main character Chris Washington (Daniel Kaluuya).

And the worst fate would be death, right?

Wrong. It would have been the experience of being stuck in the sunken place, trapped and doomed to have his narrative stolen and manipulated by whichever old, white villain paid to occupy his body.

As groundbreaking as “Get Out” was, it was far from the first film to illustrate that very real, very specific fear.

Candyman,” a film I’ve never seen out of sheer cowardice, was one of the earlier films to give a face to this feeling. The film hasn’t necessarily been canonized in the league of horror royalty. But when I was growing up, it had an almost supernatural reputation that superseded even the gruesome mythology of the story.

“Candyman” is a story about the chilling urban legend of the same name — a horrific Bloody Mary-like figure liable to appear and thrash a hooked hand through unsuspecting victims. The legend was born from the story of a well-off, 19th-century Black man, the son of a slave, who was murdered in cold blood simply for being in love with a white woman.

The legend of the Candyman was scary in and of itself, and Tony Todd’s adroit rendering of the titular character only exacerbated the horror of the film. The horror in “Candyman” made me scared enough to jump out of my skin, but the real-world implications of the film became a cold reminder that I never can.

This film is the canonical example of how insidious the experience of being Black in America is. It is a monument to the ideology that to be Black is to have your story written for you before you even open your mouth to tell it.

The realistic dramatization of the Black experience in “Candyman” is why I have no interest in seeing it. I don’t love horror because it’s realistic.

I love it because it’s not.

Horror always felt like true escapism for me, because it has such low stakes. I have quite a few (white) friends who hate scary movies, and, well, of course they do. I’d be scared to watch people like me suffer in every way imaginable for two hours, too.

Being Black, I know that even if the only Black character dies first, it’ll at least be early. I’m used to sitting in theaters, watching white faces streaked with fear as they attempt to outrun whatever horror the film presents.

For a while, it was exhausting hoping some character, any character, would die before the Black person. But now, horror films are the one place where I don’t really need to be represented. I have enough to worry about without haunted houses and boogeymen.

Areyon Jolivette writes the Thursday arts & entertainment column on finding and celebrating identity through art. Contact her at [email protected].