To many of us Horror films are an integral part of who we are. They’re something that has shaped our interests and is a genre that continues to both fascinate and terrify us. There are several types of viewers when it comes to Horror; there’s the casual viewer who will take an interest and perhaps watch out of endurance with the possibility of generating a sense of fear. There’s those who completely dismiss horror due to squeamishness or not realizing the underlying metaphors beyond the imagery presented before them; and finally there’s the the Horror fan, a category myself and many awesome people I’ve come to know over the passed few years fall into. The Horror fan is passionate about what’s going on in the genre, we adore the classic films that have shaped our knowledge from the Universal Monsters to the Hammer’s Horrors. We have an appreciation for the trends, conventions and tropes and make time to consume the latest in independent film through attending genre festivals. We also may be avid viewers of Sky’s Horror Channel and purchase niche magazines e.g. Scream Horror Magazine and Fangoria. But why is it we have a particular attraction to the dark side? to the macabre? to all things gory? Why is it we watch Horror?
Don’t fear the Horror Fan!
Many psychologists have concluded that fear itself taps into our primitive subconscious. This insightful article explains Sigmund Freud’s theory regarding our fascination with horror, his interpretation suggested that strange, unexplained images found in the id are suppressed by the ‘civilized’ ego whereas another famous psychologist Carl Jung expressed the idea that there are a form of archetypes deep within our subconscious that are linked with images continually present within the horror genre. Interestingly this sort of indicates the possibility that this is an integral part of everyone however the horror fan seems to embrace their primitive subconscious more than those who object to violent imagery. Over the years I have endured criticism for my taste for the bloodier side of film. “How can you watch something like that? It’s Sick!” is a common assumption and in fairness, how anyone interprets any of imagery is subjective. To suggest that each and every one of us have violent tendencies somewhere in our make up is pretty scary to comprehend however as horror fans, the fact that we subject ourselves to these images on a frequent basis can act as a form of catharsis and as an outlet for our deep-rooted aggression. I am a firm believer that the link between watching horror films and violence in society is incredibly weak and is more than often caused by untreated psychological issues. That said, if that’s all we watched horror films for it would be a pretty tedious exercise and without a doubt Horror holds a great deal of entertainment value.
One of the most relateable pieces of literature I have come across is Mark Kermode’s ‘I was a Teenage Horror Fan’ which is featured in Martin Barker and Julian Petley’s book Ill Effects: The Media Violence Debate. Kermode discusses how the horror fan deciphers a deeper meaning of the images we see on screen. Despite coming from a different generation, similarly to Kermode I became fascinated with horror at a young age, as a pre-teen to be exact. My favorite television shows at Primary School age were Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), Are You Afraid Of The Dark? (1991-2000) and Goosebumps (1995-1998). I had already been terrified by Nicholas Roeg’s dark children’s film The Witches (1990) and would always re-watch Return to Oz (1985) when it was broadcast on TV. Even when I watched Disney films, the villains seemed more interesting than the heroes/heroines. While originally frightened by the obscure and uncanny, the older I got the more obsessed I became. I would always gravitate toward Horror VHS’s at the local rental shop, curious of the sinister looking monsters that appeared on the artistic covers, Pinhead and Freddy Kruger being stand outs.
As Kermode discusses his curiosity with The Exorcist (1973) on its initial UK release in 1974 due to hysteria and word of mouth from those who had seen it, the media hype surrounding these films only encourage that curiosity to grow bringing determination to see the horror on screen unfold for ourselves. For me the films that have caused controversy during my own generation include The Bunny Game (2010), A Serbian Film (2010) and The Human Centipede Films (2009, 2011), I have only seen the latter films mentioned but genuinely feel there has been unfair misconceptions surrounding them, its definitely clear that since the moral panics of the 80′s, not a great deal has changed in certain cases however horror has generally become a slightly more accepted form of entertainment. During my childhood, horror films were always playground discussions in terms of who had seen what and how terrifying the film was but to my knowledge I was one of the only ones who let that sense of fear and enigma become a life-long interest.
Kermode mentions that there’s a certain solitude that originally comes with being a genre fan. He recollects his late night visits to grindhouse London cinemas to enjoy X-rated double bills in which he’d be surrounded by like-minded people who in his words would be ‘getting more out of the movies than passing scares, watching them again and again, learning them, studying them’. Whereas I was never fortunate to experience horror in the cinema until at least the age of 15, prior to that I would record endless VHS tapes of the Elm Streets, the Friday 13ths, Scream’s etc. and of course watch them alone with pure enthrallment. I was determined to watch anything that was listed in the TV guide with the tag ‘Horror’ even if I was unfamiliar with its content and would end up watching a terribly bad film. Despite this, being a horror fan meant it was difficult to find other people to relate to back then. It also wasn’t until I studied a Horror module at university I was able to develop different ways of thinking about the films I’d grown up with and always loved.
Community is a vital part of being a horror fan. It was 2009 when I attended my first full horror festival at Abertoir, which has been an annual tradition ever since. In 2011 I also began to visit Sheffield for Celluloid Screams. Attending these goreific events has allowed me to meet and socialize with others who share my interest. Not only do we watch a selection of brilliant movies but there’s the opportunities to discuss them afterwards and even meet the filmmakers behind them. One of the most appealing aspects of horror fandom is this close-knit community. Filmmakers in general are approachable and happy to give time to their fans and the fans themselves are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever come across.
Therefore, there are several reasons why horror films are so appealing and why being a fan of them is incredibly important. There’s the enjoyment of the suspense and tense atmosphere, the familiarity of the tropes and conventions displayed, the opportunity to study the genre and discover interesting metaphors that say something profound about our society. There’s the sense of catharsis violent imagery can provide us with as well as the ability to identify with the characters we see on screen in some way or another. We also can’t forget the adrenaline rush a thrill ride of terror can give us, there’s the iconic imagery we come to recognize as well as the wide spectrum of sub-genres on offer from slashers in masks to the spooky supernatural. We keep watching because there’s so much more to discover as horror continues to transform and adapt. While there are times when Horror films may seem tired and repeated there’s always still plenty of underground gems that really blow our minds, Horror still has the ability to shock and scare us and we indulge.
I’d like to say a massive thank you to the amazing horror community that have supported me over these passed three years, it really means a lot and has provided me with some fangtastic writing opportunities that I hope will continue.
Thanks for Reading.
Hayley Alice Roberts