We all love a good scary movie, and we’re spoiled for choice. Horror films have been both popular and consistent from the early days of “moving pictures” right up until the present. The first adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, for example, was made by Thomas Edison’s production company in 1910, while new movies starring her creation continue to be made today (he’s one of the stars of Hotel Transylvania 2 just this month). Yes, we love our monsters, ghouls, ghosts, vampires (not the sparkly ones that live in the Pacific Northwest), and miscellaneous other things that go bump in the night.
We watch them, at night, with the lights down low. Our hearts race, our stomachs are tied in knots, and our nerves are on edge. We’re a tightly coiled spring ready to be sprung. There are ghost stories, and slasher flicks. Found footage, and monsters galore. Torture porn, and Nicholas Sparks adaptations. No matter what frightens you, there’s a subgenre of horror for it. Paradoxically, we simply love to be scared.
Except at work. No one - I repeat, no one - wants to be scared at their workplace. But it’s sometimes unavoidable. We’re the buxom blonde in her underwear running through the forest while being chased by Jason Vorhees (he never runs, but always catches up). And the villain could be our direct boss, the CEO, the IT fella, the lunch lady, the woman in the next cubicle over, the janitor, the mailroom slacker, the new intern, or the catchphrase guy that answers everything with “That’s what she said”. Evil hides everywhere.
So what horror film does your workplace feel like? Here are a few usual suspects for your consideration.
The Scream franchise reinvigorated the slasher genre. A bunch of teenagers, a masked killer, jump scares, jokes, and jackasses.
And rules. There were rules. The “how to survive a horror movie” rules, which included no sex, no drugs or alcohol, and no saying “I’ll be right back”, “Hello?”, or “Who’s there?” To break any of them was to your own detriment, and always ended with a jarring introduction between you and a knife, axe, gun, or garage door. Don’t. Break. The. Rules. Is sex really worth dying for (honest answer...it depends)?
At work, you have rules too. Many rules. Some that make sense. Some that don’t. No drinking alcohol at work? Sensible. No having cell phone shaped items in your pockets? Silly. No posting to social media while at work? Sensible. No kissing your spouse or partner in the company parking lot? Silly.
Whoever is tasked with enforcing the rules is your workplace Ghostface. It’s their job to hide in closets, under desks, behind closed doors, and jump out shrieking “Aha!” whenever they see you breaking the no beverages but water at your desk rule. And instead of slashing your jugular with a fillet knife, they metaphorically cut you with a strongly worded letter of reprimand in your employee file. Scary!
They are everywhere, and nowhere.
Remember Jaws, the equally thrilling Jaws 2, the ridiculous Jaws 3D, or the “Oh come on!” Jaws: The Revenge (because sharks are known for holding a grudge and traveling thousands of miles to exact revenge)? The first two kept an entire generation of people out of the oceans (or at least reluctant part-time residents) while the second two made the franchise a joke. What made Jaws so effective was what you didn’t see: the shark. Yes, it eventually made an appearance, but the most terrifying encounters were where you didn’t see it at all, or perhaps only glimpsed a dorsal fin just before it struck. Your mind filled in the details...and those details were horrifying. Add to that the ominous score by John Williams (building from near silence to its ear-splitting crescendo as the hapless swimmer screamed and was pulled under). The music started, the shark was on its way, and you could only watch through your fingers as the water turned bright red. You had no idea where and when it would strike again.
At the workplace, you could have a Jaws vibe going on if you have that one supervisor or manager that quietly lurks just below the surface of your attention. They’re constantly on the move, never in one place for very long, and they strike without warning. They pop into your cubicle just as you open Netflix or tap the Angry Birds icon on your phone. You turn a corner in the hallway while sneaking out 15 minutes early, only to bump right into them...they seemed to be standing right there, waiting for you. You try and warn others, but by the time you see them, it’s too late. You’re a goner, food for the beast. There is no warning system. They can get you in the break room, the washroom, the hallway, your office, at your desk, in the parking lot, the supply room, the mailroom, behind the water cooler, or cowering in the mop closet. They strike anytime, anywhere, piling on more work, tagging you to come in for the weekend, or catching you doing something you shouldn’t be doing. They’re silent but deadly.
At least the shark was merciful and just bit you in half.
3. Night of the Living Dead
Zombies. They’re everywhere. You can run, but you can’t hide (well, actually, you can do both...traditionally zombies are both slow and stupid). Besides the Night of the Living Dead and its sequels, prequels, and reboots, we have The Walking Dead (and its spinoff Fear the Walking Dead), the Rec series, the Quarantine series, 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, Life After Beth, World War Z, Shaun of the Dead, the Resident Evil series, and dozens of others.
Zombies are the walking dead. Brainless, slow-moving, glassy-eyed, and unintelligible. Read that again. Sound familiar?
It’s also a fitting description of office workers (whatever that means) on a Monday morning, or Wednesday afternoon, or Friday at 4:47 pm. It’s no wonder we refer to them as working stiffs. Office workers tend to get zombified over time. It’s just hard to get excited about selling reams of copy paper after ten years (just ask Jim Halpert...but not Dwight Schrute).
And there’s only one way to kill a zombie. Headshot. Take ‘em out (editor’s note - I am not suggesting you do the same for your sluggish colleagues).
Look around the office. Walk down the corridors. Check out the lunchroom. Are your co-workers slack-jawed? Do they answer in indecipherable grunts? Do they shuffle along with a tilted gait, forever in danger of toppling over? Is the building devoid of all emotion besides the one that drives the walking dead (that would be eating for zombies, and clocking out at 5pm for your zombie-esque comrades)?
Yes? Then you’re trapped in a world that George Romero would consider a vacation destination. Grab what you can, throw it in a backpack, attach a samurai sword to your belt if one is available, and head for the hills. It’s survival of the fittest.
4. The Exorcist
This one ranks as one of, if not the, scariest films of all time. An adorable little girl possessed by a demon and made to say and do unspeakable things. The Exorcist still has the power to terrify over 40 years after its release. Also terrifying? The price of a movie ticket today compared to the $1.70 average in the early 70s.
Regan was sweet, polite, respectful, and pretty. Everything you’d want in a daughter. But she changed when the demon entered her life.
Do you have a co-worker that went through a similar transformation when their “demon” - a promotion - came along? Did they go from gregarious to grotesque? If so, you’re living in the workplace equivalent of The Exorcist, and you’ll need an old priest and a young priest to make it out alive.
When they were just a lowly employee working in the trenches with you, they were the best. Since the promotion, they’ve become unbearable, always nitpicking, criticizing, patronizing, and acting in ways that you both used to laugh at when your higher-ups did it. Now, they’re one of them.
If that’s not possession, I don’t know what is.
Grab your holy water, and splash them with it while yelling “The power of Christ compels you...to stop being such a dick!” Repeat as necessary.
Any of these sound familiar? Maybe your workplace is more like The Stepford Wives, with everyone perfect and willing to kill to keep that perfection in place. Or maybe you work at the office equivalent of A Nightmare on Elm Street, with a demanding and horrifying boss that haunts your dreams.
Scares come in all shapes and sizes. If you work, it’s probably a horror film at least some of the time. Are you the hero, victim, or villain?
Any other thoughts? What horror film does your workplace most resemble? Leave your answers in the comments below.