June 24, 2016

Why Horror? (2014)


Why Horror? is a feature-length documentary by Tal Zimmerman, a lifelong horror fan who dares to ask why we all love horror films so much. (Are we sure we really want to know?) Are we crazy? Desperate for catharsis? Looking for a way to vicariously live out and watch our most violent fantasies via a movie screen? Turns out the answer, according to this documentary, is both none and all of these things. 

Through autobiographical interviews with Zimmerman's parents (who are quite charming), and home video footage of his childhood, he opens the doors to his obsessions, giving us a glimpse into the boyhood of a super horror fan. This really spoke to me, personally, because I was that kid too!

In addition to his own background, he provides interviews with industry royalty, such as George Romero and John Carpenter. The biggies! He also interviews myriad horror fans, directors, actors, collectors, convention visitors, and even a psychiatrist or two. And this guy goes deep, like way deep. He allows himself to be studied both in a research lab and in an MRI machine while watching horror clips. The results of both tests are somewhat underwhelming, but I do respect the effort.

My favorite part of the documentary was the 'Too Short History of Horror Films' montage he created. An animated Tal Zimmerman marches us from the silent films of the late 19th century to the Universal classics of the 50s, the Hammer films of the 60s, the slashers of the 70s and 80s, right up to today's horror hits and misses. He left out one of my favorite heroes in horror history, William Castle, but he did specify that his history montage was "too short" so I'm sure there were lots of greats that had to be cut to get to the point in a respectable amount of time. Vincent Price, anyone?

I also really, really love the respect he pays to women in the horror industry. For decades critics of horror have complained that it's too misogynistic, and I get where they're coming from. Looking at it from the outside in, one might think that women get the short end of the stick in all these films. But they're wrong! Isn't it always a woman who makes it to the end, the "final girl?" It's almost always a strong (though she rarely knows it), smart, crafty lady who kicks the bad guy in his crocuses and gets out alive. How's that for girl power? And I was shocked to learn from the documentary that 60% of horror viewers are women. So, there.

I hate to do it, but I have one criticism, and it's not a quality issue. It's just a personal preference. My least favorite thing about the film was the research into raucously depraved artwork from centuries past, like a painting of a dog getting an arrow rammed up it's butt. I get why he included this section, but to me this isn't horror, or even a precursor to it. This is something else entirely. Horror is entertaining, that was not. For lack of a better adjective, it's just icky.

Ultimately, what I took from this film was not an answer to the question, "Why horror?" but rather a renewed spirit for my love of horror, and an excitement to meet all of these kindred spirits who love weird, spooky movies as much as I do. It's all too easy to start feeling like an outcast and a freak when you are the only one in your peer group who likes these things. I'm a 43-year-old wife and mom, bibliophile and podcast junkie, who volunteers at church, and loves to cook. And I also happen to love horror films. Now I know I'm not so weird after all. Thanks, Tal!

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