three characters from Scream look bloodied and afraid
Scream (1996). Dimension Films/Alamy via New York Times

Do you like scary movies?

Mallory Smart does. Growing up the youngest in a family of five kids, Mallory remembers being exposed to horror movies by her older siblings very early in life. This was the 1990s, the heyday of slasher flicks. Holdovers from the 70s and 80s like Halloween, Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th were all into third or fourth sequels, but the big star of the era was Scream. With its tongue-in-cheek, self-aware tone and endless references to genre movies that came before, it set the template for meme culture long before most homes even had a dial-up connection to the Internet. For Mallory and her sisters and brothers, playing practical jokes and making prank calls was how they related to one another. It’s no wonder Scream is her all-time favorite.

I was a guest on another podcast she hosted in early 2021, and Mallory and I kept talking after. Eventually she mentioned the idea of starting a horror movie podcast, and on June 17, 2021, That Horrorcast debuted with a nearly two-hour talk about Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.

I remember taking my brother Boris to see Jacques Tourneur’s Night of the Demon at the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, in the early 80s. He had nightmares for days afterward, but I don’t recall being scared. I’ve loved movies all my life. I wound up working at that same theater in high school, dating a filmmaker through art school, and now make a part of my living reviewing film. But I’d drifted away from the horror genre before making friends with Mallory. I was surprised she asked me to cohost her podcast, not only because I’m not a genre obsessive like her, but also because of our age difference.

When Scream came out in 1996, I was 26. I found its jokey violence mostly derivative and annoying, but most of all, inconsequential and unimportant. The stakes seemed so low. It’s just a way to riff on other movies without any resonance to lived experience. David Lynch’s Lost Highway, which came out the following year, sticks in my mind as much more impactful and reflective of that era, but to Mallory, Scream is a major touchstone. She would have been six when it debuted but likely first watched it via home video a year or two later. That generational gap is one of the cruxes of our show.

As the true fan, Mallory chooses classics like Nightmare on Elm Street, The Exorcist, and The Omen, whereas I try to go less mainstream with titles like Larry Fessenden’s grubby is-he-or-isn’t-he-a-vampire flick Habit (1995) and Andrzej Żuławski’s overwrought relationship-horror masterpiece Possession (1981). It’s fun to stump Mallory with movies she’s never heard of. But revisiting The Thing or It Follows is a chance to reconsider movies I thought I already knew and had set opinions on through fresh eyes. Hearing Mallory’s take is often illuminating and makes me rethink my own assumptions.

There are plenty of film podcasts out there that focus exclusively on the plot or style. Neither Mallory nor I is an aspiring filmmaker or film historian; we’re just two friends talking. As I’ve said, I’m not specifically a horror-movie buff, but I find the genre rich soil for conversation. No matter how fantastic or violent, the premises of these films are always real-life fears and societal ills. They are invariably reflective of the times they were made. A great instance is the four very different versions of Invasion of the Body Snatchers; while each is basically the same story, the stakes and circumstances in each are firmly rooted in the 50s, 70s, 90s, and 00s, respectively.

That Horrorcast

The joy of the show to me is the unpredictability of Mallory’s reactions to the movies I choose. I was sure she would love Jane Schoenbrun’s 2021 Internet-set nightmare We’re All Going to the World’s Fair, but she was completely unimpressed. By contrast, Jeff Lieberman’s 70s drug-scare oddity Blue Sunshine drew raves.

It’s also occurred to me that the vast majority of conversations between Mallory and I have been recorded. We’ve only known one another a couple years and don’t live near enough to meet face-to-face that often. Add COVID-era restrictions and a mutual allergy to phone calls and what you get is a whole friendship documented via podcast.

We don’t know how long we’ll keep the thing going. This is neither a commercial enterprise nor a means to some definable end. We’ll keep posting episodes as long as the conversations are engaging and we’re not sick of one another. There are even tentative plans to go see the next (is it the sixth? eighth?) iteration of Scream when it comes out next year. If that’s not a definition of true friendship, I don’t know what is.