Don’t Go Alone: Horror & The Shared Viewing Experience

Despite film watching being a silent, solitary activity we love to watch them in group. And there’s really two categories where watching films becomes a real shared experience. When we all share laughs at comedy and when we all share scares during a horror. Some of my favourite viewing experiences come from watching horror films with friends. Maybe it’s because we don’t like being scared alone? Maybe it’s because we like to share in that masochistic feeling of making ourselves feel scared? Or maybe it’s because we like to feel brave as watch our friends hide behind a cushion? Whatever it is, it’s become a time honoured tradition.

Two of my oldest and closest friends watch a horror film every day throughout the month of October in the run up to Halloween, dubbing the season Halloween Film Festival. They’re a couple so they’re not watching alone but they invite people round to watch with them and pick films, turning it into an event more shared experience. In fact, it was spending an October evening with them around ten years ago that led to my first viewing of John Carpenter’s The Thing, a film that’s not only become one of my favourite horrors but one of my favourite films in general. I can still recall holding a cushion as a shield as the dogs barked at their new cage-mate while it began to transform into an indescribable monster and my girlfriend at the time screaming “This is the first time I’ve wanted a dog to die in a film!”

At university, a film night where housemates, girlfriends, boyfriends, neighbour friends and anyone that was free and was up for a good scare all piled into the living room was always a common occurrence. The films would range from classics such as Friday The 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to more modern masterpieces like The Babadook, It Follows and Kill List. It became a self-inflicted exercise in terror that we burdened together and when someone really jumped at a scare we shared a laugh at that person’s expense to relieve the tension and I’d be thankful that they didn’t notice me jump first.

These are the sort of viewings that stick around with you for years to come. Some viewings ascend the film, creating a much more notable experience than if you’d watched the film or alone with just a single friend. But often the film and the viewing would create the perfect storm of shared trauma. The viewing of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was one such experience. Director Nicolas Winding Refn had a selection of films to watch on streaming service MUBI that had particularly influence his career and top of his list was The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Myself and two of my housemates and close friends James and Raf had never seen it before. All three of us being film students and considering ourselves film aficionados thought we should rectify that and gathered some drinks and snacks and hit play.

What followed was one of the most horrifying, painful and vocal film watching sessions I’ve ever known. The film had all three of us on edge to a point of such discomfort that we were practically climbing the wall. Raf was utterly broken by the end, James had to switch on all the lights and I was stuck between a sense of disbelief that a film I assumed would be fairly tame by modern standards had shocked and scared me to my very core and a sense of wonder of how brilliant that nightmare of a film was and wondering why I’d never got round to seeing it before. Such is the power of horror and such is the power of a group watch.

It’s an evening we still discuss and laugh about and Raf maintains he can never watch the film again, citing it as one of the most stressful experiences of his life. At least he didn’t watch it alone.

Words by Adam Gunton

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