Not Rated | 81 min | Nicolas Kleiman & Rob Lindsay | (Canada) | 2014
Sound byte Review: Talking about horror seriously and in a variety of contexts while still celebrating the experiences of fans makes Why Horror? a unique experience for viewers who both enjoy and are repulsed by the genre.
As someone who writes about horror and has a special appreciation for extreme gore, my sense of discomfort this past summer with the way some fan fiction was handling those perversions (murder, rape, incest, etc.) often tackled in horror was unexpected. And so as I was already beginning to question my own involvement in the genre, I was perfectly primed for the topic of this compelling documentary that seeks to answer why it is that people are drawn to horror. While I can’t say that it revolutionized my thinking on the topic, the film does illustrate the importance of opening up a conversation on why it is that we fear the things we do.
Premiering Friday on Showtime, Why Horror? is an interesting exercise in exploring all the varied reasons why horror resonates with fans. Examining everything from film to art to psychology, this POV documentary works largely because of its commitment to not exploring the genre in a vacuum. What I especially appreciated was the way in which the film wove in discussions of culture and gender to consider the myriad of ways in which horror has the power to impact society. Less in-depth exploration and more personal journey, the film is best suited to those viewers who can’t quite grasp why it is that people would find enjoyment in depictions of explicit gore and violence.
As an everyman seeking to understand his own relationship with horror, lifelong fan Tal Zimerman is the perfect guide to take us on this journey. With close-up looks at his own horror collection, ranging from film posters to figures and everything in between, the sheer joy with which he discusses his passion is instantly relatable and works well to minimize the threat inherent in some of the imagery presented in the film. For instance, there is a fascinating discussion about what would compel people to seek out and display works of art depicting all manners of perversion. Juxtaposed against Zimerman’s sincere curiosity, the images being viewed take on a slightly distant feel. In our viewing of the film, this helped those viewers more easily triggered to consider the artwork being presented in more theoretical and not solely emotional terms.
Because I am so ridiculously interested in the psychology behind horror and how our body chemically reacts to fear, I was especially intrigued by Zimerman’s visit to have his brain scanned to see if his lifelong horror viewing habits had affected him physically. In a fascinating sequence, Zimerman and his mother, a devout non-fan of horror, have their brainwaves tested while watching horror film sequences to see if there is a discernible difference in how they are processing the imagery. The results are intriguing and I’d love to see a documentary devoted to exploring the ramifications of these findings.
Another standout moment in the film is the discussion of how horror themed video games have taken fans from passive consumers to active participants and what the potential effect of that evolution may be in terms of development. The more academic component to this discussion was a nice counterbalance to the scenes of Zimerman and his family sitting around the kitchen table discussing his history with the genre.
Surprisingly the least effective part of this documentary for me was the way Zimerman injected commentary by a collection of horror legends, including George A. Romero, Alexandra Aja and John Carpenter. While it’s clear that Zimerman didn’t have the time to film beyond what are effectively sound bytes, their inclusion was jarring because there was so much left unasked and unsaid. Each man does address the titular question but the lack of follow-up, especially with creators who have faced significant backlash for their films, left me wanting more.
Overall, Why Horror? is a terrific look at one man’s experience as a horror fan. And while it certainly asks broad questions related to the cultural impact of the genre, it is ultimately Zimerman’s story. Luckily for viewers, it is a story that as engrossing as it is entertaining.