Sunday, May 23, 2010

Confessions Of A Horror Movie Fan

(Just a little fluff for a Sunday afternoon - you can go here for something more serious from me...)

I love horror movies.

I set aside Saturday nights for them.  It's a throwback to my TV days of three networks and a UHF channel or two for me when Saturday nights around 10-11pm meant it was time for the local "Chiller Theater" and usually a really cheesy horror flick.  For those reading this who are too young for such things, watch the original Fright Night flick and "The Great Vampire Killer" Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowell)'s TV show in it and that'll give you a pretty good idea what I'm talking about.  Sometimes a local station would give an extra treat and have an afternoon science fiction movie show as well.

I fell in love with horror movies from the first day I was exposed to it at a neighbor's house, watching Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein with boyhood buddiesAlthough it was a comedy, it was my first introduction to Universal's movie monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Wolf Man) at the tender age of 6 or so.  It gave me nightmares but also a great joy in watching it.  I wanted more. I watched more horror flicks and read everything about them that I could lay my hands on (like the old Famous Monsters magazine).  I even sought horror comic books.   I got so into it that one of my teachers called my parents in for a grim conference one day on whether I needed psychiatric help after I asked her who her favorite monster was.  My parents told me to tone it down a bit.

Now, for those who don't share us horror fans' love of being scared on purpose, rest assured we are really normal folk.  George Romero, director of the original Night of the Living Dead and sequels, put it best when he said during an interview that for fans of the genre a good scary flick was as much fun as any carnival ride for us and really operated on the same level - both provide a safe scare.

This is not as easy to find as you might think.  When movie companies want something cheap to make that they can throw into theaters for a quick buck, they make a horror flick.  They figure a little make-up, some fangs, buckets of fake blood and nubile young women to scream will do the trick and generally they are right.
We horror fans will give damn near anything a look and are usually disappointed that we did.  As a friend of mine once said once, "You know us horror fans - we have to sit through a lot of shit to find anything decent."  I can personally testify to that - I can't count the hours I've sat watching some bad horror movie saying to myself, "It HAS to get better!" right up until the end credits start rolling.

I have a simple rule when it comes to horror:  Scare me.  I don't care if it's a masked guy with breathing problems and a big knife, a werewolf or a vampire or something else -- if I don't at least jump a few times it's a bomb to me.  That's not an easy thing to do either for someone like me who's seen a lot of horror films or even people who just use them for a date flick.  A good horror director has more to overcome than any other director to make a truly good, scary movie. 

No matter how you watch or what type of movie you watch you do something called "willful suspension of disbelief."  What that means is that you really know that what you are looking at is light projected on a screen or a picture flickering on your TV but you are willing to pretend that what you are seeing is real so you'll get into it.  Not so hard when it's a romance or action picture.  However, the horror movie has the added burden of getting you to go along with the idea that vampires, demons, werewolves etc. are real too.  If the monster looks fake or the actors don't sell their fear well enough for you to share it the illusion is shattered. 

Now the horror director who chooses a crazed human killer to scare you has a little easier time of it - those people actually exist outside of the theater.  They say that the difference between a horror movie and a mystery is that in a horror movie you get to watch the murders where a mystery generally just shows you the aftermath. Especially if the murders are gory affairs.  They still have to sell you that their 'monster' is a danger though and even that can be shot to hell by bad acting.

That's why when we horror fans find something that genuinely scares us, we consider it a precious gem indeed.  Problem is that even among horror fans we don't agree on what that is.  It's another burden for a horror movie to overcome - different things scare different people and the fear isn't shared by all.  The best example of that is the little indie horror flick that made tons of money: The Blair Witch Project.  How it affects you depends on where you live and what you like to do.  If you are a city person who doesn't go camping much, the forest the movie takes place in is just as scary as what happens in it and you went home absolutely terrified.  If you love camping and/or live in or near a forest the reaction was more along the lines of, "What's the big deal?" and it barely bothered you at all. 

So the hunt goes on for the rare scare for us gorehounds and fear junkies.  You're all invited to join in with the fun.  We'll turn off the lights and crank up the surround sound for you but no worries, we'll protect you.  And as you watch, remember the words of the advertising campaign for the original Last House on the Left:

It's only a movie.
It's only a movie.
It's only a movie.
It's only a movie.


No comments: