The Charm of the Horror Genre

Because I’m a horror fan I spend a lot of time thinking about how the whole genre works. I contemplate how horror fans are different from other film fans, other people, how the directors are different, the production process, idea conception and the relationship between the audience, filmmakers and the product.

It has recently occurred to me that what’s primarily different about horror is that whole community, filmmakers, audiences, producers are a bunch of complete deviants. People who strive to take their weird dark fantasies and put them on screen. Also, horror fans tend to discover their love pretty early on. As a result of this a lot of horror directors, especially in the 2000’s forward spend a lot of their time recreating and reimagining the stories, scenes, characters and images that inspired and scared them as teenagers. The other thing about horror fans is they tend to be highly enthusiastic consumers.

We know there are lots of awful horror movies, but we don’t care. We have genre love and we’ll watch them anyway. We also have a beautiful canon of classics, running all the way from 1896 to 2010. It’s not all required viewing but it’s a prolific genre and there are lots of classics, and most serious horror fans know their classics. Now, it’s safe to say that the people who direct horror movies and the people who watch them are the same people, we’re all devoted fans. This means that when a director makes a film it’ll be filled with subtle references and nods to it’s sub-genre predecessors. If you can’t see those, you’ll not going to get it. To really enjoy a horror film you really need to have watched a lot of other horror movies, like it helps a lot to be familiar with the valuable objects of the genre (the repeat directors; Wes Craven, George Romero, Dario Argento etc, the rare Oscar winners; The Silence of the Lambs, Bram Stoker’s Dracula) as well as the campy artifacts. I never expect horror movies to do well, and I never read the reviews of them by normal people, they don’t know what they’re talking about.

A lot of people ask me why I watch these movies, and I have trouble usually answering: I like being scared, I have a twisted sense of humor, I like to question myself, I dig bad guys, I appreciate the development and work that goes into gore and creature effects and make up, and I like to watch people being disemboweled on screen. I also like horror movies because I feel a degree of connection to the people who make them because  I know they like what I like, they share my twisted sense of humor and my love of disembowelments.

A great example of a director I love that doesn’t get the best reviews, even among horror fans is Rob Zombie. The truth of my life that if I were to make a list of people who have inspired me, Zombie would be on that list. While some people question his right to rethink Carpenter’s Halloween, frankly,  after House of a 100o Corpses a lot people question his right to think about and produce anything, I think he’s awesome. I liked everything about House of 1000 Corpses, and I’ll be the one to say it, The Devil’s Rejects featured one of the best wearing-someone-else’s-faceskin moments ever.

A lot of people think he goes too far. I personally want to see the films that he would make if the film censorship people weren’t such fascists. When discussing the concept of “going to far”, Zombie stated, “sometimes on set something looks just ridiculous, but in editing you say “wow, this really works.” But I never say, “this has gone too far.” I mean – it is all fake. You can’t go too far.” It’s a sentiment I really support, espesically in horror. You can’t go too far. I mean that in every sense, there can’t be too much blood, too much gore, too many disembodied limbs. There can’t be too much fear, too much atmosphere, too much shock. Horror movies are designed to take the audience to the limit, you’ll be appalled, delighted, occasionally turned on (I can’t judge), horrified, repulsed, feel euphoric and physically ill when you leave the cinema if it’s done perfectly. There are no perfect horror movies, but they make more of them every year than anything else. It’s a testament to the fact that this, most unacceptable genre still has huge appeal.

People like to be scared, like to be grossed out. The experience of being in a theater with 200 other jumpy people is in comparable. At the end of the day we go to the cinema to question how our world works, how our morality functions and to test ourselves. If you can grit your teeth, and come out from behind your pillows you might learn a thing or two.

[Also, I could make my like 10, 20, 35, 50, 100, 250 most important horror movies, but it’s been done, and it’s a huge project…maybe I’ll work on it.]

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4 thoughts on “The Charm of the Horror Genre

  1. What I find most intriguing is that Rob Zombie is a vegetarian and animal rights advocate. It wasn’t an accident when he included the bit in the beginning of “Halloween” where Michael Meyers’ first victims were rats.

  2. That’s what I like about Zombie, he’s really good at illuminating the lines between perception, art, interest and behavior. Whenever I see him I realize he’s managed to find the perfect balance between who he is, and where his morals lie. I love that he’s a vegetarian/animal rights activist.
    He reminds me a little of Marilyn Manson in that way, people who don’t fit the traditional perception of acceptable, but are intellectual, thoughtful, accomplished people.

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