For the first five years my husband and I were together, we shared a common interest in the most obscure horror movies we could find – Dario Argento, Ruggero Deodato, Gaspar Noe, Takashi Miike. We challenged one another, ordering movies like Cannibal Holocaust from Canada because it was hard to get in the states just to see if we could stomach it. (We could.)
Together, we would curl up on the couch, some disturbing horror fare before us, pop some popcorn and descend into madness. We were probably the only people who looked forward to watching the decidedly B-grade Black Christmas (an abysmally bad movie) the day it came out, just one month before our daughter was born.
My friends would lament our bad taste in movies, mock our desire to see House of 1000 Corpses while they went to see Merchant Ivory Productions, but it was our taste. Our shared sickness was powered by the same insanity that made us both skydive, bungee jump and enjoy fast cars. We dug the adrenaline. Unless a movie made me dig my fingers into my husband’s arm and involuntarily cover my eyes, then it was not doing its job.
And then we had children.
I knew things had changed soon after we brought her home when I perused our DVD collection and was more interested in watching Jennifer Aniston bat her eyes and act ditzy than Sheri Moon Zombie dancing sultrily to “Rocky Mountain Way” in The Devil’s Rejects.
It got worse. Breastfeeding allowed plenty of time for watching television and movies, but instead of watching complicated or disturbing shows like X-Files or 24, I started DVR-ing thirty-minute sitcoms like Hope and Faith. Even worse? I was laughing along with the laugh track, relating to the clich’d situations the main characters found themselves encountering and trying to convince my husband that it was actually “Kind of dirty — like, sometimes Kelly Ripa says things that could totally be taken two ways. Isn’t that funny, honey?”
My husband refused to watch Hope and Faith, but was roped into TLC’s A Baby Story a couple times. “This is the worst show I have ever seen,” he groaned beside me as I nursed our infant daughter.
“But look how sweet they all are,” I explained through my tears (oh yes, there were tears for TLC in those early months), hoping that he would also be moved by this version of our own baby story, minus all the blood and slime and goop that made it real.
And so when he asked, “Why do I want to watch this when I just watched the real thing?” I had no answer.
My husband was sure I had lost my mind, or at least my edge. He started pushing the issue, bringing home bootleg copies of current horror fare, suggesting we watch Hostel again – anything to reawaken my love of torture porn. But it was not for me, I told him, something that was confirmed one night while our infant daughter slept in the basinett upstairs and we settled in to watch one of Showtime’s Masters of Horror – Takashi Miike’s Imprint. It was torture porn at its finest – fingernails, needles and pain. I had to turn it off.
A few weeks later, I tried a Texas Chainsaw remake, figuring Imprint (which had actually not even aired on HBO due to its disturbing content) might have been a fluke. But it happened again. My tolerance for extreme gore had shifted. Rob was right. I had gone soft.
Maybe it was the hormones, the daily doses of oxytocin I was receiving via breastfeeding, that made me crave comedies with Sandra Bullock and warm-hearted romps with loveable beagles while my husband still needed the hard stuff.
Suddenly the world was all fuzzy in soft focus and anything bad happening to anyone – not just children – could happen to my child, if not now then someday. In sixteen years she could easily be the buxom teenager running away from the ax-wielding killer. She could one day run out of gas on a country road and ask the wrong person for a tow. She – and I and we – were vulnerable in this world and I did not need my movies telling me just how.
It was more than that, too. At their heart, most mainstream horror movies are misogynistic, or at least contain a whole lot of T and A. There is usually a fine line between pornography and the most graphic horror movie, and the desire to watch both comes from the same base instinct. Before I was happy to indulge in those voyeuristic fantasies, to allow myself to get titillated by someone else’s peril, but after the baby, I knew what T and A was really all about. It was hard to watch the sweet young thing, her nubile breasts jiggling (prior to impalement or some equally hideous death) when my own were being used to feed my infant. My body was suddenly more than just a collection of parts that filled out a sweater and added spice to a violent movie. Now it served a purpose that was so beautiful and sweet it felt perverted to enjoy it in any other way.
Death is like birth, natural and expected and, sometimes, even beautiful. But I was still myself, my husband reminded me. I may have lost the stomach for the gore temporarily, but who would I be without loving the darker side of life? Even if my exploration of it was only through watching B-grade horror, it was still a quirk that was all mine. I had always loved violence in movies and strip clubs and adrenaline. Perhaps it makes me a female chauvinist pig, but it was my own. Without it, I worried I was just another Stepford wife, smiling blandly and cooking non-bloody pot roast.
It was a box set of Six Feet Under that pulled me from the brink of a future filled with cheesy reruns and dulled down comedy.
A friend gave me all five seasons to watch during my marathon nursing sessions and as it turned out, watching a show whose main theme was that death comes for us all sooner or later was the perfect antidote to my new mom schmaltz-fest. The Fisher family, with all of their neuroses and imperfections, reminded me that life is complicated and interesting. It is neither anesthetized like a half-hour baby story or sadistic and cruel like Irreversible. And death is like birth, natural and expected and, sometimes, even beautiful.
Sixty-three hours of good television saved me from a life of cheese. While it’s true that I may never want to see a woman treated like a piece of meat again, I also don’t need all my entertainment served lukewarm. I had a baby, not a lobotomy.
It is now a couple years later and although I have never renewed my once-vigorous love of all things blood and gore, I am also not rushing out to see the latest romantic comedy or watching bad sitcoms on cable television. I do turn off the news when something particularly heinous relating to children or abuse comes on, but I went to see Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 opening weekend, just like old times, and barely flinched.
As the little girl in Poltergeist (the ’80s horror flick that awakened my love of the macabre) once said, “I’m back.” Changed, yes. But still me. Bring on the chainsaws.