Being a die-hard horror fan comes with a lot of ostracism from schoolmates, co-workers, and society in general. It’s socially acceptable to enjoy the occasional big budget horror film at your local multiplex theater, but many peers find it disconcerting if the bulk of your movie viewings consist of horror titles, you attend horror conventions, and you wear t-shirts displaying graphic movie artwork. In middle school, I was called “evil”, a witch, and a devil worshipper. For the record, I’m not religious, but I come from a Lutheran background. Still, most of my classmates either avoided me or engaged in a modern version of tarring and feathering.
As a young adult, I spent much of my time as the weird girl at various jobs with the perplexed eyes of co-workers always fixated on me as I divulged my weekend plans of horror movie screenings and meet-and-greets. There was even a time when a supervisor assumed that I must be on drugs because of all the “bizarre movies” I enjoyed. For the record, the test results were clean. Still, the furrowed brows and folded arms followed me.
In the past few years, I have become knee-deep in the horror scene, not only as fan but as a writer. Because of this, my online presence— including my social media accounts— are flooded with macabre content. Not a day goes by that I am not writing about horror, creating horror-themed videos, and posting about horror news. I’ve had my own flesh and blood tell me that they will be praying for me. I’ve long been accustomed to being taunted and misunderstood. What I was not prepared for was being incriminated.
On Tuesday, April 11, 2017, I was sitting at my computer at work as I did on any other day, frantically tapping away at the keyboard and once in a while glancing at the time. At approximately 12:30pm, I received a text message from my boyfriend, Pete. I figured it was the usual “What time will you be home tonight?” or “Can we work on that project later?” Instead, it was a lengthy message describing a firsthand account of unexpected visitors at our home. Three officers came to the door stating that I was a person of interest— a nice way of saying “suspect”— in a criminal investigation.
The officers went on to interrogate Pete regarding a video depicting an act of animal cruelty that was posted on Facebook, a video that they somehow had enough reason to believe that I may have posted. Whoever posted the video to Facebook happened to go by the same first name as yours truly and unfortunately “Jennica” is quite uncommon. Seriously, I’ve never met another person with my name.
Pete explained to the officers that I worked in the horror entertainment industry. Sure, that statement might sound harmless to someone like Pete who is used to my oddities. But I could imagine these investigators with a death grip on their handcuffs. Of course, Pete went on to explain that I would never, ever unleash any real-life horror onto a public platform of any kind and that I fall in love with every dog I meet. It was only then that the officers clarified that the video in question was not posted recently but rather in August 2016.
As the officers continued to grill Pete for leading information, they kept staring at his collection of swords on our living room wall as our pup Ruby gave them warning barks. They proceeded to ask about the swords and whether we kept any knives in our home. Yes, of course, we keep knives in our home. In the kitchen. For food preparation. Unsatisfied, the officers excused themselves, one of them— an Officer Wilson— leaving a business card and urging Pete to have me give him a call immediately.
Initially, I thought this had to be some kind of sick joke. I had become something of a “personality” on the interweb in recent years and the line between friends and fans was becoming blurry. Perhaps someone had hacked my Facebook account? I did have a stalker a couple years ago. Did he still have it out for me? Or maybe these officers were imposters. I had just read a news story about dog-nappers disguising themselves as police officers. The conspiracy theories rushing through my mind were endless.
The moment that I arrived at home, I glanced at the business card in my shaky hand. It was one hundred percent a legitimate investigation. I dialed the number listed on the card but it was after hours. I spent the evening fearing that I would be arrested for a crime that I did not commit. Wednesday, April 12th came and went, and despite my numerous calls and voice messages, I was still left with unanswered questions. Thursday, April 13th was not any different. More phone tag and even more paranoia.
On Friday, April 14th at approximately 4:00pm, I finally heard Officer Wilson’s stern voice and he began by describing the video in more horrific detail. It gave me a sick feeling in my stomach as my eyes began to fill with tears. “Jesus” was all that I could utter. Officer Wilson asked me if I had ever gone by a long list of aliases or used a variety of email addresses, none of which I had ever seen or heard before. He asked about the dog in our home, whether I owned any knives, and whether I had seen or posted anything on Facebook that resembled the video in question.
After repeatedly answering “no” to all inquiries, I was informed that Officer Wilson and his buddies had questioned my boyfriend in our home as well as my former apartment manager at my previous address… where I hadn’t lived in almost a year. Not only was I treated like a suspect but I was also painted as a suspect to people that I know. Why? What criteria made me appear so threatening? As it turned out, it was not just about my unusual name being a match.
Officer Wilson confirmed that I was also a person of interest because “you seem to have a lot of bloody, gory stuff displayed on your Facebook profile, and we know you’re involved in horror.”
The negative misconceptions that are often associated with being a horror fan unfortunately follow us everywhere we go. But what may come to a surprise to those who don’t understand the fandom is that horror fans are typically the most compassionate, docile individuals I’ve ever known. We treat each other like family, and many of us own pets and often joke about being crazy cat people. If you watch any horror movie, especially slashers, the animal abuser is more often than not the villain or an addition to the growing body count. But most importantly, we have benefitted from immersing ourselves in a world of fictional horror because of the catharsis that the genre provides. We wouldn’t even hurt a fly.