Film Discussion

The Calming Aura of October – Halloween and Mental Health

For as long as I can remember, Halloween has held a special place in this cold, dead, horror loving heart. As the nights draw in and October rolls on for another year, I want to share why horror films are so important to so many people. And why Halloween month is easily the happiest month of the year for me and has been for most of my life.

My story growing up is so cliché it is bordering on completely ordinary. I lost my dad when I was quite young – not as young as my two brothers; I’m lucky enough to at least remember him – and it truly took its toll on every one of us. In the years before you hit double digits, especially growing up in the early 90s, it’s tough to not only be a young boy struggling with the awfulness that life can throw at you, but to actually need to do something about it and not know what. 

Image by PublicDomainPictures on Pixabay

Skip forward a few years, and while it wasn’t even close to being diagnosed, or even accepted, I was pretty deep into what has since become a lifelong battle with anxiety and depression. In a world where you’ve spent the last couple of years having every adult you know telling you “you’re the man of the house now” and “time to man up”, it’s a horrid experience trying to find ways to make yourself feel better without letting on that you’re hurting in a way most people you know wouldn’t understand. 

This is how I discovered movies and music. Sinking into worlds filled with the Arnies and Van Dammes of the world – it was the 90s, such a beautiful time – and screaming along to all the Axl Roses and Corey Taylors you can find will settle those nerves and calm the noises in your head quicker than almost anything you can legally (or not-so-legally) get your hands on. Believe me, as the time passed, I tried.

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Years rolled on, school came and went and bullies came and went with it. I was the weird grebo kid with long hair who drew skulls on everything; watched all the films that other kids weren’t allowed to watch and listened to music with more guitars than verses. Apart from taking veritable shovels filled with shit from my peers, it wasn’t that bad a set of interests. 

But in a world that is built to grind you down, my real solace in life came from, and still comes from, horror movies. 

Now, I love all movies. Ok, most movies. I’ll watch a naff action and have as much fun as I do with a critically acclaimed thriller. But given the choice, absolutely any day, I would pick a Scream, a Martyrs or a Devil’s Rejects over a Die Hard marathon. Why? Because even with the most ridiculous of circumstances, horror films take the things that people with anxiety over the world feel and shine a bright light on them. Scared of waking up to someone in your house threatening your family? There’s a You’re Next for that. Don’t wanna get lost on that road trip? There’s a Wrong Turn and a Hills Have Eyes for that. 

Or you really just wanna put your feet up and enjoy watching what should really happen to all the arseholes of the world? There’s eight Saw films for that. 

Image by Republica on Pixabay

Working in the same way as listening to Spencer Charnas scream a metalcore lyric or two at you, letting yourself get sucked into a horror film quietens the voices in your head that make you question everything and make you wonder about the situations that you might find yourself in. For example, my mind has a wonderful way of playing out every situation in the worst way possible. Walking along a path near a road, I’ll not be able to stop myself imagining tripping, landing on my hands and getting hit by a car.

This is a constant thing, a curse I live with, I can’t sleep without music or the TV on because allowing my brain the quiet time to torture me would keep me up until my body gave out. I do it for other people too; wife is late getting home, the scenarios don’t stop playing out in my broken brain until she gets through the door!

It’s an exhausting way to live. And I’ve never found a cure better than a good horror film. The raw emotion of a terrifying situation lends itself to a catharsis that can’t be measured, in my opinion.

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Let me give you another example. As the years went on, horror simply stopped properly scaring me; mostly. I’m not labelling myself a badass or some hardcore nutcase, just a guy with more time on his hands than should really be allowed to be spent watching films made by people with names like Rob Zombie and Lucky Mckee. But the thought of some nasty… thing… coming out of the darkness still puckers up my sphincter and makes me feel like a scared little kid. But that’s never stopped me from throwing on The Descent when I’m in need of a great film and a good jump. In fact, I welcome it. To find something that truly scares the ever loving crap out of you, no matter how many times you’ve watched it, is one of the best ways I’ve found to give myself a break from the real world horrors my stupid damaged mind won’t let me ignore under any other, more regular circumstances.

So what makes Halloween season so good?

I still get sideways looks when people hear how I spend my time. I’m close to hitting the end of my fourth decade in this life and for some reason, we are still looking down on this wonderful genre. Horror fans are still very much the weird kids in class. I once had an employer ask me how come I hadn’t killed anybody yet with the kind of films I watch, while I run listening to music singing about killing people. Let’s not even start with some of the comments I may have garnered by having an arm full of scary movie character tattoos.

Image by SimonWijers on Pixabay

But when October rolls around, suddenly we are accepted. We get asked for some cool films to watch on Halloween, we get to wear our Michael Myers and Jigsaw t-shirts without getting people “whispering” behind us in the queue at Tesco about how gross those films are. Cinemas are suddenly filled with films we gravitate to (and don’t need to sit in at 11.15 on a Tuesday night to see), and we get to carve pumpkins and scare little kids that knock on our door without having angry parents trying to gouge our eyes out for it. Usually.

We are connoisseurs.

Suddenly we aren’t the weirdos, we’re the experts. We aren’t chastised for our films of choice, we are considered the go-to guys and girls for a recommendation that might come out of left-field and be a story you tell your co-workers as the years go on. True story – a work colleague still sends people to me because I recommended he watch Terrifier on Halloween a few years back and it blew his mind. These moments are golden.

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And for fans like me who struggle with the day-to-day interactions with people because talking to someone you don’t know can send your anxiety spiralling, and your worst fears come true when you see that look on someone’s face when you say “my favourite type of film? Ultra-violent, life and psyche destroying French horror films”. Even though I have to act like it’s perfectly ok for you to watch fucking Love Island and The Great British Bake Off and spend all of your free time talking about it in the office. Halloween season is the one where my brain is the quietest, my anxieties are at their lowest and my overall level of depression goes from a steady “crippling” down to a more manageable “maybe the world won’t end today”.

Now, this isn’t a plea to hug a horror fan. Please god no. I’m comfortable being the weirdo nowadays. I just wanted to give you a little look into why I, and a lot of people I know, gravitate so heavily towards horror. And why we all get to relax a little when you’re all doing your annual trawl for scary movies.

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