Scary can be fun—as long as it doesn’t give you the chills for the wrong reasons.
Everyone responds to trauma differently. If you’ve said “Me Too” this month in response to the Harvey Weinstein incidents and have been feeling triggered because of it, you’re not alone. With Mother! out in theaters right now (tip: just say no) and Halloween decorations infiltrating our world, now is the time to put this out there on behalf of female survivors.
A movie is never just a movie when you see something reminiscent of a real life ‘terror’ you’ve experienced. After I survived 9/11 as a child, I could barely sit through Spiderman (2002). Seems harmless enough, and totally unrelated right? But as I sat with my friends at the movie theater across the street from what was then still Ground Zero, I didn’t start to have a panic attack because of the location of the theater. I still lived and went to school in Lower Manhattan. It was because of how closely the scenes of fiery explosion and crumbling buildings resembled what I’d had to run from the year before.
Any genre can potentially deliver trauma triggers, but if you turn to horror to escape by kicking up a “safe” adrenaline response, you need to know that the below movies will not have the same effect as watching Chucky prance around the room. There’s plenty streaming on Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime this month and all year long to satisfy your need for a scare—one that allows your mind to stay contained within the world of the film.
These are not those movies.
Yep, both versions. The only female character has a dad whose relationship with his daughter, based on a number of not-so-subtle implications, ranges from creepy to incredibly disturbing, depending on what you project into that space. Fortunately, it didn’t conjure up any personal experiences for me, but I know enough about the kinds of trauma children and women live through, and I didn’t like the involuntary fill-in-the-blanks that were set up for me. Queue long bathroom break. Twice.
The sloppy way that assault and domestic abuse are dealt with in this film is not only insensitive, but doubly frustrating when, during the final 15 minutes, a mish-mosh of nonsense is passed off as a twist. If domestic violence against both women and children is an issue for you (Oh, everyone? Good. That’s a relief!), skip it.
I have never in my life shut off a horror movie without watching the end, no matter how painfully boring or horrific it was, until I watched this. The first “video” in this hackneyed series of short films contained within a single movie features a girl passed out drunk, possibly drugged, on the bed in a cheap motel room, several awful guys, and very realistic prosthetics in situations you’ve likely never seen before, on film or in person. You’ll want to keep it that way.
A Cure for Wellness
First of all, this vanity project is about fifty minutes longer than it has the right to be. At one point, my husband looked up from Twitter to ask, “Has nobody said anything in the past twenty minutes?” No, they did not. The climax is not only deranged and far-fetched, but it checks off the boxes of incest and statutory rape. Avoid.
The Grudge franchise
If you’re sensitive to any sort of violence against women and children, again, I’d go ahead and avoid this one. It gets graphic, and it’s not all in good fun. It’s brutal.
The Entity **
Though made in 1982, this is perhaps the most obvious example of them all, since it’s literally about a "ghost" raping and violently attacking a mother who has a history of men leaving her and a father who held her “the way a father shouldn’t hold a daughter.” It's riddled with very visual scenes that are likely unbearable to sit through if you’ve been in a similar situation (even worse, it’s actually based on actual documented events). It’s also sure to burn you up if you have ever been victim-shamed, accused of exaggerating, being ‘crazy’ or dramatic, or had your own personal experiences invalidated, especially by men in positions of power.
At one point, we find ourselves blaming our protagonist, as we do with all characters in a horror movie, for the poor choices she makes. We know she has to make them in order for this embellished plot to progress...but in this case, it’s especially jarring, as we quickly realize we’re being made to blame the victim. This is all kinds of wrong. I don’t care if Martin Scorsese said this was one of the scariest movie’s he’s ever seen. Keyword there is “he.” No thank you.
I’ve also been told, and I don’t wish to find out firsthand, that these are equal offenders: A Clockwork Orange, Last House on the Left, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, I Spit On Your Grave, and The Hills Have Eyes.
If, on principle, you want to avoid any horror movies made by filmmakers accused of sex crimes, skip the Jeepers Creepers Franchise and Rosemary’s Baby.
Now, For My Absolute Favorite and Completely Safe Alternatives:
- Insidious (1, 2 and 3)
- The Conjuring (1 & 2)
- Ouija franchise (Mike Flanagan directed the prequel, which is pretty safe, but avoid his other works like Hush and Oculus).
- Annabelle: Creation (At this point I should disclose that I am not working for or related to James Wan or any of his affiliates. He just doesn’t go there in his movies. Good for him.)
- Heidi (2014)
- Hell House LLC
Sometimes, self-care is about being extra diligent about what we expose ourselves to. You don’t need to force yourself to sit through something that feels disturbing just to prove that you can. If you feel triggered by anything you see this week, next week, or next month, please talk to someone you trust or consider consulting a therapist who specializes in trauma, like a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist or Dialectical Behavioral Therapist...because it’s easy to lose the remote that changes the channel in your own head.
**Update: Adding An American Haunting to this list, as it is essentially a clean rip-off of The Entity down to the execution of specific scenes. Only, it’s supposed to be a ghost story, so that in itself is the spoiler: in the final few minutes, is it revealed that instead of a supernatural entity, the daughter is being “haunted” by her father, and by haunted, they actually mean raped....repeatedly? And the daughter is a ghost now? Or is she alive? It’s all too frustrating for words. This “twist” does nothing to support half of all proceeding scenes in the movie. It makes them largely impossible to have taken place. Bottom line: the subject matter is dealt with in such a haphazard and reckless way I’d bet on the fact that none of the actors signed on to do this movie after seeing a script containing the ending we ultimately saw. We can only hope that one of the results of the #MeToo movement is that nothing like this sack of garbage will ever make it past the slosh pile and into production again.
Helaina Hovitz is an editor, writer, and author of the memoir After 9/11. She has written for The New York Times, Salon, Newsweek, Glamour, Teen Vogue, SELF, Forbes, Upworthy, Reader’s Digest, SELF, Women's Health, Bustle, Upworthy, VICE, HEALTH, and many others. Read more at her website, and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.