"This is why we can’t have nice things: “The Witch” and horror fandom’s gatekeepers"
and it really got me thinking.
Are there horror fandom gatekeepers? Do they exclude people? And what about over-hyped movies? Are they ruining the movie watching experience?
It's a good read, even if they misquote Guillermo del Toro...
(FACT CHECKING! Is it really that hard? UGH! FYI, Guillermo del Toro never said that Crimson Peak isn't a horror film. He said it was a Gothic horror film. Which is a very specific (and rather old) sub-genre of horror. Don't know what that is? Look it up. This isn't a horror history post, this is a rant post. Deal with it.)
Anyways, where was I? Oh yeah.
Let's talk about horror fans, over-hyped films, and ridiculous unreasonably high expectations set by successful runs in big film festivals such as Sundance.
Horror fans are so varied and they really are a rather broad demographic, I would hesitate to even attempt to shove anyone into a small corner and label them a "true horror fan". Hell, I can't even fathom the term "horror fandom". I was under the impression that a fandom was a group of fans of a particular work, such as the Steven Universe Fandom, or the My Little Pony fandom and so on.
Posers vs. True Horror Fans? Puh-lease!
Look, let me spell it out for you. It doesn't matter if you like horror, or if you love horror, either way you're a horror fan. Period. That's it. End of story.
And just because you don't find a particular horror film scary, doesn't mean that it does not scare other people. Everyone has different things that they are afraid of.
After reading reactions to films for gosh, years, I realize that what it comes down to is the pretentious assholes (who think they know horror best and go out of their way to label things that don't scare them as not being a horror film) vs. the non-deep thinking, crowd following, movie hype train riders. (OMG you love LOVECRAFT?! I love Cthulhu! I got his t-shirt autographed and everything! See? I'm cool just like you!)
The thing is, we can't divide ourselves into a binary group of people. No matter how badly the VS. crowds want us to, or how loudly they shout from their echo chambers on the Internet.
Well, for one, they don't represent all of us. And for two, everyone has something that they are afraid of. Fear is an endemic part of the human condition. However, what terrifies one person, does not necessarily scare someone else. We are complicated creatures after all.
For instance, I find people that are afraid of mice and scream and stand up on chairs and point at them to be hysterical. (This is not hyperbole- I actually worked with someone that did that once when a cute little mouse ran across the floor. Hilarious.)
Generally, I find that the types of people that don't like artsy fartsy horror movies are usually the ones that say that if a film doesn't scare them (and them alone) it isn't a horror movie.
Well, I hate to break it to you, but those people? They aren't horror gatekeepers, or "true horror fans" or even horror lovers.
They're horror haters. *gasp* How could you say that?!
Well, that's easy.
Because it's true.
"It's not scary, so it's not a horror film."
Bullshit! Bullshit I say!
When a movie, such as "It Follows" or "The Witch" comes out, and it's a smart, clever, unique film critics will RAVE about after they see it at Sundance, and a ton of websites will post reviews. Most of them will be positive and give people the impression that the film is super duper scary. Then, when it finally is released in theaters nationwide, rabid fans go to see it, in droves. Opening night. So excited. Squee!
Then...they talk about it.
they hated it.
They FREAK the fuck out.
I'm not joking. Those people are PISSED.
Such a let down.
This movie sucked ass!
WTF were people thinking? It's just another over-hyped shitty movie that isn't even scary.
I shit you not. I have come across that particular statement so many times lately in regards to slow burn psychological horror films such as "The Babadook", "It Follows" and "The Witch."
Hey, asshole, get over yourself. Just because you aren't scared by it and think it is boring and lame, doesn't mean that someone else that actually likes to think and analyze a film after seeing and understands metaphors, art, feelings, music, human history and psychology isn't terrified by the movie. Because most of the time, they are.
But thinking is hard! I don't want to think! I just want a fun slasher film with gallons of blood and people screaming and boobs flashing and a clear cut bad guy that is stopped by the good guy.
Oh yeah? Well...go watch one and shut the fuck up already. They're a dime a dozen.
(Now...the same thing can be said about torture porn movies. I don't find them scary, I find them over-sensationalized, exploitation gross out films, so should they not be considered horror films? Hmmm?)
But honestly, it is of no surprise that the audience is shocked and pissed off when they discover that the film everyone loved and talked about for months doesn't fit in with their modern Hollywood pop-culture definition of horror. And that is because they don't know about the genre's history, nor how broad of a category horror truly is.
So how does a horror film become so over-hyped and sensationalized before anyone gets the chance to even see it?
I'm so glad that you asked.
There are several reasons why horror movies are over-hyped and why people have unreasonably high, or incorrect expectations about them:
1. The Internet Hype Machine
I love the Internet.
It is a wonderful, albeit horrifying, human invention. Just about any information you would like to learn about you can find on the Internet. Same thing goes with any movie or book or medical condition. (don't Google your symptoms. Guaranteed you'll wind up thinking you have Lupus. Thanks Dr. House.)
We are living in the information age.
Unfortunately, this is also the dawn of social media, where anyone, and everyone with access can comment and get their voice heard and hype, hyperbole, trolling, and all sorts of extremes of human behavior is all too common.
Don't believe me? Just hang out on Twitter and FaceBook for two days. Just two days.
Wait for someone to share a link to a post that says that an actor MIGHT BE "in talks" to star in an upcoming movie.
By the end of the second day, website posts will go from saying that the actor is in talks to maybe be in that movie, to them definitely being cast in it in a starring role and it's going to be the most fucking awesomest movie evar made! AHHH!!!
I've seen this happen multiple times.
It's like that kid's whisper game, Telephone? (You know it, even if you call it something else in your area.) The one game where your elementary school teacher stands everyone in a circle in class, and one person starts and whispers a sentence, such as "I have a dog," and people keep whispering the sentence and pass it around the circle. By the time it gets to the last person, the sentence transmutes into a horrible abomination of "I have a dog that had cancer and got treatment and now has super powers and shoots lasers from its eyes. Oh, and it has a degree from Harvard. And it farts bad. Really stinky, stinky farts."
That's what happens on the Internet. Rumor mongering. Hyperbole. HYPE! People LOVE to exaggerate. They do it all the time. It's exciting! They're excited! Let's all get fired up about that one thing! Woooo!
That sort of thing also happens when posts go out of their way to say how awesome a movie is, and a ton of other sites jump on the band wagon and do the same thing. It's over-saturation of the market.
Want to know why "10 Cloverfield Lane" wasn't announced until the trailer was silently released last month without even a hint of that movie even being made?
It was done to avoid hype and over-exposure, so that the title remains fresh and mysterious. It will pique people's interests and keep their interests piqued until they see the movie a few weeks later, and guess what? They're not going in to the film with raised expectations from over-hyped reviews, they're going to enjoy the movie for what it is, and not for what they thought it would be.
And that's smart.
2. Successful 80's slasher movies made pop-culture icons that still resonate with people today.
Without a doubt, if you were to walk up to a random person in the mall and ask them if they knew who Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers are, they'd say yes. That's because they're not just horror icons, they're pop-culture icons. The slasher films they spawned were insanely popular and made a pretty nice chunk of change for the production and distribution companies. And that is why they are everywhere, and everyone knows who they are. We have been over-exposed to them.
It's also important to realize that slasher film murderers are pop-culture icons because they are prolific. They are all about quantity, not quality. The films are fast to make, and they were made specifically with what special effects the makeup artists/creators could come up with for innovative kills, and because of that, they had little to no plot.
What's the plot of Halloween?
Babysitter is attacked by mute psychopath wearing a mask.
What's the plot of Friday the 13th?
Camp counselors are murdered by psychopath wearing a mask. (Not the first one, that was his mom. But still...most people forget that.)
Freddy Kruger started out with more complex plots, him being a dream demon hellbent on revenge, but even the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise devolved into special effect shticks and gimmicks by the third movie of the series.
Because of their popularity, and pervasiveness in pop-culture, most people wrongly believe that horror films are nothing but blood and guts and carnage. (Heh. Carnage.) So when a movie doesn't have a slasher killer/monster/psychopath/evil mom running amok and slicing and dicing people up, a particular sub-set of horror fans wrongly believe that it is not scary and not a horror movie.
Lemme tell you something kid. You couldn't be more wrong if you tried.
3. The Rise of the Torture Porn flick sub-genre
The monetary success of 80s slasher films paved the way for the torture porn flicks of the 2000's. If Jason, Michael and Freddy had not become so popular, I highly doubt that Jigsaw from the "Saw" franchise would've ever caught on.
Torture porn flicks have a lot in common with slasher films- they contain innovative ways to kill and dismember people, and they are the framing devices for the movie's plot. They have more gore, and try to out-do the on-screen stabbings, mutilations etc. that their predecessors did. Most of the time, they succeed.
And because of this, we have yet another horror icon and horror sub-genre that has little to nothing to do with "being scary" and everything to do with making people cringe and freak out about how that one character with the bear trap on her head almost had it snapped clean off.
These types of movies are all out about the gross-out, squirm factor. And, just like slasher films, because of their popularity, many people wrongly believe that if a horror film doesn't include blood guts and torture devices, it isn't a horror movie.
Also gross out torture porn? Yeah. Most often the emotional reaction in the viewer is one of disgust, not fear.
4. The Found Footage Squad
Oh man. These guys. Ugh...
Found Footage and be fun.
Maybe a little.
OK fine. They suck.
Unfortunately, Found Footage is typically a form of movie that is done when there is little to no budget available. And since there is no budget, they often have no scripts and actors are told just to wing it. Improvised plots! Yeah, that goes over so well.
Ever watch a "Paranormal Activity" movie? They have little to no plot and are about people that are so boring, or just assholes for no reasons, and they can't even get their metaplot right from movie to movie.
Is it a demon or a ghost? Is it the ghost of a demon? Who is it possessing this week? Why are little girls being possessed? Are there witches or some sort of cult involved? And who thought that including the XBOX Kinect was a good idea?
Found Footage movies rely on cheap jump scares and shaky cam. The nausea inducing camera judders alone make this one of the worst sub-genres of horror ever invented to date.
Why are they so popular?
Because they're prolific. They can be pumped out on a yearly basis. Sometimes bi-annually even, because they're cheap to make. And little kids are easily scared by the not-so-subtle use of bass sub-frequencies and sudden, loud bursts of sound as something lunges at the camera.
At least, they think that they are being scared. However, that is not fear, that is being startled. Startling someone and making them jump isn't scary. It's freaking annoying.
Hyped-up horror films. Some are good. Some are bad. Some are ugly.
Taking these four things into consideration, it's easy to see how people wrongly expect every horror film to contain blood, guts, gore, cutty sharp things, mutilations and/or cannibalism, things that evoke disgust, and the ubiquitous jump scare.
When they read reviews of movies that appear at film festivals (at which the filmmakers are attempting to find distribution companies to buy their movie and get it in theaters nationwide) and the critics are raving about a horror film and how scary it is, horror fans insert their false ideals and incorrectly expect the movie to be a high quality slasher, torture porn, splatterpunk, mutilation extravaganza.
The longer it takes for a movie to be distributed and handed out to the masses, the more people put these movies on pedestals, and expect them to be the most fucking awesomest movie evar made. WOOOO!!!! USA! USA! USA!
But what they don't realize is that most often, the critics that rave about the awesome horror films they see at Sundance etc. appreciate films as an art form. These people have a more open mind, and often broader expectations when it comes to watching movies. So when they see a slow burn, psychological horror film, such as "The Babadook" they really get into it, and it scares them, and that is why they raved about it.
However, what scares one person does not necessarily scare someone else. And, if you go into a movie theater expected a fast paced action filled gorefest and get a movie that carefully and purposefully builds an atmosphere of dread and loathing, and takes pains to be a character study, a movie about how people think and act (Oh, the monsters that we are!), you will be sorely disappointed.
It isn't just with psychological horror films that horror fans do this. It happens with Gothic horror as well.
Many a horror fan was disgruntled after seeing "Crimson Peak". They thought it was horrible and proclaimed that it wasn't a horror film. I'm really not sure what people were expecting. It was advertised as Gothic horror; a movie about a young woman that finds herself living in a lonely manor on a cliff with two spooky people, and that house just happens to have some ghosts (the ghosts are a metaphor about the secrets that those people keep).
I hate to break it to you, but Gothic horror has a very long tradition in literature. It is a legitimate sub-genre of horror. It's not necessarily scary, it's more "horror light" if you will- it contains horror elements, such as supernatural beings, and these monsters are used as foils to reflect the inner nature of the characters. People are the true monsters in these tales.
It was about the relationships between the characters, and involved a bit of romance mixed with the revelation of terrible, life altering secrets, it did not have a ton of blood and guts and chainsaws. (Yep. No chainsaws. This is a Victorian era period piece we are talking about here. They hadn't been invented yet.)
Because of this a ton of people thought that it was lame and proclaimed in a huge bellow on the Internet, "THIS IS NOT HORROR! THIS MOVIE SUCKED!"
So, why does this keep happening? What causes the movie hype train to leave the station?
Let's play a game. (Don't worry, I won't kidnap you and force you to mutilate someone so that you can escape a death trap and appreciate the life you have.)
Ever get really, really excited for a slice of cake?
Pick your favorite flavor. Think of the most delicious, most mouth watering cake, complete with beautiful frosting slathered all over it. Now, imagine that you've been looking forward to eating that slice of cake for your birthday for 12 months. And the more you think about it, the more you get excited and can't wait to eat it because it's going to be so damn good. Mmmmm....caaaaaake.
Then, on your birthday, you get that slice of cake.
You greedily take a first bite and shovel a huge chunk of it into your mouth and...wait. That's not the right. The texture is off. It's a little dry. The flavor is artificial. Fake. They used the cheapest ingredients they could get. And the frosting is the wrong kind. It has gritty sugar crystals in it, and you discover that the person that bought it for your birthday bought the cake from the grocery store bakery, and not the little family owned one on the corner that you love to go to.
The person bought cake from that grocery store because they love the way they make their cakes, and they thought that you do too. They don't realize that it's not something that you personally would like, nor that you were looking forward to enjoying it for 12 whole months.
You'd be pretty disappointed in that slice of cake, wouldn't you?
You were so looking forward to eating it all year. And then it's shit! ARG!
That is what happens to horror movie fans when they go to see an over-hyped horror film. Especially one that has been sitting around waiting to be distributed, and the film critics gave it raving reviews.
Horror fans think that the super awesome horror film is going to be like that slice of delicious cake. That it's going to be in their favorite flavor. But it's not. It's someone else's favorite flavor. And once they take a bite and realize that, it pisses them off and they go on a rant on FaceBook and the Twitters about how shitty that cake/movie was.
Do I expect every horror film that gets good reviews to be something that scares me? Do I look forward with childish glee and enthusiasm to every horror film that people rave about?
Because I know that sometimes, it's just not my piece of cake. It's meant for someone else.
And that, my friends, is the real reason why we can't have nice things. Because there's always someone that gets pissed off when they discover that something they thought they would enjoy, wasn't made for them.