How Purity Culture Almost Destroyed My Life…Twice

Purity culture nearly ruined my life.

I grew up in church. We lived in a small, Mississippi town in the 1980s/90s, the place my father grew up. The entire family went to that church–my grandmother, my aunt, my nuclear family, and even some 2nd and 3rd cousins. We were there every time the doors were open…Literally. On Sunday mornings, we would attend Sunday school at 10, then sit through the church service from 11-12. We’d go home for lunch, and sometimes a friend would come over to play for a few hours. Then it was back to church at 4:30 for children’s classes and another church service from 6-7. After services many of those nights, I would go home with my grandmother and aunt, who often ordered pizza and had dinner with our pastor and his wife. On Wednesdays, we went to prayer meetings from 7-8. During the summer, there was always a week of Vacation Bible School and then another week of summer sleep-away camp.

The church we attended held many of the standard fundamentalist Christian views–especially those of the time. I can remember hearing about the evils of rock music. (When I was very young, much of the ire was directed at Ozzy, who bit the head off  of bats. Later, that disdain and concern would turn to Marilyn Manson, who destroyed Bibles onstage and was always to be found in dark clothing and layers of makeup.) When a new youth pastor introduced Christian rock, some of the church goers were upset. I remember not celebrating Halloween, because it was The Devil’s Holiday. We had an evening hay ride and bonfire in the woods to compensate for the loss of trick or treating–supervised by our parents and church elders, of course.

Sex was something that there was almost a blanket of silence about, though. I barely remember discussing sex with my parents, but I think the conversation was mostly too little, too late. Not that I was having sex (indeed, no–not until I was 19), but I’d already figured out how sex worked long before we discussed it. This was because sex wasn’t often discussed in our house or in our church…even in our community. And when it was, there were very certain parameters for the discussion:

We’d talk about abstinence. In church, we learned about the value of purity: purity of heart and purity of body, which seemed to equal a kind of purity of spirit, of soul. At our local high school, the True Love Waits group gave a presentation to the school’s chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Looking back, I’m not sure why I was a member, except that it was an organization for Christians that many of my friends belonged to…I was certainly not an athlete. We were all encouraged to take vows that we would wait until marriage to have sex.

We’d talk about repentance. In church, we were told that we’d all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. We were told that if we’d sinned in this way, we could become new again in God’s eyes if we only repented and then continued to abstain.

And we’d talk about consequences. So, so much talk about consequences. Disease a possibility. I remember mapping out how quickly disease could spread. Oh, but there was also the possibility of creating another human…And not being married to that baby’s other biological parent was considered a serious moral failing in our community, not to mention a hardship that extended from mother to child, an assumption that the child’s life would also be difficult. This was compounded by the occasional pregnant girl at school, a cautionary tale walking around with a burgeoning belly, the way the hushed whispers followed those girls.

Complicating this was some family history, maternal guilt and pressures. Secrets I am not at liberty to tell because they are not mine, but secrets that nonetheless affected my life. And then there were rules…So many rules. Rules about what to wear, who to be (or not to be) alone with, what time to come home, what to do while I was out…So many rules.

Only in retrospect does any of this sound extreme. It’s easy to miss the signs when you’re immersed in something.

By the time I was in college, I’d moved away from my hometown, stopped going to church. I’d met people who were different than me, many of them radically so. I’d studied literature and history at a college level. I’d had my first tastes of alcohol, of love, of freedom, of real joy and of real tragedy. But it wasn’t easy, this moving away from my upbringing. It came in fits and starts, with a lot of internalized guilt and shame. I drank a lot, often getting overly-emotional. At one point, I could drink a fifth of alcohol and keep drinking. For all intents and purposes, I was an alcoholic.

I almost destroyed myself. But somehow, I finished my undergraduate degree and moved on to graduate-level courses.

When I moved to attend graduate school, I was in an off-phase of an on-and-off relationship that had pretty much defined my undergraduate career, spanning from the end of my sophomore year of college until I graduated. Eventually, we’d find ourselves in another on-again phase.

And at 24, I’d find myself unmarried and pregnant.

I was terrified. No, I was not a child–not in the typical sense of the word. But my parents were still very much in charge of my life, helping me pay my way through graduate school so that I could focus on the very real task of getting a degree. I had finished course work for my master’s degree, but I still needed to write a thesis and defend it before I could graduate. And my parents were angry. My mother said we’d have to get married, and my dad said that mom was only wanting the best for us, did not want my child to be a bastard. I was unsure of what to do, but my boyfriend said we’d get through it. We were planning to get married one day anyway, we’d just wanted to wait longer.

And so, I married my son’s father. We weren’t ready to say goodbye to each other, but we were also unsuited to be married to one another. It didn’t take us long to figure out that we were wholly unsuited to one another once we lived together, either. We were married for less than a year, tired of the arguments that had defined our on-and-off relationship. We knew it was unhealthy to raise a child in the turmoil of our arguments, and so we decided not to. We’d raise him together, but separate.

But that was a difficult goodbye. It felt like a death, and in a way it was. It was the death of a relationship, the closing off of a life I thought I was going to live. I didn’t want to be a divorced woman or a single parent. I didn’t want my child to grow up in a “broken home.”

It almost destroyed me, that loss of the dream of a nuclear family with biological mother, biological father, and biological child. That loss also freed me.

But here I am, 7 years post-divorce. I am remarried to someone who I could not imagine life without, someone who is not only a partner to me but an amazing 3rd parent for my son. We have a good relationship with my parents, who have helped me immensely, especially during the time when I was a single mother going to graduate school. And there’s my son…My beautiful boy with a big heart. He has two fathers.

And all is as it should be, finally.

What Having a Disability Taught Me About Bodily Autonomy

Editor’s Note: Today’s post is a guest post from Rose B. Fischer that kicks off our Feminist Friday postings here at Part-Time Monster. The weekly posts will aim to generate conversation about feminist issues, paying particular attention to intersectional issues. I am incredibly honored to have her posting here about such a deep and personal topic.

I was born with cerebral palsy.  I have limited use of my legs and my lower leg muscles are basically nonexistent.  When I was three, neuromotor specialists began recommending a daily routine of physical therapy to help maintain my level of mobility.

The exercises I’m supposed to do feel like someone is trying to rip my legs apart on a medieval torture device.  As a toddler and young child, I was never given an option to refuse this treatment.  I have no memory of anyone explaining the benefits of this therapy.

I was told I had to do my exercises.

That’s it.

[Read more…]

#WeekendCoffeeShare: In Which I am Cold, and I Talk about Feminism

If we were having coffee, we would be curled up on the big purple couch today. I’m wearing my Hufflepuff bathrobe backwards and whining about just how cold it is today. Of course, to some of you 47 degrees is not cold at all, so you’ll probably be chuckling. But for here in New Orleans, that’s cold as cold can be. Our houses are mostly not equipped to deal with the cold weather because they’re built to stay cool in the ridiculous summers, so the high ceilings and big windows work against us during the winter. We’ve also moved into a place without central heating–we have a few of the small space heaters around the house, but since there are no doors in the kitchen/living room area, the heaters have to work pretty hard. Anyway, it’s cold. I’m cold.

So while I’m on cup number two of coffee and bitching about being cold, I would tell you that this has been a good week, a week of finishing up the semester and moving forward. At the beginning of the week, Mon/Tues, I had lots of final essays to grade and final grades to input. Then on Wednesday, I got to be a part of something really, really incredible. I wanted to chat about it last week, but I wasn’t sure just how much to say before it all happened. Toward the end of last week, I was contacted to read on-camera for a feminist documentary project called Yours in Sisterhood–the goal of the project is to record people giving readings of letters sent to Ms. magazine in the 1970s in the places where those letters were written and to allow a space to respond to the tone and content of the letters. The project is spear-headed by director Irene Lustzig, who contacted me about reading a letter sent from a mother of an infant son in New Orleans. I readily agreed, of course, and the experience was a profound and moving one. I was surprised at not just the cognitive dissonance between myself and the writer of this letter, but also at our similarities–things we both wanted or things we both worried about. We filmed along the levy of the MS River here, and though it was loud and we had to do several takes, it seemed like just the right spot. Not sure when things will be available, because there are more readings to be recorded and lots to be done, but the project will end up both as an interactive online archive and a feature-length film. Their Facebook page is probably a good place to keep up with them!

After we finished up with filming for the documentary on Wednesday, it was time to say goodbye to Irene and her wonderful assistant Anisa, and then I had to scoot across the river to the community college and hand-in my end-of-the-semester requirements–gradebook and such–and then there was a trip to the library and to pick up Little Jedi from school. And there was also, finally my new phone waiting for me at home. We ordered them at the end of last week, and Sam’s was here Monday, but of course since I chose a rose gold colored phone instead of the traditional grey, it took mine longer to get here! We had to have new phones because our old Blackberrys weren’t working well anymore, and apparently the problem was that they were not compatible with some of the new networks and such. I caved and gave into the iPhone craze, and also into the Instagram (@parttimemonster) and PokemonGo crazes. Oh, and Prisma. Basically, I spent all of Thursday reading and playing on my new phone, because Wednesday was such a good but long day. The most productivity I managed on Thursday was making the bed, and that’s about the most productivity I managed yesterday, too.  But on the bright side, I caught a lot of Pokemon and am almost finished with The Girls, a really fascinating novel about a teenage girl in the late 1960s who is caught up in a Manson-esque murderous cult.

And today, in addition to writing this coffee post, I’m making some behind-the-scenes changes and working on some new ideas for this little blog. For one thing, I’ve decided to bring Feminist Fridays to the blog. A while back, some other bloggers and I ran a series of Feminist Friday discussions on a regular basis, and that was a productive time for me insofar as my own activism and writing. In the wake of working on Yours in Sisterhood this week, I’ve realized I need more of that conversation, and my blog is a good place to start it. So, beginning in January, each Friday will be devoted to a piece of writing about feminism. Sometimes that will mean I share a personal story, and sometimes those posts will be more global. I’ll also have some guest posters here, and if you have an idea I encourage you to chat with me about it by emailing me at ptmonsterblog@gmail.com.

And for now, with this long, long coffee date, I will bid you adieu, and I will see you next week for a coffee-on-a-go-go as we travel to my parents’ house to celebrate Christmas with them. Until then, link up your coffee posts below, and I promise I’ll be answering comments and getting the WCS Twitter going again!

******

Top 10 Tuesday: My Favorite Horror Stories

Each week, The Broke and the Bookish holds Top Ten Tuesday, a book blogging meme. It’s been quite a while since I’ve joined in, but I’ve decided to bring the feature back to the Monster. I always enjoy creating reading lists and discussing them in the comments sections. This week, I’m listing my favorite horror stories. Feel free to leave your suggestions and additions in the comments section, and go visit The Broke and the Bookish for more Halloween-themed book lists!

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Monster Monday: Azeman

Today’s Monster Monday post comes from Robin Rivera, who is trained as a professional historian, but now puts those skills to use writing speculative fiction for young adults. Robin is culturally from a mix of mostly Latin American cultures, and she writes about Hispanic myths for her contribution to Part-Time Monster’s Monster Monday column. She blogs full-time at Write On, Sisters about fiction writing craft.

October always makes me dream of monsters and the monsters I love best are the classics, particularly vampires. There is just something about vampires and the fact that they live off our blood that makes them seriously scary creatures.

Vampire lore is often pretty universal, but there are exceptions to the norm. About a year ago, I wrote a post about a collection of Latin American vampires that didn’t act like traditional vampires at all. But that trio was just the beginning. Latin America has so many unusual vampires, that I decided to introduce you to another one today, the Azeman.

The Azeman are a group of female vampires found only in South American. They are best known in Suriname, a small country located on the northern tip of the continent. It’s sandwiched on the east by French Guiana, on the west by Guyana and the south by Brazil. It was once part of the Dutch colonies.

The myth of the Azeman says they are shape shifters, creatures that turn into something otherworldly but only at night. The women often take one of two preferred shapes; they will become a bat creature, or something like a wolf. Part of the Azeman myth is the woman wraps herself in a long animal skin cloak, and it’s believed that the cloak is part of their transformative process. During the daylight an Azeman will pass as a normal woman. This double life aspect of the Azeman marks her as very different from the traditional undead vampires. Although the Azeman will not shun the daylight hours, some versions of the myth say she will avoid full sun.

At night, while in her non-human form the Azeman will search for victims. The preferred method of attack is to find someone sleeping with their feet exposed. The Azeman will zero in on their juicy big toe and suck away. I image it’s not the best location for taste, but I do love a monster that knows what she likes. The Azeman bite is seldom fatal, however she can spread diseases and her bite will leave the victim weak, while she glows with new vitality.

Only woman can be an Azeman, and some versions of the myth closely resembling other vampire lore, and suggest biting is how the Azeman creates more sister monsters. However, in other version of the creation story, a mature Azeman must mate with a human man while in her nighttime form and give birth to another Azeman. The mating process is a bit fuzzy. One version says she bewitches the man, makes him forget the encounter and sends them home once she is pregnant. The other version is she becomes her bat like creature self and draws the man into the folds of her leathery wings. This method leaves the man conscious of his peril, but trapped. The Azeman keeps the man this way until she grow tired of him, gets pregnant and/or possibly eats him. As I said, it’s a bit fuzzy.

Lucky for us, there are several ways of defending yourself against the Azeman.

The Azeman, like many other vampires, loves to count. It’s rather an obsession. Survivors of Azeman encounters say they threw coins or large bags of seeds in front of the advancing vampire. When she stopped dead in her tracks to count ever single item, they were able to run away.

This is also why people are advised to place a broom with a lot of bristles across the threshold of their home at night. The Azeman will never cross a broom without counting every bristle first. This either gives the people inside the home time to get away or if they are very lucky, the Azeman will still be standing there counting in the morning. This is suggested as the best way to unmask an Azeman and prove she is not a normal human.

Another method advises snatching off her animal skin cloak and destroying it. Some believe the cloak is the only magical source of the Azeman’s power and without it she will return to her human form permanently.

Another method says you should coat the Azeman with pepper. They are known for having sensitive skin and the pepper will cause an immediate reaction similar to being allergic. The pepper will also interfere with the absorption of power from the cloak making shape shifting and feeding impossible. Unable to feed, the Azeman will starve to death. While in her human form the Azeman is susceptible to every lethal means, but starving her is supposed to be the only way to kill the creature in the nighttime form.

In Which I Make an Extended Metaphor

Today is a difficult day. An impossible day. A day that I wish I could’ve stayed in bed. The noises of the office, the buzz of people talking, typing, laughing, chewing–living their lives–feels too big and too loud. Even the sound of my own fingers hitting the keys as I type this is Just Too Much. Today is a day I’ll cry on the way home, out of exhaustion and frustration and sheer sadness.

Today is a day that I have to deal with my monster. Well…Every day is a day that I have to deal with my monster. She never goes away, really. But sometimes she is small and easily sated. When she is medicated, she is a Good Monster, a Watchful Monster. Other times, like today, she is big and bossy and horrid.

And yet.

And yet, I have to teach. I have to walk into a classroom full of college students (two rooms, actually), and command respect and diligence from my students. I have to talk to them, and I have to listen to them. I have to be attentive to what they need from me. I have to do my job. At a time when every noise I hear makes me wish I could curl further into the fetal position, I have to be upright and on-task.

And that’s what life is like for me–knowing that I must be upright when there’s a literal weight and heft to my anxiety pushing me downward. Being out of bed and out of home instead of being bundled under the covers, my pup curled next to me. Even when it’s difficult to move through the day, I must move through it. This is what I must do, not every day, but many days.

There are lots of days when just getting out of bed, going through the routine of bathing, getting dressed, and getting the breakfast-and-medication routine finished, zaps whatever energy I have. That’s today, a Monday that has brought both a rise in anxiety and some PMS symptoms. Those are beasts, both of them. Big, ugly monsters–bossy ones, at that. But I can’t stay in bed, and I can’t avoid the things that need to be done. I either have to do what needs to be done or forfeit some part(s) of my life, a thing that I am unable (and unwilling) to do. The bills still have to be paid, the child and dog still need to be taken care of, my students still have to be taught, and I still have to keep going.

I’ve been reading up on the Spoon Theory today, wondering if I can use it to help explain how my anxiety and depression work. And to a certain extent, it does work–I have a finite amount of energy each day, and I must consider which tasks have to be done and which can wait. But my illness deviates from Spoon Theory, perhaps because it is of a mental rather than physical nature–or perhaps just because we’re all different, and there is no one-size-fits-all way of explaining what it’s like to live with an illness.

Some days, I wake up and bounce out of bed, moving through the getting-ready-to-be-out-in-the-world phase pretty quickly and easily. Some days, it’s easy to face my classroom full of students–and there are times when it even gives me some spoons back, almost like re-charging. On those days, the monster sits quietly by, attentive but not active. Leashed. (Modern medicine is a Wonder, and it is Key to Keeping the Monster on a Leash.)

And then some days (like today), getting out of bed feels like slogging through mud–with an unruly, awful critter screaming at me to hurry up. That I’m not doing well enough. That I’m weak. That the world is big and ugly and always will be. That I’m insignificant. These taunts make me so afraid that I start dropping spoons. And once I start dropping spoons, it’s difficult to get them back. Everything is scary, and nothing is good enough.

Some days (like today), I start thinking about how I’ll have the energy to parent, because if there’s one thing I’m sure of, it’s that I need spoons when Little Jedi is home. I need spoons when he’s home so that I can find him something to snack on, help with homework, and give him the emotional and mental support and care that he needs from his mother. And if there’s one thing that I’m afraid of, especially on a day like today, it’s that I’m doing him a disservice by using up my spoons on the rest of the world. And so the monster grows louder, needier.

That monster–that loud, mean monster–is more difficult to quiet on some days than others. And while I am lucky enough to have a wonderful, supportive spouse and a fantastic kid and a comfortable home, none of those things can make the monster quieter.

On these days, we wait for the monster to wear herself out.

Review: The Attic Box

Guys, guys! Look what I just got!

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It’s this month’s Attic Box, and it’s fantastic!

Our friends at Blue Spider Press dreamed up The Attic Box, and I was only too thrilled when they offered to send their October box my way–its Halloween-y theme fit right into the month’s posts! This monthly subscription box includes gently used books (that’s what you see in the paper wrapping), coffee samples, and bookish treasures.

The Attic Box arrived quickly–I received a shipping notification in my e-mail on Oct 5, and it was here by Oct 7. And that’s good, because I was excited about what would be inside!

img_20161008_132553Turns out, there were quite a few things inside! The small, handmade Poison Ivy keychain is currently tied with the Frankenstein refrigerator magnet for Favorite Bookish Treasure. There were also several cool stickers, a small bag of candy, a lovely bookmark, and a copy of Flytrap Uprising, Blue Spider Press’s journal. We haven’t tried the San Francisco Bay coffee yet, but both Sam and I are looking forward to it.

The books were wrapped in sturdy brown paper, which kept their covers and pages from being damaged during transport. And gently used is exactly the phrase I would choose for them. The three books I received were paperbacks with very little wear and tear–both The Second Glass of Absinthe (Michelle Black) and The Monsters of Templeton (Lauren Groff) were in like-new condition, and Jonathan Mayberry’s Bad Moon Rising only showed signs of wear along the spine of the book (difficult not to with a paperback that clocks in at just over 600 pages). I don’t think that any of the books is something I would’ve thought to purchase, but all of them are things that I’m quite interested in reading, especially The Monsters of Templeton.

img_20161008_132543So would I buy this? Absolutely. Would I recommend this? Absolutely.

At just 19.99/month + shipping/handling fees, the box is not exorbitantly expensive. And unlike many of the other subscription boxes, which include all-new products that are factory made and that are mass-mailed, The Attic Box includes items that are individually selected and often handmade. I also quite like that the box includes secondhand books, giving them a new home and me some new reading material. PLUS, a little birdy tells me that if you subscribe before Dec 31 and use the code FREEBIESFORPTM, you can get a little extra something in your Attic Box.

Monster Monday: The Cuckoo

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Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series gives us both heroes and villains, monsters and gods. Sometimes, they are one and the same. Sometimes, it is difficult to decide on any real classification. And sometimes the most interesting of characters are only on the page for a brief time, for a snapshot of their brief lives. Not many of the monsters can make me shudder in quite the way that the Cuckoo can, though–not even the Corinthian, and that’s saying something since the Corinthian has teeth for eyes.

The Cuckoo appears in A Game of You, the fifth story arc of the series. And while many classify this as their least favorite of the bunch, it ranks among my favorites. The story is inventive, and beautiful, and grotesque, and problematic. The characters are vivid and flawed and brave and vulnerable. And it’s all a game, a game of identity. A game of you, quite literally.

Barbie is locked out of her dreams, unable to return to the Land, the dreamworld where she reigns as Princess Barbara. And her dreamworld is in terrible danger from a mysterious monster called the Cuckoo, who has taken over in the absence of the princess. Barbie is visited in the waking world by Martin Tinbones, a giant dog from the Land who has come to find her; just as he gives her an amulet which he calls the Porpentine, he is shot and killed by police.

The Porpentine returns Barbie to her dreamworld, where she is greeted by several of its inhabitants and sent on a quest to put an end to the Cuckoo. Back in the apartment, where Barbie’s unconscious body rests, one of her neighbors is revealed to have been recruited by the Cuckoo–he releases a flock of nightmare birds that are only stopped when Thessaly (another denizen of the apartment and a powerful witch) kills him. Thessaly divines the threat of the Cuckoo (by using George’s innards) and summons the moon (using menstrual blood), after which she travels to the Land with Hazel and Foxglove, who also live in the apartment building. Their neighbor Wanda is left to watch over Barbie’s unconscious body. (All of this gets a little complicated because Wanda is a transgender woman left behind because she isn’t “technically” a woman–the implications of which are big and problematic and sad.)

While in the Land, Barbie embarks on a quest to find the Cuckoo and restore order. She finally comes to the Cuckoo’s citadel–which looks just like Barbie’s childhood home. And then child-Barbie runs up to adult-Barbie, revealing herself to be the Cuckoo. Or at least, some version of herself. The Cuckoo, it seems, was born from Barbie’s childhood imaginings and fantasies, and she has become a kind of parasitic entity. She was Barbie’s imaginary friend as a child, and when she was discarded, she became tied to Barbie’s dreamworld. Barbie’s companions on her journey and Martin Tenbones are actually versions of Barbie’s discarded childhood toys, and Barbie’s dreamworld is a kind of simulation of her childhood.

reckoningThe Cuckoo bewitches Barbie, who agrees to help the Cuckoo destroy the Land by allowing the Cuckoo to kill her. She’s not satisfied with her home in the Land…She wants to be free to fly away. Destroying the dream will allow her to fly away and plant versions of herself in the thousands of other dreamworlds that exist. When Thessaly, Hazel, and Foxglove arrive to save Barbie and confront the Cuckoo, they are temporarily tricked into thinking that the Cuckoo is Luz (one of Barbie’s toys and a companion on her adventure through the Land who turns out to be a spy for the Cuckoo), and Thessaly kills Luz. Barbie destroys the Hierogram and the Porpentine, which summons Morpheus, who un-creates the Land and its inhabitants. Barbie is granted a boon from Morpheus, and she uses it to ensure the safe return of herself, Thessaly, Foxglove, and Hazel to the waking world.

Against Thessaly’s wishes, the Cuckoo is allowed to fly away freely. So, what became of the Cuckoo? Who can say? Probably she’s in another dreamworld, on another dream island.

Thursday 13: Favorite Horror Comedies

I’ve mentioned, once or twice, that I’m a fan of horror films.

I have an especially soft spot for comedy-horror. It can go really, really bad–but when it’s good, it’s really, really good. I like the combination of laughter and fear, the way comedy-horror often pokes fun not just at the horror film genre but at our humanity and its discontents.

Here are my favorites:

13 Horror Films to Watch This October

I’ve mentioned before that I like gory TV shows and all-things-zombie. And, naturally, I have an affinity for all manner of creatures and monsters. I also don’t mind being scared, especially if I can be scared in my own home, and especially if it’s October, which Sam and I always officially designate as a month of horror films. So in the spirit of the season, here are some of my favorite horror films:

1. Insidious, 2010.

I love haunted house stories, and I’ve watched this one with more, not less, horror each time I’ve seen it. The film maintains an excellent balance of newer film techniques with tried-and-true horror film staples. Plus, this creature that a friend and I isolated in the trailer still freaks me out, almost 7 years later.

 

2. 28 Days Later, 2002.

Danny Boyle’s post-apocalyptic world of contagion is fantastic. It does what the best horror movies do in that it provides us with a scapegoat to be afraid of (the virus, and those fast zombies) and then reminds us that what we should really be afraid of is humanity.

3. The Exorcist, 1973.

I was in college when I watched this for the first time, and I was absolutely frightened by it. The feeling lingered for a while, a few hours after the film was over. The re-watches don’t scare me as much, but it’s still a chilling film—superbly scripted and acted, with that spider-walk on the stairs still being one of the creepiest things I’ve seen on film.

4. Let the Right One In, 2008.

I’ve seen both this original, Swedish version and the American remake, Let Me In. And it was honestly a little difficult to decide which version to choose for the list. Each version is an adaptation of a vampire novel, and each has its own merits. The Swedish version ultimately topped out for me because of its careful timing and fantastic use of long, slow shorts and sparse dialogue to create tension.

5. The Cabin in the Woods, 2012.

This film surprised me, it really did. But then again, with Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard at its helm and Kristen Connolly as its heroine, I suppose it shouldn’t have been surprised at the heady mix of cheekiness and gore. Not content just to subvert our expectations of the genre—it twists and rearranges them.

6. The Shining, 1980.

Jack Torrence is one of the scariest characters I’ve ever had the pleasure to watch on-screen, but at least 7/10’s of that is due to the performances put in by Jack Nicholson and Shelley Long. I’ve been watching this film since I was probably-too-young-to-watch-it, and I’m pretty sure that those twins in the hallway are the origin of my fear of kids-in-horror-movies.

7. Zombieland, 2009.

A zombie film with Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, and Jesse Eisenberg? And they run into Bill Murray, you say? Sign me up. The film manages to be, at its heart, a zombie film, and while the characters are fun in a way that they rarely are during the zombie apocalypse, there are moments of tension, fear, and pop culture critique.

8. The Conjuring, 2013.

Another fairly recent film, The Conjuring tells the story of the Warrens, American paranormal investigators, as they conduct an investigation and exorcism at the Perron family home. Using old-school scare tactics and striking cinematography, the new film manages a refreshing, cerebral take on the horror tropes of the investigator and the haunted house.

9. Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, 1962.

Fantastically creepy, the aging sisters of Baby Jane are a stark reminder of the jealousy and animosity that can sit beside us, of the things we hide from ourselves and those closest to us. Bette Davis and Joan Crawford are fantastic mirrors for one another.

10. Halloween, 1978.

Difficult to make a horror film list, especially in October, without mentioning this one. Mike Meyers has haunted our dreams for 36 years now, and he shows no signs of stopping. From the moment he stabs his sister to the film’s final act, Meyers is terrifying and mesmerizing.

11. Frailty, 2001.

Matthew McConaughey walks into a police station and claims to know who the God’s Hand Killer is, a terrifying serial killer who is revealed, through flashbacks, to be McConaughey’s father (Bill Paxton, in his directorial debut), an ultra-religious man who wakes up his two sons one night to instruct them on how to dispatch demons. The film is twisty-turny, and it’s a woefully underrated piece of suspense horror.

12. Psycho, 1960.

The king of horror films, Psycho still manages to be scary, over 50 years after its release. Norman Bates is a character of horrifying beauty.

13. Alyce Kills, 2011.

Alyce Kills has a bit of a sagging middle, but the opening act and the final act are fantastic. It’s plenty gory, though most of the gore is contained in the last 20 minutes of the film, and it’s also darkly funny and painful to watch Alyce, whose friends have missed all signs that she’s a budding psychopath, come completely unglued because of her guilt over a friend’s probably-mostly-accidental death.

Alyce