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Mental Illness in the Horror Genre









Something that pissed me off the other day.

Talking to a guy who knows my parents but doesn’t know me very well, and he tells me that his friend (indeed, a very nice and talented actor) recently put out a horror movie. And I’m interested until I hear the words “So it’s about this guy with OCD…” and at that point my mom and I give each other a sidelong glance.

I say, “I don’t know, because I have OCD and it’s a pretty serious thing for me.”

To which he follows up, “Oh, you don’t have it like this guy! You’re totally functional!”

Okay, dude. Yes, I am standing before you in a fancy club, dressed nice, and looking relatively balanced. But you do not know me. You do not know OCD.

You do not know that I have been non-functional, and that in order to maintain my current balance of sanity, I take daily medication and see a weekly therapist, and I still have downward spirals and panic attacks.

OCD can add to a story, for sure. The Aviator is a great example–albeit, it was on the voyeuristic side, kind of “check out what a weirdo this guy really is”, but his condition was portrayed in a realistic and *sympathetic* manner, because it focused so hard on his anxiety and entrapment.

I don’t need a horror movie about my disorder for a couple reasons.
1. I already live the horror movie that is OCD.
2. Just like people with psychosis, schizophrenia/schizotypal disorders, dissociative identity disorders, and any other number of mental disorder that makes us act in unusual and yes, sometimes frightening ways, I don’t need it to be the hinge for your horror flick, a handy device that makes more people like you scared and misunderstanding of people like me.
3. And for people with the above disorders who may not be diagnosed, they don’t need to be told that they are dangerous monsters and cause them to avoid treatment out of fear. (This goes double for people who experience paranoia or delusions as part of their symptoms.)

This post ended up way longer than I meant, but really, truly, hear me out creators:


*Loudly looks @ the movie “Split” *

For real can we stop this shit along with having horror movies take place in mental hospitals

But imagine that the protagonist is the one with the OCD.

She is targeted by a serial killer who enjoys toying with people, gaslighting by proxy, and ‘maybe I’m going crazy’ works perfectly on all his victims until this one.

Because she knows the difference. She checks that her door is locked a dozen times before leaving the house, so she knows she didn’t leave it open. She unplugs every appliance in the house before she leaves, so she knows she didn’t leave the television on. Her clothes have to be organized in a very specific way so she knows that someone’s been touching them.

Of course, the horror movie aspect comes in when, because she has OCD, nobody believes any of this. Not the police, not her friends and family, nobody. “Everybody just forgets sometimes” or “It’s just your mind playing tricks on you” mouthed by people who don’t understand that she doesn’t EVER forget, that her mind plays tricks on her all the time and this is not like that, this is someone else *doing* it. she has more than enough experience to tell the difference.

When she reports whispers coming from inside the walls, she gets asked if it could just be ‘in her head’. No. It can’t. She knows what the inside of her head sounds like and it’s nothing like this. But nobody believes that.

She can’t leave the house because every time she does, someone comes in and touches and moves her things but nobody believes her. Her family come over to try to ‘calm her down’ which is absolutely zero help. It doesn’t matter how many traps she sets to prove that someone is in the house, nobody believes she didn’t trip them herself. In desperation, she turns to the people in her therapy group. Someone is in my house, moving things, whispering things, and nobody believes me, I need help or I’m pretty sure he’ll kill me.

And they show up, en masse, with improvised weapons and toolboxes, and they search every inch of her house (without making a mess in any way because they totally understand that that would upset her) and when she says the voice comes out of her bedroom wall they start measuring every room and wall and *that* wall might be thick enough for someone to hide inside so they tap on every inch with a rock taped to the end of a broomstick so they’re not in arm’s reach and that bit sounds hollow and that and that and that but *that* bit doesn’t and the serial killer bursts out to find a) way more people than he expected and b) OCD protagonist wielding a butcher knife.

When he’s doubled up on the floor screaming and clutching his bleeding abdomen they call an ambulance because they are not murderers unlike this guy and he gets pulled out and taken to hospital and her friends from therapy offer her a scrupulously clean spare bedroom and help cleaning up the blood and fixing the place up again and anything else she needs.

Six months later she’s back at work, and hears a receptionist talking about how her ex is being kind of creepy and she’s sure he’s sneaking into the house when she’s not home but her friends think she’s totally overreacting and maybe she’s just crazy -

OCD protagonist tells her that no, she is not crazy, and anyone who discounts her fears like that is not a friend. If she doesn’t feel safe, she needs to take steps to protect herself. Would she like to know how to rig some little traps to let her know for sure if someone’s been in the house? OCD protagonist knows some good ones.

Traps? Would they, like, hurt him?

They could. Would she like them to?

Yes please.


:D this is EXTREMELY relevant to my interests and now I’m mad this movie doesn’t exist because so few promising horror movies are coming out this year

This seems like a good place to mention that I especially love narratives where the MC’s mental illness or neurodivergence helps them out (aside from the ‘white autistic man is good at math’ trope because that’s been done to death) in situations that neurotypical people would have a hard time with - this reminds me of what I tried to do with Sally in The Ninth Daughter, where there’s a monster that specializes in manipulating reality without people noticing - but Sally’s schizophrenic and used to checking and re-checking the world around her for reality, so it doesn’t work on her.

I would be SO HERE FOR THIS.

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