On The Hype Of Horror

A few weeks back, fellow partner in motive questioning Jacob wrote a great article on hype buzz surrounding the recent festival darling Hereditary, and it was this that made me ponder quite a few things about the current landscape. Festival hype trains can be a ticking time bomb of tremendous consequences. You’re Next, Oculus, The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch, all of these films made a significant impact via genre journalism at least 8-12 months before being released to the public, and I’m pretty sure they all were deemed “The Scariest/Best Horror film of the last 10 years” at one point or another. Is that true? Who knows, it’s subjective, BUT the hype generated by 35663 articles, word of mouth, and sometimes misleading trailers usually helps push festival darlings like these into the mainstream, opening up a somewhat new world for the regular movie going masses.

Case in point, I was 14 year old freshman in high school when Blair Witch Project came out in 1999, and can attest to the legendary marketing and hype surrounding it. It became a hot topic in school, with utterances of its title seamlessly hopping from one lunch table to another, “It’s real!” “My cousin knows one of the survivors!” “There’s a website!”. I went with a group of friends on opening night and vividly remember how real everything felt and how different of an experience this was then say going to see Urban Legend or I Know What You Did Last Summer. All bets were off and none of us knew what we were in for. We were all spooked, but what happened the next day at school really stuck with me. My main group of friends would all meet in the cafeteria before homeroom, It was the teenage equivalent to an office water cooler meeting, my friend (let’s call him Chad for sake of anonymity) Chad was telling everyone about the movie, but I was surprised to hear him talk about how ‘it wasn’t even that scary!’ especially since he was the most ‘shook’ during our theater experience. I was puzzled by this happenstance, as even 14 year old me could see a masquerade of macho toxic masculinity (that could be a whole other article right there) trying to cover up some secret fear of the woods or something, and in essence tempering the expectations of everyone around him at that cafeteria table. It was the first time I witnessed something like this within the genre, especially noteworthy because it was a straight up lie on his part. No one jumped higher in the theater than he did.

Now let’s fast forward to 2015, the only other movie of this festival darling genre run that I’ve seen theatrically happens to be It Follows, and I’ll get to that soon, but first... The most commonly uttered phrase for all of these said movies I heard most frequently while working at a physical media retail location during that time period was “That wasn’t even that scary, there wasn’t enough blood and tits!”, once again, subjective (and a bit juvenile too but whatevz), but I often ask myself “what is it that you folks want?” and the answer I’d usually get from the mainstream buyers were “more stuff like the classic 80’s stuff, they don’t make ‘em like they used ta!” and at that point I’d usually just hand them a copy of some 80’s classic and they’d get all giddy. That’s fine too, let people like what they like, but at the same time deep down I wonder what motivates people’s quick dismissal of modern genre cinema’s highly touted releases... other than wanting more blood and guts, some macho masculine thing or “they don’t make ‘em like they used ya!’

Now let’s get back to It Follows. After following the release closely since its festival debut, I was ecstatic to find out that the small showings were sellouts and the picture was going wide. The theater near my job was playing it, so I managed to snag a matinee showing on a nice sunny day after leaving work early. I sat in my seat, a nice sized crowd rolled in and the chatter before hand was anticipated buzz, bringing back subtle reminders of those cafeteria conversations heard 16 years earlier. From what I can hear, most people there hadn’t seen a trailer and word of mouth was the prime culprit for attendance.

As far as the picture goes, from the dizzying opening shots I was sucked in, enjoying the exact kind of atmosphere I only find a few times each year. The visuals, soundtrack/camera practically being it’s own character, and the kind of tension that makes the hair on my arms stand up whilst a giddy smirk comes over my face as a mixture of a Carpenter type villian in a Craven type world (with the soundtrack being a subtle mixture of both) completely sealed the deal for me. The crowd reactions were phenomenal, and I couldn’t help but feel a bit of dread as I turned around to see scattered people behind me and wonder if they were getting closer. After the movie ended the buzz was still going strong as we exited the theater, and while I had that adrenaline rush of a feeling you get after you watch something you just fell in love with I began walking to my car... once again feeling a slight on edge feeling as a few people crossing the street were on their way to the doors I just exited... with one person walking and looking directly at me.

At that particular moment, I knew I had just watched a movie and had a theatrical viewing experience that I’ll love for as long as I’m around, as It Follows cemented itself as one of my favorite films of the 21st century. Overhyped? Maybe for some. Scariest movie of the last ten years? Not necessarily for me, but it’s amazing what a little word of mouth, a run down multiplex with a great crowd, some damn fine effective scares, and a matinee showing on a beautiful spring day can do to temper expectations. I couldn’t have gotten more of what I wanted out of a movie I didn’t know very much about other than a few screenshots and watching 15 seconds of a trailer online by mistake.  Almost every movie I’ve mentioned, whether anyone likes it or not, has entered the conversation of ‘amongst the best genre films of all time’ and now feature heavily on many lists, and for my money, for good reasons. It’s totally possible for a film not featuring Jason Vorhees, not made in the 1980’s by Wes Craven, not revolving around a cabin in the woods, and not adhering to decades old genre tropes to be awesome, but the ability to look past a ‘classic age’ of any genre is difficult for many, especially in a smothering age of nostalgia. Personally I don’t feel it’s very hard to enjoy the past and present, especially when—whether you like it or not—we in fact are in a new golden age of genre cinema, where a horror film just got nominated for Best fucking Picture at the oscars.

The only piece of advice I can give is don’t believe the hype, go in blind, stay away from clickbait, and lastly, don’t worry about what other people may think if you admit to liking a movie that might not win you any favors with some message board crowd who started tearing down a flick months before it’s even released, and most importantly—just have fun. Support genre cinema, you may not like this movie… but you may like that movie and continued support is the only way we’ll get more movies. Even if these aren’t your bag like they are me and many others… totally dismissing them in favor of something like Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child or Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest might be a hasty decision to make, don’t you think?


Op-EdIan West