June 8th, 2010


The Cult of Not Mattering: How Horror Fandom Is Its Own Worst Enemy

The following is a letter-to-the editor that appears in the June 2010 issue of Rue Morgue magazine, written by someone calling him/herself "Skullfucker":

I love your magazine and the radio show. You guys do a great job. However, there are some writers who think they are fucking film experts. I won't name names, like Liisa Lettucehead [presumably a reference to Liisa Ladouceur, one of the more thoughtful reviewers in the magazine--NK]. Anyways, horror films seem to be treated like great works of art and everyone talks about horror and art. Give me a fucking break, that's the problem with the horror community. Everyone has a skull up their ass and takes themselves too seriously. However, this is a humble opinion. I know if you don't like it, don't read the magazine. I do like the magazine, it's just the pretentious art shit I get sick of.

There's a lot about this letter that's remarkable, but the most remarkable thing of all, to me at least, is that its sentiment is in no way unique. I've seen it countless times before--and not just in horror fandom. It also shows up in SF fandom too, like whenever a bad movie review appears on SciFiWire. But as I'm much more concerned with horror fandom, this letter got under my skin a lot more than the barely literate "ur revew sux, this movee is kewl" comments on SciFiWire do.

Unpacking the psychology behind Skullfucker's letter would be a Herculean task, but what it essentially boils down to is this: Who cares if a movie is good as long as it's horror? I can think of nothing more detrimental to the genre than this. It's the kind of sentiment that results in a smorgasbord of bad movies every year, cynically produced cash-grabs that do indeed grab cash, despite their lack of quality, because of this same attitude. It's why we wind up with so many pale, by-the-numbers horror films, many of which are remakes. The studios rely on audiences telling themselves that it doesn't matter if the Prom Night remake looks like crap, it's a horror movie and they're all crap, so let's go see it anyway. And of course it turns out to be unwatchable, but they've paid their money, the movie has made a profit, and as a result the studios think it's a good idea to keep churning out the same insufferable nonsense. It's a vicious cycle, one that can only be broken when the audience becomes more discerning and fans start voting with their wallets.

Lord knows I've disagreed with Rue Morgue's reviews. I've rented films based on their recommendation that left me scratching my head as to why anyone would think it was any good, and at times I've liked films that they've panned. But even if I don't always agree with their assessments, I know reviewers are the necessary filter between studio cynicism and my hard-earned money. There's nothing "pretentious" about giving a bad movie a bad review. It is, in fact, the reviewer's job. Perhaps fans like Skullfucker would prefer if every horror movie were fawned over like the second coming of The Exorcist, but I wouldn't. My time and my money are too valuable to waste on tedious nonsense.

I've had serious issues with this sentiment for years now. Its prevalence on horror message boards is one of the reasons I avoid them. I like to think this is simply a vocal minority, that there are tons more horror fans out there who think quality matters but tend not to write letters to the editors quite so much, or post as much on message boards, but who knows? Sometimes I feel like I'm shouting into the void when I say what matters isn't just that it's a horror film, but whether it's a good horror film. Differences in taste aside, we tend to know what makes a good movie when we see one: An interesting, original story, characters that aren't cardboard caricatures, dialogue that's more than clunky exposition. Criticizing a horror movie for, say, focusing more on gore effects than any of those criteria is hardly something I would consider pretentious.

Horror has its share of detractors. More than its share, really. There are a lot of people out there who think it's trash, that it's lame and stupid. While everyone is entitled to their opinion, these folks aren't the genre's worst enemy. They're not the reason we get tons of terrible horror movies every year. Instead, they are reacting to those same terrible movies and painting the entire genre with the same brush as a result. Who can blame them for thinking horror is lame when 90% of the horror movies released every year really are lame? No, the real enemy of the genre is undiscerning fandom, people who are perhaps like Skullfucker and think any horror film should be above criticism. That it's "pretentious" to want more than tits and blood.

This is why I think it's not the people who hate horror who are crippling it. It's us, the fans. Unless we start turning our backs on the crap and start supporting the good stuff, even if there's less of it available, nothing will change. But if we do, maybe the scales will tip and there will be more good horror movies to choose from after all. And isn't that what we as horror fans want?