If there’s one SP00KY SZN podcast you need in your life, it’s most definitely Ruined; hosts Halle Kiefer (a horror fan) and Alison Leiby (not a horror fan) talk about (you guessed it) horror films, and it’s pretty much the greatest. I was able to catch up with the duo last week to discuss why their polar opposite stances on the genre make for such an entertaining listen, so be sure to internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below. (We get into traumatizing books and movies from our childhood, why quarantine is kind of its own horror film and more.) You can also check out their latest episode about The Exorcist, which just came out today!
So how did this podcast come to be? How did the conversation emerge that you’re polar opposites in terms of being able to handle horror films?
Halle: We’ve known each other doing comedy and being writers and comics around town in New York for eight or nine years…
Alison: Yeah, I’m trying to think…I don’t know if we’ve talked about this, but I feel like we must’ve been at a show or open mic. We’ve known each other for quite some time and been friends, but I don’t know how we discovered we’re opposites. We both G Chat each other during our work hours (or at least used to, when hours meant something) every day, and eventually Halle…well, you love horror movies…
Halle: Oh yeah, I feel like I constantly want to tell everyone about a movie, and there is a certain kind of person who doesn’t plan on seeing it and will allow me to tell them the plot. I’ll do that all the time. Alison sort of became my target, because I knew she wouldn’t be seeing these films in theaters, so I was sort of allowed to spoil it for her, versus other people who’d say things like, “I don’t know, I might see it.”
Alison: Yeah, there were definitely specific ones I remember being like, “Just tell me the ending; I’m never, ever going to watch it.” And we’ve been doing that for a while, and eventually we were like, “Is this a podcast?”
Halle: We’d gotten together and recorded a couple, and I remember even those were really funny because we had to do them in the evening since I’m in LA now, and you had to walk home at like 9pm in the evening, Alison, when it was already dark. You were like, “Man, I don’t even know if I wanna walk home! This is terrifying!”
Alison: I made our friend who was helping us to record them walk me home because I was too scared to walk home in the dark for like, not even ten minutes. And then I’d shut the door to my apartment and be like, “Well, now I’m in here alone, so that’s scary.”
So do you feel like this is mild exposure therapy, Alison?
Alison: I do think it is a little bit, but then it’s also like avoidance therapy because I know I’m not ever going to watch these films. Like, this isn’t helping me overcome my fear of watching a scary movie, this is just supplanting it and giving me an excuse to never have to.
Halle: Yeah, we’ve never talked about this, but you don’t feel more inclined to watch horror movies because of this, do you?
Alison: No. This makes me feel like I never…I mean, some of the things you’ve described…well, there are movies we’ve talked about where I’m like, “I could’ve watched this,” like I could’ve watched Ready Or Not.
Halle: Which is kind of a horror-comedy, which you hate but can also tolerate.
Alison: Yes. But the ones we’ve talked about, like The Babadook, The Ring, I’m like, “This is solidifying to me that I cannot ever see one scene of this film.”
Are there movies that stand out for either of the two of you in childhood that either scarred you or made you feel really interested (I guess the latter would apply more to Halle) in the genre? I know for me, my dad let us watch Jaws 3 as kids, which isn’t necessarily a horror film, but it’s not a fun, happy film. That (to me) stands out as a situation where I didn’t want to go in the ocean for like, years afterwards. Is there anything like that that sticks out to you as having shaped you into these polar opposites today?
Halle: I know for me, the first thing that’s coming to mind is I think I was in kindergarten; my parents had this loose kind of, “If you find it at the public library you’re allowed to take it home and read it,” policy, and I remember I got this book that wasn’t Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, but it was a similar idea of folk tales. I remember reading the story of the girl with the green ribbon, and at the end of the story her husband pulls the ribbon off and her head falls off. I remember being young enough to be like, “I don’t know if this is real! I don’t know if this is possible!” and I was so terrified that I hid the book in our house, and I remember my parents being mad at me…not like, super mad (because it was technically their fault), but just like, “We now have to pay for this library book because you’ve hidden it somewhere in the house and no one can find it.” It was just so horrifying to me.
And then the second memory I have is a friend’s birthday party in fifth grade; for some reason her mother let us watch Poltergeist, and we’re all screaming, terrified, and I remember waking up to the scene in Poltergeist (spoiler) the camera guy looking into the bathroom mirror and ripping his own face off. Which is of course a fantasy, a hallucination, but I remember as a kid just being like, “Oh no, I’ve seen something I shouldn’t have.” I guess the 90s were just a spooky time. There were a lot of spooky kids’ things, and a lot of horror movies that were sort of the “cool” thing. I was there, I was indoctrinated, and I’ve loved horror movies ever since.
Alison: You love them, which is crazy to me. I have two that stick out in my memory. One isn’t even a scary movie, and I don’t remember exactly the year it came out, but the Batman movie that had Danny DeVito playing The Penguin…
OH MY GOD WHEN HE BITES HIS NOSE OFF?!
Alison: Yeah! So I saw a scene of that, and I must’ve been six or seven when that came out, and I remember it was just horrifying to me. It was like my friend’s parents were watching it and we walked through the room or something; we weren’t actively watching it. But the preview for that movie, the trailer, came on a VHS before a movie that I did like watching, some PG movie that I watched at home. I remember I’d put in the video tape and run behind the couch while it played and wait for it to be over because it was so scary.
Halle: Poor baby Alison!
Alison: I know! And being afraid of Danny DeVito might be the most embarrassing thing about me. Then also I remember (and again, this might not even qualify as a horror movie, but it scared me) being at the video store as a kid and there was a giant end cap for Fire in the Sky, which is that scary movie I think about someone being abducted by aliens; I remember the cardboard cutout of the guy just kind of underneath a plasma goo sheath thing…it’s very visual, and we had to stop going to West Coast Video because I like, couldn’t see that.
Alison: I mean, we were a Blockbuster family, don’t get me wrong, but sometimes West Coast Video was closer to someplace we wanted to go.
God, now I’m thinking of all the movies I’ve blocked out of my memory. There was a scene from Invasion of the Body Snatchers that fucked me up pretty hard. But also, since we were just talking about Poltergeist, HOW IS THAT RATED PG?!
Halle: That’s a great point!
Alison: That’s crazy!
Halle: It really shows how the definition of ratings were so different back then. Like now, if you have someone ripping their own face off, maybe you’d give that a PG-13. I don’t know which one is better, honestly, because being a kid in the 80s and 90s…I definitely saw stuff that wasn’t age-appropriate. It was a much more lackadaisical approach.
Alison: Yeah, the 80s and 90s did feel very loosey goosey. I feel like I saw a lot of scary things when I was younger that I wouldn’t necessarily…like a rated R movie when I was nine wasn’t something my parents would’ve let happen, but I’m sure I saw scary stuff because it was PG.
Halle: I’ve talked about this before, but if you’ve seen John Mulaney & the Sack Lunch Bunch, they interview the kids in it about fear, and multiple kids talk about how they didn’t see scary movies, but they did see a scary movie trailer before something on YouTube that presumably was child-appropriate, and that’s what they were afraid of. So they still get that experience we did in like, a mini version on the internet, I guess.
Has that happened to either of you in adulthood? I know I’ve definitely had situations where I’ve seen trailers and ads for something I definitely didn’t sign up for, that now I can’t unsee.
Alison: I don’t think they should be allowed to put trailers for horror movies once it’s dark out. And they don’t tell you! Like, watching FX as a channel is a nightmare, because they’re always advertising horror movies. I have to actively not watch it at night. For me it’s everything. All of it. I don’t want to see a horror movie trailer.
Halle: I am sympathetic; if you don’t like horror, I don’t know how you avoid it, you know? There’s never not going to be a big new horror movie out that they’re not gonna try to get your eyeballs on. And if you don’t like that, it’s very hard (especially on the internet) to avoid being exposed to it.
Alison: And in New York! Back when we still went outside, I’d host a Sunday night show that started at 9:30, so it was always dark when I was getting there, and on my way to this show they had a huge billboard for…I forget what movie, but it was this giant spooky, scary billboard that I’d have to walk past every time. I just feel like that should be illegal.
I 100% agree. Now, there are also people who talk about how watching scary movies can be weirdly therapeutic. Obviously Alison, you and I are probably in the same boat re: not agreeing with that personally, but Halle, can you speak to that at all?
Halle: It depends on the genre and specific movie, but I’ve definitely experienced that. In the same way, I feel like when you’re very anxious your solution is to go on Twitter more, or go on the internet more. I feel like watching horror sort of connects you to a grander narrative that, at least with most horror movies, is generally resolved. Horrible things happen, but hopefully somebody survives, or even if not, it’s sort of resolved. Whereas in reality, it’s never resolved. The horror movie we live in is never over. I feel like when there’s a concrete plot and a concrete solution, it can be very soothing.
Right. Okay, lastly, let’s say somebody made a horror movie modeled after the two of you as a duo. (You know, outside of the horror movie that is every day life in 2020.) What would that look like, or at least be called?
Halle: I think it’d be very literal. I think it should absolutely be called Ruined, and I like the idea that we’re in the recording studio (it’d be nice to see each other since we’ve been recording virtually sine the quarantine began); we’re in the studio, and either something happens outside (maybe not zombies, but something), or ultimately we get a message that says, “You can’t leave; if you do, something terrible will happen.”
Alison: I like that.
Halle: And easy to make from one location!
Alison: And there’s only so much in the studio in terms of snacks, so that’s also scary.
Halle: Exactly. The only way you can tell how much time has passed is how the snacks are being depleted. Which is basically what quarantine is, is just being trapped. I mean, there are already so many horror movies that are like, “You’re isolated at home!” Any other time that’s very soothing, and now it’s like, “You can’t go anywhere.” Home itself is part of the horror.