As horror lovers and fans of all things curious and strange, we’ve all probably met with backlash sometimes — from family members who worry about your mental health, to strangers who give you weird looks when you walk around sporting your favorite horror fashion. Perhaps weird looks and whisperings don’t happen as often in big cities like L.A. or New York when it comes to being fans of Cinema Obscura… but I’m sure they still do.
As an Ohio native who currently still resides in the not-so-mid-Midwest, I’ve certainly experienced it; I can’t imagine what it would be like in even smaller towns.
My point is, as horror fans, we are often looked at as outsiders, and latch on to the horror community for friendship. But something seeks to infiltrate that bond… and it’s been creeping in for a long time now.
What is it? It’s us. Much like the plot of SOYLENT GREEN, we are eating each other alive.
Over the last five years, indie horror has made a huge resurgence; most end-of-the-year Top 10 lists are filled with horror flicks that you probably had to wait at least a year to see… and that’s great! That means there are new voices continuously popping up, and filmmakers are making their movies available to a wider audience, thanks to streaming services and independent theaters. On the other end, in studio land, we’ve gotten movies such as GET OUT, THE CONJURING, INSIDIOUS, and plenty more. We’re even seeing a deluge of horror television. It’s really a great time to be a fan and to meet other fans to discuss… after all, that’s a big part of who we are as people — a band of introverts, and probably more extroverts than I think, who revel in the macabre.
So why are we so hell-bent on drawing a divide in our community?
I’ve seen various articles declaring movies such as THE WITCH and, more recently, IT COMES AT NIGHT as “prestige/elevated/high-brow” horror, or something along those lines. These terms are usually used by critics and writers, and I’m sure I’m guilty of it somewhere… but I’ve realized something: By using those terms to describe certain types of subgenres, we are really starting to come off as snobs. By calling something “prestige horror” or “smart horror,” we are inadvertently (or maybe intentionally, for some) putting down other equally valid movies in the genre — and subsequently the fans who like them.
But this is not just a one-sided coin here, folks; I refer to the fans and critics who have incredibly strict guidelines as to what is — and I begrudgingly quote — “straight-up horror.” I can’t tell you what that means, and I don’t know if the people who do use it can either. I can wager a guess, however, and say it describes the formula that many so-called slashers or torture flicks follow.
But here’s the thing: You can like both.
I certainly do — my shelves are lined with slashers and exploitation titles — but I also own just as many of the types of movies mentioned above. I loved THE WITCH — the atmosphere was dread-inducing — and Ana Lily Amirpour’s A GIRL WALKS HOME ALONE AT NIGHT is criminally underrated. Both are “real” horror movies, no matter what anyone tells me.
The wonderful thing about the genre that I love so much is that it can hide anywhere — it’s a malleable medium that can always be built upon and reworked. There are other types of stories that do have to follow rules in order to be considered a certain, specific genre: Romantic comedies spring to mind, because they usually follow a well-established formula. That doesn’t make them bad… hell, I’ve been known to weep uncontrollably at a few.
But horror is about breaking rules, making you feel uncomfortable, testing your limits, and expanding your mind. We should know that, as people who worship Hitchcock, Carpenter, and Craven (to name just a few). They all did things no one wanted them to do — they got a lot of shit for it too — but they did it, and if people didn’t like it, well, that’s on them. I’m not saying you have to like every movie that comes out in the genre; I sure don’t. But I would never tell someone they aren’t a fan of “real” horror because they like IT FOLLOWS (which I do).
I don’t know when this started either… take horror movies from the ’70s, for example: a good majority of those relied heavily on atmosphere and little to no gore, as opposed to the more FX-heavy decade to follow. As fans, we are always very quick to pull examples from the ’70s and ’80s as our favorites of all time — yet those two eras, while contributing greatly to the genre, were entirely different. So why all the sudden has this community decided to rally on one side or the other? Being a horror fan for most is not a phase — it’s a lifestyle. Am I to believe that die-hard horror fans of the ’70s completely stopped seeing every new horror movie that came out in the ’80s because of the slasher boom? I don’t believe that… and I’m not saying there wasn’t a similar divide then; there just wasn’t the internet to catch it all.
It’s 2017, and young horror fans who grew up in the ’90s (like myself) are facing more backlash for liking things like I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER and other neo-slashers. Peppering comment sections all over the internet are older fans telling new members of the club they can’t join, because they haven’t seen X, Y, or Z…. which utterly baffles me, because if I know anything about the fanbase, it’s that we absolutely love introducing other people to our favorites — even if they hate them.
When we try to convert non-horror fans over to our side, we sometimes fail, yet we dismiss fledgling fans for not knowing every line to every horror movie made before 1990. I say “we” because, in my 27 years of being a horror fan, I have done this myself a time or two. But I’ve changed my views considerably since branching out my viewing, listening to podcasts, reading books, and interacting with other fans. My wheelhouse falls into the ’70s atmospheric slow-burn style… but I’m also a big slasher fan.
As a community, we face judgment from people on the outside who “don’t get” horror; I’ve had people tell me there must be something wrong with me for enjoying it, and I’ve heard many others tell the same story. But look at it from this perspective: We’re a rapidly-growing group that spans the world… and that’s amazing. We’re seeing so many new horror voices come from different parts of the globe, and the talent pool and audience is expanding. So why divide the genre by declaring certain things superior to others, or not even within the genre at all? Life is too short to be that nit-picky. Like what you like… but don’t tell me movies like THE WITCH aren’t scary, and thusly can’t be horror, and then say how much you love SUSPIRIA in the same breath. Yeah, SUSPIRIA has more gore, but also contains long stretches where jack-shit is happening… and I still love it.
We are all different, and we fear different things. Who you are, where you come from, how you were raised — all of that influences what you fear. I wasn’t raised religious, so I’m willing to bet possession movies maybe aren’t as scary to me as to people who were; however, I do have a phobia of the ocean, and movies like OPEN WATER are absolutely nightmarish to me, even though nothing really happens throughout most of their runtime. The more we fight within our community, and the more we put down certain filmmakers, the more it affects us in the long run — so I implore you to seek out fans who like subgenres you don’t usually seek out, and engage with them.
Horror has more subcategories than any other genre… so why limit yourself? Don’t presume you’re more intelligent for watching foreign horror, or slow-burn horror. No one likes a snob, and it doesn’t make you a fancy film connoisseur — it makes you an asshole. I should also add there are no such things as “guilty pleasures” either. You should never feel bad about liking what you like. You better believe I pre-ordered CHERRY FALLS when Scream Factory released it… and boy did I get shit for it.
With all the boutique labels, great podcasts, streaming services like Shudder that dedicate themselves to horror, we should be clasping hands and singing praises like we all just joined a cult, not tearing each other apart.
So I’ll step off my soapbox now, and go watch some horror movies… which I may enjoy, or may not. Who knows? But I can’t wait to find out.