I can count the number of horror movies I’ve actually seen in the last decade on, well, not even a hand — maybe a finger and a half. In high school, I braved The Ring only to find myself sleeping with the lights on for weeks. Then the torture-porn stuff started to get increasingly popular, and I was freaking done with the genre. Fortunately, I realized there was a convenient way to satiate my curiosity after seeing a particularly terrifying trailer, without having to actually witness demonic possessions or eyeballs getting plucked or people getting stitched together ass-to-mouth to make a giant centipede: reading the movie’s Wikipedia summary.
So what a relief it was to see Rob Harvilla admit to this habit over at the Ringer on Monday, in the wake of Hereditary mania. (Jaya Saxena also wrote about this for GQ last year, but she actually follows through and goes to see the movies afterward which, no thank you.) He gave the film four stars based on the Wikipedia alone, an assessment I’d agree with after personally checking the page daily for weeks, waiting for the full plot summary to drop.
It was clear that his article resonated, and many others came forward to proudly admit that they, too, were wusses who solely watched the genre this way. Here, nine of them share their favorite horror-movie pages on Wikipedia.
What you want from a horror-via-Wikipedia-summary experience is a line that sounds totally absurd out of context, such as, “Realizing that they have been with strangers all week, the teenagers try to leave the house, but Nana and Pop Pop trap them inside and force them to play Yahtzee.” The hyperlink to the Wiki page for “Yahtzee” is especially useful.
Really, though, any M. Night Shyamalan movie is perfect for this exercise, given his pleasingly huge quality spectrum — somehow I suffered through both The Sixth Sense (legit terrifying) and The Happening (LMAO) in an actual theater — and his infamous use of Wacky Twists that are often more rewarding to read in 60 seconds than watch unfold for two hours. I apologize for spoiling The Visit’s wacky twist, but there is still rich detail aplenty here: “He then starts to torment Tyler psychologically by smearing his face with his dirty diaper.” “Rich” is probably not the right word …
- Rob Harvilla, staff writer at the Ringer
I got really into reading horror-movie summaries specifically while working at my first job out of college, where I sat in front of a computer every day but didn’t always have a lot to do. Basically, I read the entire internet for two straight years. There was (and is) really nothing like a good horror-movie summary: a pure unit of plot. Reading a browser full of Wiki horror-movie tabs is like eating a whole bag of candy.
My all-time favorite Wikipedia horror-movie summary is of the 1983 movie The Hunger. My biggest complaints about Wikipedia movie summaries are that they are either too short or too long. The Hunger has the perfect amount of detail. My second big complaint is that the summaries can be really confusing: characters are often not introduced, or their relationships adequately explained, so you have to do some additional Googling or lots of Ctrl+F-ing to figure out what is going on. The Hunger is crystal clear — in fact it’s very well written. The last and best thing about The Hunger is that it’s insane. It’s about vampires who are upset about being vampires (big surprise) with a great, crazy cast (David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve, Susan Sarandon, a cameo by a very young Willem Dafoe), a prominent ankh pendant that is also a knife (queue Chekhov’s famous saying about ankhs), and a superb ending. But you’ll have to read the Wikipedia summary to find out what it is! I will never see this film.
- Molly McArdle, freelance writer
I can say with total confidence that my favorite horror movie is The Mothman Prophecies. Will I ever actually watch it? Absolutely not. I don’t need that kind of stress in my life. But I’ve read the Wikipedia page dozens of times, returning to it whenever I’m a particular combination of bored, procrastinating, and in need of just a little something to give me the barest minimum of an adrenaline rush. (Living on the edge, baby!) As a connoisseur of horror-movie Wikipedia pages, I’ve learned by now that the ones that spook me out the most must involve some sort of supernatural element. Mothman has that, plus Richard Gere, plus Laura Linney, PLUS a giant winged moth demon.
- Gabriella Paiella, senior writer at the Cut
There’s no Ambien strong enough to get me to sleep after hypothetically watching a movie about demon-esque things happening in my sleep, but this Wikipedia page has everything: demonologists, night cameras picking up strange occurrences, Ouija boards, you name it. At one point, the protagonist’s “face takes on a demonic appearance.” What a great film!
- Lisa Ryan, senior writer at the Cut
When I say, “I am a huge pussy who can’t watch horror movies,” I am not exaggerating. I am telling you that I am literally scared by the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie franchise. I loathe the feeling in my stomach and the quickening of my pulse in reaction to dramatic tension and suspense. Everything that people love about horror movies, I hate. At first, I started reading the Wikipedia plot spoilers for horror movies like, while I was watching them (at home). I’d start it, get scared, and to deflate the dramatic tension, I’d find out who lives and who dies ahead of time. But eventually I’ve just realized, fuck it, I’m living my best life and I don’t ever want to see any horror movie, ever. I’m done! So now there’s nothing stopping me from reading the Wikipedia and seeing the spoilers when there’s a horror movie everyone’s talking about. I don’t sit there and read lots of horror-movie Wikipedias at a time, it’s more like, when people are talking about a hot new movie.
Last summer I read the entry for the original It, and BOY was that wild. There’s something about the brevity of a crowdsourced plot description that makes a complicated supernatural movie seem absolutely bonkers and stupid and also confusing. Its like a complete flattening of all nuance, and It is really weird. It also scared me a lot just to read.
- Katie Notopoulos, senior editor at BuzzFeed
Reading Wikipedia is a way to get at the “big reveal” without the jump scares; I don’t enjoy the sensation of being scared, but I love knowing the answer to a mystery.
I don’t have a favorite, but It Follows is a great example of my favorite type, which is when the tension onscreen translates so poorly that the synopsis is almost comical. You can defang gore (no pun intended), background music, psychological tension, and special effects just by summarizing them. You can’t defang a genuinely scary concept or plot.
Here’s an example of this disconnect:
Days later, Jay sees the entity in the form of Greg. It smashes a window at Greg’s house and enters. She tries to warn the real Greg on the telephone but he does not answer. She runs into the house and finds the entity in the form of Greg’s half-naked mother knocking on his door; it jumps on Greg and kills him.
You know everyone in the theater is pissing themselves during this scene, but when you read it laid out it’s like “lol! His mom???”
- Daisy Alioto, freelance writer and editor
I felt the strains of FOMO even though I only like movies and entertainment where pleasant things happen (Paddington 2 is the best movie of 2018), and so instead of spending time or money or precious brain space on actually seeing the films, I just started Wiki-ing. I really have no stomach for violence or stress, but reading about the plots gives me a watered-down version of the thrill I imagine actual horror-lovers seek out without any of the disturbing images. Sorry to sound like Tipper Gore, but I can’t think how else to say this!
I don’t know about a “favorite,” but the most visceral reaction I’ve had to a horror-movie Wiki was absolutely the one for Mother! — it messed me UP, but made me feel very slightly part of something, especially because it had such a polarizing response. The Wikipedia page for Paddington 2, on the other hand, is nowhere near as gripping.
- Alanna Okun, senior editor at Racked and author of The Curse of the Boyfriend Sweater
I do this for lots of movies and TV shows that I don’t really intend to see, or if I’m just curious. Horror movies, though, are the ones for which I do this the most because I really hate watching horror movies! They scare the shit out of me and make me afraid of the dark and they just aren’t fun. So whenever there’s one like Hereditary that all my brave friends are talking about, I just want to know what they’re talking about but don’t want to ruin my life. And that’s when I turn to a nice, safe synopsis.
As a huge Masshole, I love a good Massachusetts movie, and The Witch, from what I can tell from Wikipedia, was friggin’ sick, dude. Honestly, maybe that’s the best way to enjoy a good Masshole movie without those idiots messing up the accent (yes, I know — from the Wikipedia page of The Witch — that it doesn’t take place in Southie, but you know what I mean).
- Noah Hurowitz, freelance reporter
Orphan (2009), Clown (2014), and more
I have always had a fascination with horror movies that comes from knowing that they could fuck me up, and reading the Wikipedia pages is a way to indulge that interest without actually subjecting myself to real terror.
I really like the crazy twist ending of Orphan, and Clown looks fucking insane. (“He goes home and tells his wife Meg what is happening, so she tries to help him remove the fake nose. But as she tries to remove the nose, it rips his flesh and wounds him. Shadow the family’s dog eats the clown nose which makes Shadow show strange behavior towards the family.”) The one that sticks in my head the most is A Serbian Film, which is just horrible — every possible trigger warning applies even to the Wikipedia summary. Also I love this sentence, from The Human Centipede (First Sequence): “When approaching investors prior to filming, Six did not mention the mouth-to-anus aspect of the plot.”
- Gabriel Roth, senior editor at Slate