Screening this evening at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, Why Horror? is a film that’s looking for answers. Why is there a genre that celebrates the culture of being scared? Why are some repulsed by it while others can’t get enough? Why is it that the gruesome images we see in the news are hard to look at yet the blood and guts of horror films are fun entertainment? Directors Nicolas Kleiman and Rob Lindsay find a way to answer (or at least attempt to answer) these questions through the perfect documentary subject in the form of horror journalist and life long horror fan Tal Zimerman. Tal writes for both Fangoria and Rue Morgue Magazine, he’s been a lecturer at horror conventions and runs the popular blog about movie posters 27×41. To say he’s a horror fan is an understatement. He is the perfect guide into the world of horror and the dissection of why there is such an attraction to it because he wants to know himself. In this film, Tal is on a journey to find out why he loves horror so much and what it says about him. The film is not only an exploration of a genre but also a self reflection on the effects of horror on one man’s life. It’s through this discovery of one’s self that we find out what makes horror a favourite entertainment for so many. Essentially, Why Horror?
To find out more about his own love of horror, Tal reaches out to his family for stories from his childhood. He interviews his parents and his younger brothers to present the image of a boy who was obsessed with monster movies and special effects make up. He further delves into nostalgia by talking with highschool friends who shared his love of the gory and grotesque and paints the picture of a true horror nerd who embraced this culture at an early age and never let go. But his journey of discovery does not end with himself. Along the way, Tal talks with big names in genre film and literature, including the likes of George Romero, John Carpenter, Eli Roth, Steve Niles and the Soska sisters to name just a few. He also sits down with horror creators and fans from around the world and explores the way horror is accepted and presented in other countries and cultures. To top it off, Tal also speaks with scientists, psychologists and sociologists to discuss why we enjoy being scared and what impact it has on us mentally, physically and emotionally. This leads to some interesting experiments including taking a scan of Tal’s brain while watching horror films and comparing the reactions of him and his mother (who can’t stand horror movies) taking in scenes from scary movies while hooked up to heart monitors.
The film does a great job of keeping the focus on Tal’s discovery. We find out new information through Tal and share in his elation of the study of his favourite pastime. Over the course of the film, we get to know Tal and see that his passion for horror has fueled a great deal of his accomplishments and see how something that labelled him as a nerd in secondary school now allows him to connect with like minded individuals on a regular basis. Tal is a likeable character and is presented as an approachable dude who’s very in tune with what he likes. It’s this full on embrace of his passions that makes him open and engaged in finding out as much new information as possible to help answer the questions of this documentary, which in turn can’t help but keep the audience open and engaged to take in the copious amounts of information that’s disclosed.
Even for a horror fan, there is a lot of information in this film to absorb. Scientific, sociological and psychological evidence is presented and discussed throughout the film and this is on top of the multitude of interviews with some of the most recognized names in Horror, giving their two cents on why horror is such an appealing genre. What’s great is that Kleiman and Lindsay do a commendable job of processing and showcasing this information so that one is able to sit back and enjoy the ride without even really noticing that they’re actually learning something. The film flows and doesn’t get hung up on one aspect or another for too long. At the same time, there is a suitable amount of time given to each topic of discussion, whether it’s looking at how death and horror are perceived in countries like Mexico or Japan or debunking the myth that women are not into horror films. With sharp pacing and a definitive narrative, the film keeps a tight focus on what it’s trying to say and presents some interesting findings. Those unfamiliar with horror will also appreciate the “Brief History of Horror” animation narrated by Elijah Wood that’s included in the middle of the film.
If you’re a horror fan, you will enjoy this movie. If you’re not a horror fan, there’s still something here for you as it will give you a better understanding of why so many people love horror. Why Horror? plays tonight at 9:30pm at the Scotiabank Theatre in Toronto as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Fest. The film is sold out but there is a chance of grabbing seats by joining the rush line at the theatre an hour before the screening. If you’re unable to make it out to Toronto, the film will be showing on the Superchannel for a whole month beginning on Tuesday, October 28th, check this link for showtimes.
If you’re gonna geek out, GEEK HARD!