As a longtime and committed fan of the horror genre, Tal Zimmerman takes us on a journey to discover its roots, influences, players and place in different cultures. His travels will take him as far away as Japan, England and Mexico, to as close as his parents' dining room. In his documentary Why Horror?, he wants to find out what it is about horror that draws its fans to the genre.
Zimmerman speaks to icons in the industry, the likes of George A. Romero, John Carpenter, Don Coscarelli and Barbara Crampton. He speaks with genre cinema advocates like Rue Morgue's Dave Alexander and Rodrigo Gudino, Fangoria's Chris Alexander and TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes. Everyone has their moment to offer their own insights about the horror genre and what draws them to it, time and time again. The list of experts and leaders in the genre is as long as a baby's arm. And it could have been longer!
Zimmerman also includes his mom and family. He and his brother's reminisce about his early experiments with makeup fx and getting in trouble at school. But Zimmerman's mom is a story all her own; the matriarch of the Zimmerman clan has no shortage of stories and experiences in the film. One of the highlights has to be when Zimmerman and his mom go to a university clinic to have their physical reactions recorded when they are watching horror film footage. Of course, Zimmerman is giddy and smiling. His mom cannot push herself further back in her chair. And the results of that test will surprise viewers. Zimmerman's time with his mom is a strong point in the film.
Zimmerman even goes outside of the horror community as well and speaks to professionals and intellectuals. He speaks with psychologists, anthropologists and art collectors to name a few. Those in the creative arts field will speak of early examples of horror-centric works of art and literature and I was drawn more to these investigations of creativity in Why Horror? As someone who dabbles in art and expression through illustration, I immediately connected with those segments.
Those in the medical field will speak of our physical and mental attachments to the horror genre. I also found the tests Zimmerman undergoes to map his brain while watching horror films fascinating as well. And the common consensus among intellectuals is that most people gravitate to horror, apart from the entertainment value, as a means of conquering fears or building up survival instincts. And it is not only medical professionals who express this sentiment. Many horror icons like Romero have expressed this before as well.
As ScreenAnarchy is a site that has built its reputation on covering international cinema we may be ahead of the game when it comes to what Zimmerman speaks about when he travels to England, Japan and Mexico. We may be more familiar with customs and cultural nuances than others but it still fascinating stuff. Asian and Latin cultures have stronger ties with the spiritual and supernatural, which explains why so much of their horror cinema is dedicated to spirits, hauntings and vengeful ghosts. But they do vary in ways. which is why the footage of Zimmerman walking around a town in Mexico during Dia de Los Muertos is incredible stuff.
Japanese horror filmmakers speak of their infamous Hairy Ghost and how Japanese culture and gender roles laid the foundation for this iconic imagery. The inevitably goes into women in horror and their roles and I am glad that Zimmerman touched on that in his doc. Any student of Japanese culture would know that themed bars are plentiful so it was no surprise that Zimmerman found himself in a horror themed bar conducting interviews.
I think there is one scene in particular that still stands out in my mind. I was watching one of the final scenes in the doc of Zimmerman and his wife playing with his son. The toys around him are Godzilla, a plush zombie with removable head, and the like. Horror movie posters adorn the wall around them. His son's indoctrination into horror started before he was born. And you know what? This is not completely unlike, say, hardcore sports fans. I have seen it with new dads, holding their iPhones in front of my face, and showing me how they painted their son's room Toronto Mapleleafs Blue (Yes. It is an actual color). They have changed all the light fixtures and put up Leafs ones. Add some posters, pennants and bedsheets and that kid is going to break his dad's heart when he declares his allegiance to any but the Leafs.
Should I ever start a family of my own I am not saying that my Hard Boiled poster is going to make the transition from my living room to my child's room. But I have seen how one's' passion is something is passed along to the next generation. And depending on what night you catch a hockey game you would also get some blood letting there too. Is it no small wonder that Mr. Voorhees wears a goalie mask?
The challenge with documentaries is that they are a lot like skipping stones on a lake. The stone only touches down a few times as it takes flight. And if Why Horror? has proven one thing is that the genre itself has as much breadth and depth as any sub genre and the task of covering it completely is daunting.
I think what Zimmerman has done here is look at areas that are of a particular interest to himself, both as a fan and as an academic would. He understands that the genre itself extends beyond film and print and has its roots in culture and our natural, human inclinations. All of the areas that he covered in the documentary: history, culture, gender roles, psychology could be stand alone episodes in a television mini-series. Even then, could we cover everything there is to know about the horror genre?
All in all, I found Why Horror? to be humorous, inciteful and still manage to provoke thought. Though I am nowhere near as committed to the genre as Zimmerman, is I am still a fan with a basic understanding of its history and how other cultures embrace it. There was still enough material in the doc that I found interesting. It would be best if I borrow what Rue Morgue's Dave Alexander said during the Q&A, Why Horror? will affirm fans of horror and enlighten non-fans at the same time.
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