For horror die-hards, no movie or TV show can be too scary. But for you, the wrong one may leave you miserable. Perhaps you’ve even lost whole nights of sleep in a struggle to get certain images or ideas out of your head.
Never fear, because Slate’s Scaredy Scale is here to help. We’ve put together a patented, spoiler-free, highly scientific system for rating new horror movies and TV series, comparing them to classics along a 10-point scale so you can determine which are too frightening for you. And because not everyone is scared by the same things—some viewers can’t stand jump scares, while others are haunted by more psychological terrors or simply can’t stomach arterial spurts—it breaks down scares across three criteria: suspense, spookiness, and gore. This time: HBO’s Lovecraft Country, the series adaptation of Matt Ruff’s novel of the same name, in which Jim Crow racism takes supernatural forms and menaces Black residents of 1950s Chicago.
Suspense, as Alfred Hitchcock once explained, is a matter of knowing what’s going to happen next but not knowing when, and Lovecraft Country’s loose plotting and genre-hopping can make the former awfully difficult. But when the villains are white racists and not thousand-eyed blobs or malevolent ghosts, you know exactly what they’re up to, and the wait for that can be truly terrifying.
Lovecraft Country works best when its literal and metaphorical demons amplify one another. The monsters that attack a “sundown town” after dark feel more like escapees from a low-budget creature feature than embodiments of institutional racism, but when Leti (Jurnee Smollett) moves into a house haunted by the ghosts of Black former residents tormented by a sadistic white doctor, their restless spirits literally embody the injustices of the past, in a way every bit as unsettling as the truth. Whether you’re more scared by cross-burning neighbors or angry ectoplasms, the show has you covered.
The concept behind Lovecraft Country seems a tad cerebral, but its execution is literally visceral. Arms are bitten off, heads are smashed, and a woman sloughs off her own skin, bit by grisly bit. The history of race in America is a bloody one, and that’s just how the show renders it.
The first half of Lovecraft Country’s first season (all that was available in advance) is wildly uneven, but its best episodes go deep into the heart of Jim Crow–era racism, with purposeful nods to its present-day manifestations (a “rough ride” in the back of a police transport feels like a direct nod to the death of Freddie Gray). Like executive producer Jordan Peele’s movies, the show uses genre tropes to explore real-life horrors, and the reality of some of those horrors will hit some viewers harder than others. Lovecraft Country is about as suspenseful and as spooky as Get Out, and about as scary overall, but it features much less sly satire and a whole lot more blood. If Get Out’s involuntary brain transplant got you queasy, Lovecraft Country will definitely make you lose your lunch.
For more of Slate’s scary movie coverage, listen to Get Out and Us composer Michael Abels discuss his collaboration with Jordan Peele on the Working podcast.