Personal Essay: Why I’m Proud to be a Horror Fan

 

 A Q&A with director Adam Green, and freebies from Film4 Frightfest 2013

Sometimes, when you tell people you’re a huge fan of horror films, they give you a look as if to say “…why?”. Some people are a lot more vocal about it and will openly tell you that they find it weird. The fact the genre gets such a bad name is pretty disappointing, and even though you’re entitled to your opinion, the fact you’d make someone feel bad for enjoying a particular genre baffles me. I’m not entirely sure where the stigma comes from, and whether people genuinely believe that everyone who enjoys horror films is some sort of deranged serial killer (spoiler alert: we’re not). But whatever the reasons are, I thought I’d talk about why I’m proud to be a part of the horror community.

Part I: The Genre

Horror is complex and branches out into so many subgenres that it’s impossible to list all of them here. Common examples are horror sci-fi (Alien, The Thing, Invasions of the Body Snatchers) and horror comedy (Scream, The Cabin in the Woods, Shaun of the Dead) The fact horror can be integrated into pretty much any setting fascinates me, and leaves room for endless opportunities. Horror writers can get very creative and scare you in ways you never thought were possible. Some films will parody others, some are set in a completely incongruous environment that you never thought would ever be scary, and some are exactly what you’d expect of a horror film. Whether writers stick to classic genre conventions or completely challenge them, I’m always excited to find out how they make it their own.

With that in mind, I believe that horror is very difficult to write. It’s a genre that, if done badly, can become a laughing stock. Horror writers are under a lot of pressure to get it right, and there are so many bad horror films and novels out there. With this genre, it’s imperative that you generate the correct responses from your audience. You want to scare people, but you don’t want your story to be two-dimensional either. If you opt for cheap jump scares and bland characters all the time, you probably won’t get very far. The characters within horror films are important, and you need them to have substance. The villains within these narratives can take many forms, whether that’s a monster, a ghost or a human being. I’m impressed by the way writers can conjure up a human who is just as scary as any monster under the bed. So many infamous on-screen villains are humans (eg: Hannibal Lecter, Michael Myers, Norman Bates) and at one point in their life, were probably considered “normal”, even if it was only for a brief period. Psychology plays a huge role in horror films, particularly when dealing with the antagonists. It’s fascinating how the mind can be warped, and it’s something I love researching.

Your antagonist in particular needs to be well written, and in some cases, your audience will often sympathise with them which causes them to become uncomfortable. An example of this is John “Jigsaw” Kramer in the Saw series. He does unspeakable things to his victims, yet, his backstory is so upsetting that you’re forced to feel sorry for him. It’s a very clever tactic, and something I’ve always admired about the genre. It places the spectator in some rather uncomfortable situations, and makes them think. It’s a genre that doesn’t spoon feed emotions to fans, and leaves things open to discussion and interpretation. I really love that.

Visually, horror films continue to impress me. When you’re making a film, you don’t just turn on a camera and go, every shot has to be carefully planned and executed. Horror is no exception: you have to think about how your audience is going to feel scared, uncomfortable or nervous. Point of view shots are incredibly popular in this genre, where we get to see things from the perspective of a killer. Here’s a great example.  The use of sound is important too; you need to know what music you’re going to use and when, and where silence is needed. Silence in horror films is a perfect way to build suspense because viewers are expecting something to jump out.

Even if you’ll never be a horror fan, you can at least appreciate the amount of effort it takes to actually scare or disgust people. It’s harder than it sounds, you need to do your research and ensure your characters, sounds and visuals are on point. Unless you want to go down the horror-comedy route, the last thing you want is for your viewers to laugh at your attempts to scare them. There’s so much more to the genre than people realise, and when you start researching it more, you realise how complex it can be.

Part II: The Community

In contrast to the nature of the genre, people in the horror community are some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’ve met so many great friends through my love of horror films, and quite a few of these were at FrightFest 2013. I’m gutted I haven’t been able to attend a film festival since, but I’m definitely going to aim to attend more now that I’m living and working in London. There’s always events for horror fans and the organisers are so generous; we get preview screenings, guest speakers, freebies, merchandise, the opportunity to submit your own short films, the list goes on. It’s the perfect way to make new friends and learn as much as you can about all things horror.

Horror attracts people from all walks of life and I believe the community is very inclusive and accepting. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what you look like or what you identify as, the horror community is always there. When you’re in the horror community, there’s so much to talk about, and everyone will have their personal favourite films and sub-genres. I love seeing people get excited about the things they love, and having people to get excited with is such a wonderful thing. It’s important to nurture your passions and surround yourself with those who will encourage you to do so.

I think it’s important to separate films from their fans, and realise that we as spectators view horror as fiction. We aren’t violent or nasty people. Film is often considered as a form of escapism, and the films we love allow us to move away from everyday life for a bit and experience new and exciting worlds. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you shouldn’t condemn fans for it. The notion that simply watching horror films makes people violent is stupid, and we need to challenge those stereotypes.

The Film4 FrightFest 2013 short film awards, and my festival pass

There’s so much more I could say about horror and why I love it, but I’d be writing for days. I hope I’ve been able to sum it up properly, and that you can understand why I’m so proud to be a fan. In the future I’m hoping to write more about specific genres and films, so that will provide a lot more insight. There’s so much more that needs to be explored!

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