Diminishing returns: All part of horror fandom





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Shortly after moving to London as a single young man, I joined a dating network with the intention of finding companionship and, hopefully shortly after, fornication (this will be relevant by the end of this paragraph, I swear!). Now to those heralding from smaller towns this practice may seem only a slight step up from hanging in the darkened corners of the local Shag Tag night. But au contraire! In a populace of 8 million it’s just something single folks do – yes, as surely as we rise in the morning and lay our heads at night, singletons in the London area go online and pitch themselves to strangers by way of a selective photograph and a blurb. Save for forcing one to assess their market value, the practice is challenging in that it makes us question the traits that make us good prospects, along with asking us those we value in our own prospects. Now, among other traits desirable in a partner, I’ve always liked the idea of meeting a horror fan so was rather pleased to come across the profile of a similarly hip young professional to myself (I’m going to call her Jill here, though that’s definitely not her name): a self-professed ‘horror geek’. Usual motions: we chat for a bit, realise we may be compatible, then before too long we got a date set up in the East of London; a location that ought to conjure up images of fake chicken shops and pints of cheap lager, though was more real ale and the lights of canary wharf.

 

Having built the tension I can tell you the date went well, save for one detail. Whilst I chuckled at Jill’s jokes, took interest in her stories and fairly enjoyed her company something really put me off. That being her label of ‘horror geek’. Yep, this probably sounds picky. But never have I seen such blatant misadvertising since the movie Boa vs. Python limited the titular versing to roughly 45 seconds of a 90 minute feature (indeed, the adversary between snakes is so little that following 70 minutes of nothing happening they stop to make love). Sure, she’d seen a few horrors. That, I can grant her. And good ones too – not like when someone says they’re a horror fan then cites like The Woman in Black or something. She’d definitely seen some. Yet a trend I soon noticed was she’d never seen a sequel. Of any sort. Ever. Picture this: ‘Hey, Jill, you seen a Friday the 13th that actually featured Jason?’ Nope. ‘Oh boy, how about the misguided Cult of Thorn in Halloween 4-6’. Never heard of it. ‘Or that bit in Children of Corn Genesis that uses stock-footage from Bad Boys 2?’ Blank.

 

Around that point I decided it wasn’t to be. Note that it wasn’t ‘cause Jill didn’t like horror. No, no – I’m not so shallow as to place that above more important things like personality or looks (irony intended). I’ve dated non horror fans before and likely will again. Rather, it was that she’d either knowingly lied about it or held a vast misconception as to what being a fan constitutes. To begin a motif I’ll likely raise again at the end of this self indulgent piece (so look out for it) were her horror fandom compared to whisky tasting she’d be so casual as to not notice the difference between a Famous Grouse and a 31 year old Laphroig. Hmm. Mulling it over on the DLR home, I wondered what sort of fan hasn’t seen at least a handful of sequels. I mean it’s not like there aren’t many to choose from – I struggle slightly to think of 10 successful modern horrors that stayed entirely stand alone. Instead the genre is notorious for inspiring amounts of sequels unheard of outside the realms of fantasy novels or Police Academy. Between them Freddy, Jason, Michael, Pinhead, Leatherface and ‘The Dead’ have 55 dedicated movies (more if we count the Return of the Living Dead spin-off series as canon). Then you got the likes of Alien (6), The Howling (8), Saw (7), Children of the Corn (8), Amityville (10), Evil Dead (4), Phantasm (4), Jaws (4), The Omen (4), The Exorcist (5), Wrong Turn (5), The Crow (4 plus a series) Psycho (4 plus a series), Hannibal (5 plus a series) Final Destination (5), Paranormal Activity (5) and Ringu (7) among numerous others that’ve been similarly drawn out regardless of if they have an observable fan-base or not (House and Pumpkinhead oeuvres, I’m thinking of you). And that’s not even looking at the long ancestral stream of Universal or Hammer Horrors which swamped the old scene. Indeed, when it comes to quantity in a franchise the horror genre can be considered anything but a modest. Rather, in drink terms again it’s like a beer belly: bloated, proud and flabby.

 

Thing is horror fans will gladly watch horror movies just because they’re horror (yes the repetition is intentional so as to convey the cyclical nature of our gluttonous habits). For if horror films were again to be likened to a good drink then don’t we all enjoy a binge? If they’re good then it’s a bonus. But that’s certainly no arbiter for if time feels wasted. I fondly look back at nights in front of the projector with my old flatmate watching streams of horrors for no reason other than their genre. Just like I enjoy hanging about Fright Fest not caring if the movies weren’t up to scratch since it was the thrill of a day of new horrors that mattered. That, to me, is integral to what horror fandom/ geekery is – being willing to watch near enough anything that gets released (within reason). And yet I, as with many others, know that the majority of the films in just about every series will be at least a little questionable in their content (in some cases putting it mildly) even if they are still enjoyable despite this. I guess the tendency for most of them is for the villain to become the main attraction. Then in turn the lure becomes seeing how they dispatch their new victims (it’s actually rather rare for victims to get more likeable with subsequent releases). In that respect the release of a new Elm Street becomes about seeing what tomfoolery Freddy’s up to rather than getting a fresh tale. Maybe there’s something comforting about the familiar templates with which these movies follow, or the allure of seeing our outsider status validated by a killer chopping the popular kids into little pieces or something. I dunno. I can leave the psychoanalysing for another time. But much as I may mock Leatherface for becoming a shadow of his former self by part 4, I know I would likely be seeing a new one on its day of release. And I’d be dong so without the forgivable innocence of high expectation.

 

So earlier today I saw some photos of Resident Evil 6 going up online and I scoffed. Pah. Isn’t it just the cheap cider of the horror genre? That which is cheap, nasty and litters our streets. Never even knew there’d been a part 5! How anyone could find entertainment from such an artistically spent and frankly idealess series baffled me. So disgusted was I, at the prospect of a Resident Evil 6, that I almost wrote a sarcastic tweet (@horrorinatweet, thank you very much). But clarity! The double standard took approximately 30 seconds to hit me. Yeah, I’d been the very same guy that judged Jill for not being partial to a sequel. Yet there I was tutting at Resident Evil fans for bringing their series to that lofty number so many franchises have reached before (and in fairness, doing so with the same lead and much of the crew). Presumably they simply liked the first adventures of Alice (that’s her name, right?) vs. Umbrella enough to develop the self-same loyalty for it the rest of us have for our preferred franchises, be them Saw, Silent Night – Deadly Night or Halloween Camp.

 

As horror fans we’re all to blame.

 

Sequels get spawned in our genre like no other – sometimes even with crossovers. All the makers or Resident Evil 6 have done is respond to this expectation and fulfil the well-known self-destructive desires of fans. Like prisoners to a tyrant, horror fans build our own cinematic mass graves. And they get ever so slightly deeper with each new cash-in. Endless streams of sequels get pumped out that we’re probably not even supposed to like as much as consume. It works. We knock them back with the gusto of a group of kids recently turned 18 going on a Club 18-30 booze cruise. We’re a fan-base studios probably have little respect, tittering as they secure extra blockbuster money by putting more found footages with the word Apartment in the title up on Netflix knowing so many of us will click it. Plus annoyingly we do it to ourselves then bitch about the consequences (saying ‘there are no original ideas left in Hollywood’ is much the same as looking at an empty wallet and saying the landlord should have warned you). We knowingly spend time and money watching movies we know we probably won’t like. The other month I went with a London horror group to see The Devil’s Due. It was ‘meh’. Then afterwards we knocked back a pint and chuckled about just how ‘meh’ it all was. But joke’s on us since we not only paid to watch it, but did so knowing we were unlikely to get blown away. Put it this way, it was as good as we figured it would be and didn’t care. With this mentality we get the films we deserve. Weirdest part is I’m not even meaning this as a complaint either, since it’s always been part of our genre.

 

Horror fans, I’m not saying I’m above artistic masochism since I’m clearly as guilty as the next of you. Though I suggest our own predictable consumer habits have lowered our collective standards for what swill we get to chow down on. I’m sure none of us want to see the end to sequels and remakes entirely; fuck it, they’re fun. Rather I imagine we’d like that those we do get aren’t notably worse than them which came before. Oh, and are actually seemingly made for fans along with the inevitable quick buck a horror name can gather. Let’s not be enablers here. Instead we ought to expect more, vocally decry movies when they do let us down via blogs and other geeky activities (the internet needs more negativity), and occasionally (just occasionally) not go out and buy them when we already know they’ll ‘probably suck’. In fact, maybe this restraint is what makes for proper fans. Instead of being akin to alcoholics let us become connoisseurs (and there’s the payoff for that motif). So Jill, if you’re out there and reading this then know that I’m sorry for judging you. Yes, you were doubtlessly lying or wrong. Yet as long as I’ve paid to see and moan about a bad movie, thereby increasing the odds of their being a bad sequel I’ll similarly pay to see and moan about, then neither of us can really claim to be right.

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About david.s.smith 456 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

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