This one is obvious: When you walk into a dark house, turn the lights on. But there are other valuable lessons lurking out there, somewhere, as these cinephiles point out.

By Liz Loerke
Updated September 27, 2016
Ben Wiseman
Ben Wiseman


As a parent, you deal with fear in so many capacities. You have your own worries about your child’s safety, and you also have to deal with your child’s fears of everything from shots to having her mashed potatoes touch her green beans. Horror movies, while completely supernatural, teach us to take those concerns seriously. The 2014 Australian movie The Babadook comes to mind. It’s about a single mom and her six-year-old son, who is being haunted by a monster. The mom writes it off as a “monster under the bed” fantasy. Of course, the Babadook turns out to be real. It serves as a good, if extreme, reminder that no matter how silly a child’s anxieties seem, the fear behind them is legit. —Aviva Briefel, Ph.D., professor of English and cinema studies at Bowdoin College, in Brunswick, Maine.


Remembering anniversaries: Sounds easy, right? But in horror movies no one does it. In 1980’s Friday the 13th, a couple of randy counselors get butchered a year after letting a young boy named Jason Voorhees drown. The rest of the movie takes place 21 years later, on what would have been Jason’s birthday—yes, Friday the 13th—when a new batch of horny staffers winds up on the bloody business end of a similar killing spree. The day proves lethal in the sequels as well. Had they just looked at a calendar, it all could have been avoided. —Chris Nashawaty, film critic for Entertainment Weekly (which, like Real Simple, is a Time Inc. publication). He lives in Connecticut.


I have a vivid memory of seeing The Exorcist with my dad when I was 13. The film was huge that year—everybody was talking about it. I kept hearing how scary it was, and I was petrified. So I bought the screenplay and took it with me to the theater. I actually kept the book open in the light of the aisle so I could read ahead and know what was coming. Since then, I have found that it’s good to do research and be prepared before you go into a new situation. —David Schwartz, chief curator at the Museum of the Moving Image, in Queens, New York.


My dad always said that what we can imagine in our minds is far scarier than what we see on the screen. I think that is also true in real life. The fears in our heads are a million times more frightening than most of what actually happens to us. In fact, studies have shown that 85 percent of what we are afraid of never occurs, so we spend an inordinate amount of time worrying needlessly. That’s why movies like The Fall of the House of Usher, where you don’t see anything outright gory, are scarier. As Hamlet said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” —Victoria Price, daughter of horror-film legend Vincent Price and the author of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography. She lives in Santa Fe.


In so many horror movies, the protagonist ultimately has to rely only on herself. Rosemary’s Baby is a perfect example. Here is this woman who seemingly has everything. She lives in a lovely apartment building; she has what appears to be a charming and ambitious husband; she’s surrounded by a support system of neighbors. But slowly she learns that the people she depends on are the ones most out to hurt her. Fortunately, most of us won’t find ourselves living among Satanists. But we have all been in a position where someone we trusted let us down. Ultimately you have to come to your own aid. —David Filipi, director of film/video at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University, in Columbus.