Courtesy of Gimlet Media
THE SCAREDY CATS HORROR SHOW podcast defines itself as “a new podcast about scary movies for people who are too scared to ever watch them. Each week Alex Goldman, avowed horror fan, screens a scary movie for avowed scaredy-cat PJ Vogt. Together, they want to find out if it’s possible to become a person who enjoys fear.”

The first episode of this quarantine side project from the Reply All team went up at the end of April and, after five episodes, the finale aired this last Friday. You may be wondering why a podcast about horror movies has a finale, and that is because THE SCAREDY CATS HORROR SHOW started with one very specific, achievable goal: To watch a scary movie every week until PJ feels tough enough to watch and appreciate Get Out.

Alex curates a list starting at films described as “not that scary,” which get progressively scarier, in order to see if it’s possible to cure PJ of his fear. The films discussed in episode order are:

  1. The Exorcist
  2. Nightmare on Elm Street
  3. Alien
  4. Hereditary and Midsommar
  5. Get Out

You can use this list as a roadmap for your own weenie friends who might similarly aspire not to be left out of the zeitgeist when the next cultural phenomenon from the horror genre comes around. You know, the one who asks you to recap cult classics or new hits for them in detail so that they can understand what it’s about without having to see it themselves. They can listen to the podcast after to feel less alone in their weenie-ness.

The best part is the organically playful dynamic between PJ, who is so scared of horror movies that he spent his life so far avoiding them at all costs, and Alex, who says he consumes horror films the way you gobble popcorn at the movie theater. It’s refreshing to experience horror through the eyes of someone so inexperienced with the genre that they lack any of the savviness expected from an analysis of all these well-known films. For example, in the first episode with guest Jason Mantzoukas, PJ describes how he had never experienced a scene that is funny and terrifying at the same until Linda Blair comes downstairs and pees on the carpet in The Exorcist.

A Nightmare on Elm Street l Credit: IMDB

Another delightfully fresh observation that stuck with me is from the second episode of THE SCAREDY CATS HORROR SHOW. It takes place when they discuss a scene from A Nightmare on Elm Street where Nancy tries to run up the stairs and her feet get caught in the steps as if they’re in quicksand. PJ notes that there are so many gorier scenes in the movie that should be more shocking and unsettling than this, but that this was the biggest scare for him. When asked why he explains it’s because he personally has a lot of dreams about being chased in which his ability to flee is impeded. He says, “Seeing that made me feel like the movie had access to parts of me that I don’t like feeling like a movie has access to. Which maybe is my problem with horror movies.” This sparked a lightbulb moment for me, where it clicked that what makes PJ so uncomfortable with horror films happens to be the same thing that makes most horror fans feel understood by them. I’m so used to opinions on horror being divided between lovers or haters of the genre that it’s fascinating to see an appreciation of the things I love approached from an angle of reluctant enjoyment.

In between the teasing banter, each episode provides plentiful analysis and interpretation of the film discussed, which I found surprisingly impactful despite the lighthearted tone. On the subject of The Exorcist, Alex reveals that to him, the whole movie feels like an extended metaphor for not being able to protect your children. PJ explains why he disagrees with that interpretation, then also throws in an extra observation that opened my own eyes to the nature of my relationships to horror films in a time like this. He recounts that before watching the movie he was already anxious and fearful from looking at too many graphs and statistics about COVID-19, but that the two hours it took to watch a terrifying film took his mind off the very real fear of the pandemic in a way a non-horror movie couldn’t have. Despite openly hating horror at the start and being resistant to enjoy it, PJ still stumbles backwards into the positives of the genre; the relief and the catharsis of it.

The guests in each episode are artists ranging from actors to playwrights to filmmakers who not only trade tips and tricks on how they personally manage terror induced by horror films (which I find to be endearing insights on their individual personalities), they also bring absolute gems to the conversation. While discussing Midsommar, Carmen Maria Machado brings up that she considers the bizarre sex scene as a scene of sexual assault and explains why. The regular hosts were as surprised by this take as I was. It’s something I hadn’t considered at all, which I immediately brought up to a friend who similarly appreciated the movie and is an assault survivor herself. It turns out, she hadn’t considered that either. This led us into an incredibly rich and fruitful conversation around consent in fiction and the nature of dubious consent when drugs and social pressure/coercion are involved. Eventually, this discussion between my friend and I circled to a figurative reading of how that scene could encapsulate the ways in which cults capitalize on your weaknesses, remove your agency, and manipulate you into joining their mentality as a form of intimate violence.

Get Out l Credit: IMDB

This is why I can’t recommend THE SCAREDY CATS HORROR SHOW enough. My love for the horror feels rejuvenated in a way that’s different from other podcasts hosted by longtime fans of the genre. There’s a special joy I received from listening to someone who isn’t familiar with horror films at all and is in fact dragged kicking and complaining into watching them at all, discover the hidden richness of the genre, and find reluctant delight in it. It only took five episodes to level PJ up enough to watch Get Out, which is a shorter journey than I expected. Still, it’s worth it. To tie a bow on this recommendation, I’ll leave you with a quote that has stuck with me since I listened to the finale on Friday. Guest Branden Jacobs-Jenkins described why people get addicted to horror in a way that rang intensely true: “They’re exercises in feeling. They’re taking care of you in that moment. Everything you’re feeling, you’re feeling safely.”

Interested in checking out the podcast? Check them out at this link HERE.

Jaanelle Yee
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