If You’re Having Trouble Coping With Pandemic Stress, Try A Horror Movie

by Clint Edwards
If You’re Having Trouble Coping With Pandemic Stress, Try A Horror Movie
Scary Mommy and Josef Scaylea/Getty

Think back to March. I know, it feels like an eternity, but it was only a few months ago. The pandemic was just heating up. The U.S. hadn’t yet shut down, but it was about to. Most of you were still going to work, and your kids were still going to school, and you still had church on Sunday. In the top 10 movies on Netflix was 1995’s Outbreak, and little did you know, it wasn’t merely a foreshadowing of our lives to come … some people were simply doing their homework.

Yes, I watched this film about a nasty virus brought to the US via a small monkey. The virus took hold in a small U.S. town and caused a bunch of people to erode from the inside out. The CDC got involved. The town was quarantined. The virus spread in theaters, and hospitals, and suddenly the government showed up in Hazmat suits. I even wrote a tweet about how I watched it and would not recommend doing the same because of this whole “coronavirus” thing. Then, bam, the world shifted, and suddenly I was living a real-life version of Outbreak … and according to a new study, I may have been better prepared than those who didn’t watch the movie.

Published in Evolutionary Studies in Imaginative Culture, the study has found that fans of horror movies, particularly those surrounding massive catastrophes like the movie Outbreak, have largely coped better with the coronavirus pandemic. I know… this might be difficult for some of you to take in, but your socially inept brother-in-law who regularly sports Rob Zombie movie T-shirts is actually handling this better than you are.

The researchers questioned 310 volunteers on their movie preferences and viewing histories before asking them how prepared they felt going into the pandemic, and what levels of anxiety, depression, irritability, and sleeplessness they had experienced. Horror movie fans appeared less distressed by the crisis than most, but those who favored “prepper movies” — where society collapses — ranked as more resilient and better prepared, both mentally and practically.

You may be saying to yourself, I’m not handling this well, so I probably should download a bunch of horror movies and call it therapy. Now, listen, I’m not a doctor, but I would advise against going in headfirst, and I’ll tell you why. Before I got married, I was really into horror movies. I once told a date that the zombie movie 28 Days Later was the sequel to the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy 28 Days because I knew she wouldn’t go see it otherwise. Let me just say, it didn’t go over well. She was pretty numb in the theater, and I learned a valuable lesson about honesty, deception, and how I used to be a jerk, while also realizing that not everyone is meant to watch movies where a virus takes over the world and people start eating each other.

But for those of you who already enjoy the horror genre, this is good news. It means that your mother was, in fact, wrong, and all those years of watching Night of the Living Dead sequels in your basement were not a waste of time, and this moment right now is the moment you’ve been preparing for your whole life.

And if you are not a fan of the genre but are now wondering if you should ease into it, Outbreak is a good place to start. It’s not horrible, but it does have its moments. Bird Box would also be a good one if you haven’t seen it. Although, I will say this about the movie: five minutes in, when the kids are told that if they speak they will die, I knew for a fact that my children wouldn’t make it.

I have yet to see the movie Contagion — but according to The Guardian, who also discussed the findings of this study, “Movies like Contagion, which rocketed in popularity as coronavirus spread, make aspects of the pandemic such as quarantine and supply shortages seem less strange…”

During their interview, study author Coltan Scrivner voiced a similar sentiment, saying that, “If it’s a good movie, it pulls you in and you take the perspective of the characters, so you are unintentionally rehearsing the scenarios. We think people are learning vicariously. It’s like, with the exception of the toilet paper shortage, they pretty much knew what to buy.”

And that right there really is the power of a good movie. It can help you live the life of someone else for a while. It can suck you in, and help you understand someone else’s struggles while also experiencing something you might not otherwise have lived through. And if it’s good, and factual, a movie about a pandemic can actually prepare you emotionally, and help you find some sort of normalcy in a difficult situation.

So, to my fellow horror genre fans, I salute you. People thought we were strange … but as it turns out, we were just getting ready for 2020.