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A great horror movie will entertain you even as it frightens you. But can you learn something practical while you’re shuddering? In some cases, you can.
Here are five scary movies — some old, some new — that deliver chills, thrills and a lesson or two in personal finance:
1. ‘Tall Men’ (2016): Read the fine print
Poor Terrence is going through some serious economic strife. His money woes are so bad, he files for bankruptcy. So, when a mysterious company sends him an application for a credit card, he completes it without stopping to read the fine print. Soon he starts charging the account up, even using it to buy an expensive, flashy car to impress a love interest.
Terrence (played by Dan Crisafulli) then loses his job and discovers the interest calculated on his credit card balance is rapidly compounding, causing his debt to escalate out of control. When he can’t manage the account and falls behind, demonic beings begin pursuing him. Can Terrence escape these black-suited, bandage-faced debt collectors from Hell?
Lesson: As tempting as it is to take out a credit card and then charge things you can’t afford, you have to know the interest rate and be sure you can handle the payments. Also, the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act protects you against unfair collectors — as long as they’re of this world.
2. ‘The Shining’ (1980): Don’t borrow from strangers
“I just happen to have two tens and two twenties right here in my wallet,” drawls Jack Torrence (played by Jack Nicholson) as he orders a drink from Lloyd, the bartender. When Jack finds he doesn’t have the money after all, he asks if his credit is good in the joint.
“Your credit is fine, Mr. Torrence,” says Lloyd, with a meaningful glance. But when he informs Jack that he doesn’t have to pay at all, Jack becomes suspicious. “I’m the kind of man who likes to know who’s buying his drinks, Lloyd,” he says.
The bartender assures him it’s no problem. Drinks are on the house. Jack acquiesces. By accepting the free drinks, he seals his fate — and transitions into one of the most terrifying ax-wielding maniacs to hit the big screen.
Lesson: There are almost always strings attached when you borrow money or accept something for free. If you can’t cover your bill upfront, be sure you know the terms before accepting a deal that sounds too good to be true, whether it’s a line of credit or drinks from a friendly stranger.
3. ‘Squid Game’ (2021): Don’t play games with your money
How far would you go to win a massive amount of money? What if it meant participating in a series of modified childhood games?
This is what happens to Seong Gi-hun (played by Lee Jung-jae). An immature (but loving) divorced dad with a gambling habit accepts an invitation to play a series of children’s games, and the final winner gets a massive award. The problem is, Seong must compete against hundreds of others who are in similar financial circumstances. Worse, the loser of each game dies, until the last person standing can claim the funds.
The games with innocent roots are increasingly hard. Alliances are formed and enemies abound. Seong persists, but his humanity is stretched thin. Do the ends justify the means? This Korean horror series will have you queuing up the next episode long into the night to find out.
Lesson: If you get into a financial mess, take steps to get out of debt. Otherwise, you may find yourself in a position where you have to consider doing something unethical to get back on track — and that never ends well, especially in horror shows.
4. ‘Emily the Criminal’ (2022): Find a legal way to pay student loans
Many college graduates are faced with a dilemma. With high student loans and low-paying jobs, how can they pay off their loans, much less delete the balance in a short period of time? It can feel impossible. This is Emily’s situation, but she also has a criminal record that makes securing a good job even more challenging. Emily (played by Aubrey Plaza) works for a catering delivery service, barely scraping by. Job interviews for better positions don’t go as planned.
Desperate, Emily accepts a lucrative yet illegal gig, purchasing items with stolen credit cards. At first, everything goes well. Her assignment is a fun thrill and worth the time and effort. Eventually, though, being a “dummy shopper” grows dark and dangerous. Though not technically a horror movie, “Emily the Criminal” is definitely scary, suspenseful and violent. Will she survive the next gig — and is it worth it?
Lesson: If you need to put your student loan payments on ice with a forbearance, don’t hesitate. As tough as it is to make ends meet and get ahead by getting a legitimate job, with perseverance, you can do it. Definitely don’t do it by committing credit card scams.
5. ‘Psycho’ (1960): Avoid crime and creepy roadside motels
In this Hitchcock classic, Marion Crane (played by Janet Leigh) makes an impetuous, profoundly bad decision when she steals money from her office. She knows she needs to bolt, fast. Unfortunately, she winds up at an old motel off the beaten path, where she’s greeted by the peculiar Norman Bates, the clerk who checks her in. He explains that his mother owns the motel, and the two of them live in the grand but dilapidated mansion just up the hill.
At first, Marion seems glad that she robbed her jerk of a boss, but she eventually realizes it wasn’t such a good idea. She decides to return the money, but it’s too late. As she takes a shower before checking out, someone enters the steamy bathroom and we see the shadow of a knife.
Lesson: Once again, crime does not pay. Also, use your rewards to get free stays at a nice chain hotel. And if you have to stay at a creepy roadside motel, lock your bathroom door (like anyone who’s ever watched this movie).