What is it about being a horror fan that makes you want to watch films you know will be terrible?
I ask this question having just dragged myself away from the ‘scary’ section of my local DVD store, where a cheap copy of Halloween: Resurrection was proving rather hard to resist. Now, there was just no point in reminding myself that sequels start to lose quality rapidly when they’re edging towards the double-figure mark, nor in remembering that the movie commits the cardinal sin of ret-conning something that we all saw happen in the previous instalment. No, I just wanted to watch it, to see what this particular slasher villain still had to offer.
It wasn’t the first time this had happened either. Not too long before I had to physically restrain myself from buying three recent installments of the Hellraiser franchise – this despite the fact that every single review I have read with series-creator, Clive Barker, features the interviewer disparaging these sequels at least once. I like to kid myself that common sense won out here when I left the store empty-handed, but I suspect that if they hadn’t been import copies, and if buying all three of them wouldn’t have cost me over £50, well, this fool would have definitely been parted with his money. But why, for films that by all accounts will nowhere near reach the quality of the early classics that I love?
Nostalgia’s one possibility, I guess – the actors may change but the characters (and usually plots) remain the same, and help remind us of the people we were when we watched the first part of the saga. But since I like to think of myself as a guy who’s always going forwards, each fresh day a new adventure, I’m not comfortable with this idea. Doing it for the sake of completion is another one – you’ve seen the rest, so why not see them all, right? But of course, we all know this is shaky ground when it comes to the law of diminishing returns, and rare is the franchise that doesn’t suffer from that, and I’m not just talking about the horror genre here. So I’m betting there’s got to be something more that drives us to knowingly watch bad movies . . .and maybe it strikes straight to the heart of what makes me and others like me into horror fans.
I’m sure the cliché about such fans being terribly awkward social misfits is not true – not always, at least, and no more than you’d find than with any other genre – but Icansay that I feel a certain sense of camaraderie whilst talking with a fellow gore lover that I don’t get from speaking to anyone else. It’s a good way to make a stranger into a friend – which era do you like, who’s your favourite villain, maybe even what’s your favourite murder though perhaps that should wait until the third of fourth conversation (providing, of course, you can pin your favourite down, which is probably something I’d struggle to do). Such discussions inevitably lead you to the conclusion that a lot of the films you’ve spent your time watching aren’t very good . . . and then, naturally, to the revelation that you’ve still watched the sequels to those movies. And we can kid ourselves that we watched those follow-up flicks in the hope that they would get better, that some initial spark in the premise of the original that was not rewarded will finally be made to shine. But such a belief should probably be starting to flounder by the sixth movie. So why plonk down your hard-earned cash and buy the seventh?
Having looked back at my life, and the part the horror genre, and really all counterculture trappings, from reading comic strips to enjoying punk rock music, have played in it, I’ve come to the conclusion that, for me at least, it’s a sense of being part of a community that drives me to carry on buying the never-ending next parts in various movie series. It’s a feeling of belonging to something that makes me want to watch a movie that I know will be coughing up blood – metaphorically speaking – by the time the first scene splutters to a bloody but tragically predictable end. We in the horror, and probably the fantasy and sci-fi genres, have chosen to make our own little subset of society – and don’t we just hate it, by and large, when the rest of the regular world gate-crashes our scene, rains on our parade? It happened when I was at school, so many years ago, but I still shiver at the thought of the in-crowd proclaiming that horror was ‘cool’ when the first Scream movie was out (like I said, it was a long time ago).
We hate it when that happens, but I guess the only other option is to feel alone in your particular interests. Sure, there are plenty specialist ‘genre’ magazines out there, and long may they continue. But they’re not shoved down your throat like mainstream movies. (Unless you’re counting superhero movies here as genre offerings. And I’m not).
So when you’re feeling all alone, when it seems like the rest of the world likes normal stuff and you’re a bit of a weirdo for wanting to watch the entire Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street box-set in one gore-soaked weekend, the continuing series and franchises are signs that other people like us are out there, both watching the movie and making the movie. We watch our favourite villain live to kill another day, and we don’t care that they’re now riddled with enough bullets to take down a tank and probably bleeding from numerous knife/machete/bayonet/carving knife wounds – our only concern is that we now have something new to talk to our fellow bloodhounds about, and probably another few possibilities to add to that list of potential favourite fictional murders. The ending is left well and truly open for a sequel and we think, hooray! There’s still money to be made in this! Other people like me must be out there somewhere! Though deep down inside we probably all know that the horse being flogged is as dead as the movie villain’s teen victims.
But when it comes to horror, what you know is far less important than what you feel.
So, having said all that, one thing is now certain.
I’ve probably just talked myself into going back and buying Halloween: Resurrection.
Shaun Avery writes horror and crime fiction in a number of mediums, often with a satirical approach to fame and media obsession. He thinks his cynicism is healthy. Though perhaps “The Conception Artist” takes it to extremes.