The Other Columbus: Horror in the time of corona

Scott Woods
Kirsten Dunst in 2011 film "Melancholia"

As a connoisseur of the macabre, I’m here to tell you that most of you don’t watch enough horror movies, and it shows.

With all of the panic-shopping, the rampant spread of misinformation on social media and a run on guns at Vance Outdoors (an uptick in business so steep the shop has had to halt online sales to focus on the panicked people coming in the doors looking for weapons), it’s wild right now. We are at the make-or-break scene in movies where the social order begins to crumble and people start exposing their true forms. As someone whose diet consists of watching one horror movie per day, I can read the signs. I know which of you will break first, who will open the door in a panic, who will demand we go back for the lost soul.

Horror movies are important lessons in human behavior, which many of you are starting to discover the hard way: No one ever listens to the scientist ("Outbreak"). The government is morally unequipped to save you ("Resident Evil"). The traits of that jerk in your office are magnified in a crisis ("The Belko Experiment"). The rich are better than you and deserve to be saved first ("Snowpiercer"). All of these tropes are playing out on CNN right now.

Here’s the thing about horror in the time of corona: You shouldn’t try to play catch-up now. You’re not properly inoculated against the fear that comes with watching a movie about a doomsday scenario while living in one, so exposure to the idea of a life-threatening disease ratchets up your anxiety. Watching a horror movie about disease right now is like breaking up with someone and playing nothing but Sade songs nonstop for three weeks. You’d OD on the industrial strength heartache you’re mainlining. So while horror movies could have helped you before, now is not the time to take up the hobby.

It's always a good time to sign up for our daily newsletter

But let’s say you’re a sore-tooth poker, that you just have to watch something that speaks to you in this time of gut-churning angst and teeth gnashing. Fine. I offer the 2011 film "Melancholia." The film stars Kirsten Dunst as Justine, whose crippling depression upsets nearly everyone around her at all times, until it is learned that the Earth is on a collision course with a rogue planet that will destroy everything that has ever existed. Suddenly her long-standing angst seems to have prepared her for the inevitable, while everyone around her devolves into puddles of spiraling fear. She finds peace and is able to guide her sister and nephew through the darkest moments of the story. That’s at least a horror film with a lesson in it, is what I’m saying.

We are fighting two viruses right now: the physical virus and the accompanying emotional virus. There isn’t a vaccine for the first, but the second has some relief: art, music, books, phone conversations, board games, puzzles, movies that have nothing to do with diseases, learning a craft, exercise, finally cleaning out the basement. You know, real self-care level stuff. But not horror movies. Stay away from that stuff for now. There are a ton of better ways to spend your quarantine that won’t raise your anxiety levels.