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Commentary: Movie theaters still the safest way to be scared this Halloween

Courtesy of Paramount Pictures

October is special. At no other time during the year is change more evident: the dying leaves, the gray skies, the cool winds we bundle up against. A new year of school is in full swing. Baseball season winds down, just in time for football to take over in the hearts of sports fans.

Dearly departed author Ray Bradbury wrote at length about the month, and its unique position on the calendar and in our lives. In his book “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” he called October “a rare month,” and he was right.

And then comes Halloween, and with it the myriad of traditions we’ve grown up with. There’s trick-or-treating, costume parties, corn mazes and haunted houses.

Of course, these activities evolve as we get older. Instead of going house-to-house begging for candy, we go on the never-ending search for free beer (admit it, you already know which one of your friends is going to black out dressed like Psy, known for his hit song “Gangnam Style,” this weekend). Costumes become more elaborate (and revealing), and the last thing we want is to have our parents tag along on our adventures.

There’s one tradition though Halloween celebrators of any age can enjoy: watching scary movies. But even that tradition has been disrupted when it comes to visiting the multiplex, according to this summer’s theater shooting in Aurora, Colo.

Not only is the mass consumption of horror films encouraged this time of year, but with television stations programming frightening flicks and marathons happening at your local theater, it’s practically mandatory. It might be a nightmare for those with faint hearts and weak stomachs, but for the rest of us, it’s a dream come true.

The merit of the horror film is the subject of near-constant debate, with both sides sticking to their guns (or maybe more appropriately, their chainsaws). Detractors find little value in a genre considered by some to be just short of pornography. Horror fans find this stance prudish but, when pressed, can have a hard time articulating why.

Stepping out of my film student shoes, I’ll leave any theoretical defense of horror films to smarter folks than I and instead offer one simple reason for liking them that should end any debate: it’s fun to be scared.

The only ground of opposition naysayers have to stand on is, “Well, I don’t like to be scared.” It’s fine to feel that way. Here’s your solution: don’t watch horror movies. Everybody’s happy.

In truth, watching a frightening film is almost totally devoid of risk or bodily harm. Think about it. Barring choking on your popcorn or some kind of freak accident (maybe you trip as you run screaming from the theater), there aren’t a lot of ways to be physically injured while watching a scary movie.

Thrill seekers delight in riding roller coasters or jumping out of airplanes. While there are certainly safeguards against dying doing those things, the risk is still considerably higher than watching a movie in a dark room. Seeing a film at a theater has always been the safest way to be scared.

That is, until it wasn’t.

The theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., over the summer was a tragic reminder of how quickly spaces we assume to be safe can be violated. Lives were changed in the worst possible way that night, and the horror of the loss of those 12 people cannot be overstated. That weekend, it seemed dangerous to go see a movie, scary even – and not in the fun way.

Of course, as with any tragedy, after the hurt and fear diminish (though in truth, never really go away), we returned to our routines and to our local multiplexes. Debates about gun control raged as they always do, with a lot of finger-pointing and not a lot of answers.

But those arguments mostly ignored the sad truth that a theater full of people (and by assumed extension, many of their family and friends) had one of their simplest sites of escape and enjoyment forever tainted by a senseless act of violence. These are people who might never feel safe going to see a movie again, consumed by an all too real fear.

This is why I think now is a perfect time to be thankful that we still retain the luxury of being able to be scared safely. We are permitted to go see “Sinister,” or “Paranormal Activity 4,” or “V/H/S” or the re-released “Halloween,” and we will be just fine. We can turn off the lights at home, throw a classic on the flat-screen and pull the blankets up over our eyes if it gets too frightening. We can share these things with our friends and enjoy ourselves doing so.

So I say, take some time this weekend to get a little scared with the people you love, and have a good, safe Halloween.

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