Every year as the weather cools and the 12-foot Home Depot Halloween skeleton resumes its reign of terror, right around the time I confront my first shower spider of the season, I get the strange urge to watch a horror movie. The only problem: I'm a scaredy-cat.
My personal Venn diagram of spooky-scary-but-not-too-creepy movies is but a tiny sliver. Hocus Pocus 2 isn't scary enough, but Halloween Ends is a cortisol spike I don't need in my life. Ghostbusters: an insult to my aesthetic needs. Smile? More like Face Screaming in Fear emoji. What about Nope? The title says it all.
It's hard to scratch the spooky-season itch when your skin's as thin as the gossamer spun by that shower spider I mentioned, which was real, by the way. It sounds counterintuitive – either watch horror movies or don't, right? But when all of Twitter experiences Midsommar-induced insomnia, or when a scientific study identifies the scariest movie of all time, how can I not want to know more?
Whatever it is about horror that simultaneously attracts and repels normal humans, I have it too. I don't know why I "need" to find out who the killer was in Scream. I guess it's just a natural human impulse, a tug of war between can't-look-away and can't-look. We all enjoy the delicious thrill of the macabre, to an extent. I just need it in smaller doses.
File this under "nothing I do is actually that quirky" (see also: finding Adam Driver attractive). It turns out I'm not the only one experiencing horror films through safer means. My medium of choice has long been Wikipedia plot synopses, but that's just the gateway to a world of horror-watched-through-spread-fingers. Fellow scaredy-cats, read on to discover all the other ways you can replace (or prep for) the consumption of horror movies this Halloween.
Spoiler-filled plot synopses
I've been reading horror movie Wikipedia pages for years. Unlike movie reviews, Wikipedia walks you through every story beat, twist and spoiler, with a welcome clinical detachment that takes all the spooky vibes away. I don't need to know if the movie's good – I just need to know what was so sinister about Sinister.
Those who have seen Midsommar, for example, will understand the vast gulf between watching That One Part and reading, "He discovers Josh's leg planted in a flowerbed and Simon's body on display in a barn, after being subjected to a blood eagle," which is Wiki's version of it. You can then click through to find out what a blood eagle is, and the mere idea of seeing that on a screen will be enough spooky vibes to last until next year.
Another good option is The Movie Spoiler, which includes crowdsourced, spoiler-filled recaps of "everything from American Beauty to Zoolander."
Podcasts and YouTube recaps
There's a thriving cottage industry of spoiler-filled movie recaps on YouTube and wherever you get your podcasts, from genre-agnostic All Spoiler Recap to horror-loving Dead Meat and Found Flix. There are even recaps designed specifically with scaredy-cats in mind – I recommend the Too Scary, Didn't Watch and Ruined podcasts, both of which are like having a conversation with a more cinematically intrepid friend, but with better production value.
Personalized trigger warnings
The thing about having thin skin is that horror movies are only part of the problem. I also have issues with extreme melodrama or peril (there's a difference between crying at a sad movie and sobbing as your mental health is further eroded by the bleakness of some fictional character's life). Manchester by the Sea got me good. And you can bet I've already been sniffing around the Wiki page for The Son.
That's where Does the Dog Die? comes in. An ingenious premise, the free app allows for a curated set of triggers and warnings for every prospective movie. You can search the database for everything from "there's cannibalism" to "does someone fart or spit," and, of course, whether any furry friends are harmed.
Along similar lines, Where's the Jump is a comprehensive catalog of jump scares with exact time stamps so you can plan accordingly, if you do decide to watch. Scary Meter provides a complementary public service, rating movies on separate Creepy, Gory and Jumpy scales, and tagging them with common triggers like "torture chamber" and "demonic possession."
Sometimes you just have to admit you have the emotional constitution of a child. And if you, like me, are not actually a child, you may have to start parenting yourself. IMDb, for example, has a built-in parental guide that goes beyond MPA ratings to differentiate between tolerable elements like "profanity" and the more loathsome "violence & gore." It was there I discovered this chilling warning about 2004 horror flick Saw: "A man shoots another man (he survives)."
Alternative sources for the comforting paternalism of a caring parent include Kids in Mind, which warns of cleavage and a large spider in Hocus Pocus 2, and Common Sense Media, a vast taxonomy of kid-friendly (and not) media, including books and podcasts, with age recommendations and ratings not only for things like "violence and scariness," but even excessive consumerism. (Unrelated: Common Sense Media is also a great place to discover good things, like Thoughtful Books About LGBTQ+ Youth and Best Movies with Puerto Rican Characters and Leads.)
Just watch the darn movie…
I don't know who needs to hear this, but horror movies are a lot less terrifying when you watch them on a Sunday morning with the blinds open and all the lights on. There's also the "fast forward so you know what you're in for" trick, if you can only handle spooky vibes when they've been spoiled.
Ready? Check out the best horror movies on Netflix, Prime Video and HBO Max. For those braver than I, check out our list of the best horror movie streaming services, too. And, of course, you can always just watch a Halloween movie that's not that scary, and call it a day. It'll be Hallmark Christmas movie season before ya know it.