In an experiment of human terror, three writers watched horror movies for 24 hours straight
Film critic Bob Grimm, theater critic Mark Dunagan and arts editor Brad Bynum subjected themselves to 24 straight hours of gruesome, horrifying images culled from the last 80 years of international horror cinema. It was a combination of mind-altering torture and pizza-eating pajama party.
Additionally, the three writers, code named “the Monster Squad,” live-blogged about the experiment on a Facebook group page, much to the annoyance of Facebookers who joined the group but didn’t adjust their notification settings. Some of these Facbookers were brave enough to play along at home, if only for a movie or two, and their occasional comments provided the Monster Squad a lifeline to the outside world. Here are the scientific results, including lightly edited excerpts from the bone-chilling Facebook transmissions.
The first experiment was The Thing, a 1982 John Carpenter film beloved by the experiment’s three principle test subjects.
1:15 P.M. BRAD: Though The Thing is a great opener for something like this, I kind of wish we’d put it at a later slot when Bob, Mark and I were all more paranoid and suspicious of each other.
1:15 P.M. MARK: I’m already suspicious of Bob, so it’s working out.
1:39 P.M. BOB: I was paranoid and hating you guys when I walked in here, so we are good.
Results: Despite the film’s bleak ending and terrifying special effects, the subjects were happy, perhaps naively so—unaware of the full extant of the terror that awaited them.
The second experiment was the 1982 anthology Creepshow, written by iconic horror author Stephen King and directed by iconic horror director George Romero.
2:41 p.m. Bob: 1982: A great year for sweaters!
2:41 p.m. Mark: I can’t look at anything other than Leslie Nielson’s sweater right now. It’s crazy.
3:32 p.m. Mark: There’s a real theme in this movie of people just treating each other badly. All these zombies and creatures around, but the people are the real monsters. I never noticed how moralistic this film is.
3:52 p.m. R.C. Schmidt: It’s true. It hearkens back to the old EC Comics stories. It’s all very Golden Rule.
Results: The subjects were still in buoyant spirits, though the fragmented structure of the film did seem to fracture this mood. Note the bizarre obsession with actor Leslie Nielsen’s sweater, for example.
The third experiment is a 1973 TV movie about a house haunted by bizarre little goblins.
4:22 p.m. Bob: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is officially the movie that screwed me up the most when I was a kid. Caught a late night rerun while staying at my grandma’s and had nightmares for weeks.
5:10 p.m. Brad: Should we talk about the grand horror tradition of female protagonists who might be experiencing supernatural evil and might just be crazy? It dates back at least to Henry James’ Turn of the Screw.
5:12 p.m. Mark: I was actually thinking that Sally is kind of a classic weak-willed heroine—just get your shit together and get out of the damn house. … Bob points out that the women are the only ones talking sense though—good counterpoint.
Results: The subjects seemed comfortable with the experiments. That easygoing attitude was reinforced late during Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark by the arrival at their torture chamber of Megan Berner, a writer and photographer who joined them for the next three movies.
An American Werewolf in London
The fourth experiment was a 1981 film about an American werewolf in London.
6:03 p.m. Mark: It’s crazy how hard it is to make fake blood look right. It’s always too red or too transparent. I perfected this as a teenager. The secret is mostly corn syrup, some red food coloring, a touch of blue food coloring, and here’s the crucial ingredient: some creamy peanut butter to make it more opaque.
6:04 p.m. Brad: That’s also my recipe for breakfast.
6:38 p.m. Brad: Bob just said that this is the best ever mixture of horror and comedy. Mark said, no, that’s Ghostbusters. Anybody agree one way or the other?
6:45 p.m. Mark: I’d say American Werewolf is a horror film with heavy comedic elements, and Ghostbusters is a comedy that successfully works in some horror elements. … Bob Grimm thinks Ghostbusters is science fiction. I disagree.
6:49 p.m. Bob: They have the technology to capture ghosts, which gives it a science fiction angle.
6:52 p.m. Mark: And Alien has space travel, but it’s a horror movie.
6:56 p.m. Bob: ALIEN IS HORROR/SCI FI.
6:58 p.m. Mark: Pure horror. That movie could be set anywhere. It happens to be set in space. It relies on no hypothetical scenarios for its overall effect.
7:01 p.m. D. Brian Burghart: The existence of aliens is pretty hypothetical, as is the idea of human travel outside our solar system.
7:03 p.m. Mark: Sci-fi uses hypothetical science to reveal some insight about its subject matter that could not otherwise be revealed. Alien does not do that.
8:14 p.m. Jacquie Allen: “See, American Werewolf is not a comedy. People keep calling it a comedy, it’s very funny I hope, but it is a horror film. We meet these guys in a truckload of sheep. This is not subtle. I mean these boys are dead by the end of the movie. That’s not really a happy tale,” John Landis [the film’s director].
Results: The subjects were aided by feedback from outside the torture chamber during this experiment. But cracks were showing. Note the discussion about genre distinctions centered on two movies that weren’t even in the experiments.
The fifth experiment was the 1992 tale of a legendary killer who might be a figment of the heroine’s deranged imagination.
7:29 p.m. Mark: We’re watching this one—it’s my pick—because of what a touchstone it was in the early ’90s if you were of an age to hang out and watch horror movies with friends. It also represents Clive Barker, for my money the greatest imagination in modern horror.
7:39 p.m. Brad: What are the cliché horror fake-out scares? A cat. The boyfriend. A tree blowing in the wind scraping against the window. What else?
7:41 p.m. Allen: Car backfiring. … Teapot boiling/screaming. … Unseen person coming out from behind something and scaring the heroine while their back is turned—always turns out to be a friend though. … Strange noises coming from one part of the house; after investigating, the heroine breathes a sigh of relief—only to be attacked by someone from the opposite side.
8:29 p.m. Brad: This is another movie that plays with the idea of a hysterical female protagonist who may or may not be imagining the apparent horrors. Where’d that idea come from?
8:31 p.m. Mark: You could trace it back to the Greeks with Cassandra. Gift of precognition, curse that no one believes her. Everyone thought she was crazy. Maybe she was.
8:33 p.m. Bob: … and it’s scary and stuff.
Experiment 6 was a 2001 psychological horror movie about workers coming unhinged while cleaning a closed-down mental asylum. One of the workers finds audio tapes of therapy sessions with a patient who suffers from a multiple personality disorder. There’s one personality, Simon, which the other personalities all fear.
9:57 p.m. Mark: Going back to the insane asylum after dark to steal the valuables from cremated remains. What could possibly go wrong?!
9:59 p.m. MeganI can’t handle this.
10 p.m. Mark: You’re handling it perfectly.
10:01 p.m. Megan: By screaming and crying huddled up in the corner of the couch?
10:04 p.m. Brad: I also really like that this movie is about a bunch of working class dudes with a really shitty job to do.
11:26 p.m. Mark: Meg and I have different readings of Session 9. Meg thinks that Simon is insanity, or some kind of embodiment of it. After seeing it a few times, I actually think Simon is a sentient spirit that gets into people. No spoilers, but Simon is always the same no matter when it is or who is involved.
Results: At this point, the subjects were demonstrating signs of fearful psychological disturbance. Megan left when the movie was over.
The seventh experiment was the 1997 science fiction/horror film Event Horizon. It was directed by notorious hack Paul W.S. Anderson of Resident Evil fame.
12:05 a.m. Mark: This movie walks a line between being really tense and really silly. I think it mostly stays toward the former, but I can definitely see why a lot of people think it spills too much into the latter.
12:14 a.m. Brad: It’s also a weird pastiche of a bunch of great movies. There are blatant homages to Alien, Aliens, 2001, Don’t Look Now, Empire Strikes Back—well, maybe they’re homages. Maybe they’re just rip-offs.
12:26 a.m. Bob: This movie makes no sense.
12:37 a.m. Brad: I actually enjoyed it less this time than I did the last time I watched it a few years ago. It’s just so schlocky—but it is amazing how there are some seriously frightening images and moments mixed in among the schlock, though admittedly many of those images are borrowed from other, better movies.
Results: All three subjects, even the two who claimed to like the movie beforehand, seemed to have trouble engaging with it. Therefore, they drank a lot of energy drinks during the film, which led to innard turmoil later on.
The eighth experiment was a 1933 movie about a big ape.
12:49 a.m. Bob: I championed this one for the marathon: King Kong, almost 80 years old and still an amazing spectacle, with a huge body count. … 10 dead and counting.
1:39 a.m. Jen Scaffidi: OK, I just spend $3 to fall asleep watching the second half of a monkey puppet movie. … Is the premise as confusing if you saw the first 55 minutes? Why are there people in grass skirts and witch doctor makeup? Why is the monkey so angry? WHY IS HE SMELLING THE GIRL?
2:08 a.m. Brad: You want to wake up a lagging Bob Grimm during a horror movie marathon? Just put on King Kong. Dude perks right the fuck up.
2:09 a.m. Bob: This is the shit!
2:28 a.m. Bob: FINAL DEATH COUNT: 57
Results: The subjects began developing giggling, morbid fascinations, with Bob especially obsessed with enumerating the fatalities.
For experiment nine, the 1972 blaxploitation vampire flick Blacula, the subjects were joined in the torture chamber by their friend Adam Cooper, who brought ice cream.
3:03 a.m. Mark: Sad disco music—it’s hard out here for a vamp.
3:17 a.m. Adam Cooper: I’m going on record early saying that Blacula is misunderstood. He’s just an undead man looking for love.
3:24 a.m. Brad: In the ’70s, it was uncool for a man to show an unclothed neck or an unhairy upper lip. Turtlenecks and ’staches abound.
3:51 a.m. Bob: ROCKSTAR LEMONADE BE SAVING MY ASS ALL NIGHT …
4:12 a.m. Brad: The biggest surprise, and biggest disappointment, about Blacula is the complete and total lack of nudity. Of course, I just noticed it’s only rated PG, so never mind. … Also, I’m not sure if this is a surprise or not, but Blacula is actually pretty good.
Results: There was a big boost of energy during experiment nine. However, much of this energy was directed toward base desires, like a prurient recurring interest in seeing the actresses nude. Bob was still gleeful about Rockstar, blissfully unaware that the beverage would soon be creating serious problems in his belly.
The 10th experiment was Deep Red, a 1975 film by Italian horror master Dario Argento.
5:05 a.m. Brad: I was admiring the careful arrangement of the streetwalkers a few scenes ago and Mark pointed out that every shot in this movie is a composition. Which I guess you can say about every movie. But you know what I mean. Or maybe you don’t. I don’t know. Who are you? AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING INSIDE THE HOUSE?
5:10 a.m. Mark: OK, the killer seems to be a woman—linked to a little girl at the beginning, mascara—the redhead is physically strong. Too obvious? Red herring? Redhairing?
5:13 a.m. Brad: GOBLIN IS BETTER THAN WHATEVER YOUR SHITTY BAND THAT DOES THE MUSIC FOR YOUR SHITTY MOVIES IS CALLED.
5:37 a.m. Michael Grimm: You guys think you’re soooo special. I’ve been up for the past six nights playing “24 Hours of the Horror of a Newborn’s Poopy Bottom”! Amateurs!
Results: The subjects experienced some extreme psychological effects. Bob was clutching his stomach in physical pain, probably due to the energy drinks he’d consumed. Brad struggled to differentiate between the movie and reality.
The Friday the 13th Coin Flip Selection Ceremony winner
The subjects flipped some coins, to add an element of surprise, and ended up selecting the 1984 film Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, the fourth and not-at-all-final film of the long-running slasher franchise, for experiment 11.
6:44 a.m. Mark: If Michael Myers is the king of the slashers, and Freddy is the court jester, where does that put Jason?
6:46 a.m. Brad: He’s a rook: solid, reliable deaths, not always especially creative, but stolid.
6:51 a.m. Brad: I don’t think “stolid” is the word I meant. But whatever. I’ve been watching horror movies for nearly 19 hours. At least it’s an actual word.
6:53 a.m. Brad: This movie is especially blaptuous. I wruomple the glidering glimpie gleethers.
6:54 a.m. Ben Johnson: Brad fail English, that’s unpossible.
8 a.m. Brad: OK, this is bullshit. Corey Feldman in a bald cap talking sense into Jason, however briefly, is bullshit. Of course, Jason was a dumb little kid who drowned and came back as an even dumber zombie—though inexplicably good at killing people, like an idiot savant of murder—but I guess it makes sense he’d be easily distracted.
8:06 a.m. Bob: Well, that wasn’t very good now, was it?
Results: Though the subjects seemed to be psychologically weakened, this formulaic film did little to slow them down.
Experiment 12 was Canadian body horror auteur David Cronenberg’s 1986 remake of the 1958 film The Fly. Cronenberg’s film stars Jeff Goldblum as a scientist turning into an insect.
8:54 a.m. Mark: I feel like Cronenberg isn’t really trying to scare people. He’s not setting out to make a movie that has a bunch of scares in it, like a typical horror director would. Cronenberg just wants to explore what he wants to explore, and if the results upset or scare you, all the better. Is it horror? I’m not sure. The Fly is coming across as gross sci-fi to me.
9:07 a.m. Bob: I think this movie is really about the horrors of puberty. Goldblum’s skin, the stuff that shoots out of him later, the ability to rip a man’s arm off during an arm wrestle—every teenaged boy can relate.
9:21 a.m. Brad: It’s also an allegory about any illness, though, as Bob pointed out, given the time period, AIDS especially.
9:25 a.m. Mark: Yep. When this movie came out, an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence. The sense of inevitability in this movie is almost suffocating.
9:49 a.m. Brad: Man, this movie is fucking sad.
9:51 a.m. Bob: I feel like Jeff Goldblum looked at the end of that movie.
9:52 a.m. Brad: I’m so fucking tired and delirious and exhausted that I’ve got no emotional defenses, so that movie just annihilated me.
10:08 a.m. Mark: Yeah, I’m way too raw at this point for that movie. I guess that was the point of this godforsaken exercise.
10:12 a.m. Bob: I’ve lost my sense of identity. I just want to go home.
10:14 a.m. Brad: I just stepped outside, and there’s a horrific giant ball of fire in the sky, casting blinding light everywhere, and strange winged creatures are flying through the air making bizarre squawking noises which made me jump with fear.
Results: All three subjects were completely broken by the end of this film. Bob was numb and indifferent. Mark was verging on tears. And Brad was so jumpy that the sun frightened him.
The title of the final experiment, Peter Jackson’s Dead Alive could easily describe the states of mind of the three subjects. The film’s alternate title, Braindead, might have been even more apropos.
10:52 a.m. Jen Scaffidi: The scariest part of your 24-hour experiment: spending 24 consecutive hours on Facebook.
10:53 a.m. Bob: No single person should ever have to endure such terror.
11:32 a.m. Mark: This movie is boring.
11:45 a.m. Bob: Mark and Brad, sorry I made you watch King Kong. And you should’ve stopped me from drinking all those energy drinks because I had a total system collapse. Noomi and I bid you two crazy bastards a fond farewell. And to those of you who followed along, you are crazy too. Bye!
11:52 a.m. Mark: Hey … anyone wanna watch a movie?
Results: The subjects were hollow-eyed husks of their former selves, still typing away on Facebook like lobotomized zombies, but offering up nary a flinch or a giggle at the nonstop gore onscreen. The subjects had passed from the casual enthusiasm of the early hours to genuine fear, then to maniacal delight, and, finally after The Fly, they were emotionally defeated, desensitized and incapable of reacting—either in delight or shock—to any image, no matter how horrific.