Director: Rob Lindsay, Nicolas Kleiman
Writer: Rob Lindsay
Producer: Colin Geddes, Rob Lindsay, Lucy Stewart, Kevin Wallis, Bob Culbert
Stars: Tal Zimerman, Eli Roth, John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Don Coscarelli, Alexandre Aja, Simon Barrett, Barbara Crampton, Chris Alexander
Tal Zimerman travels around the globe interviewing filmmakers and scholars about why people connect with the horror genre.
Why horror? To answer a question with a question, why does it matter?
No one feels an urge to ask someone cradling a Jackie Collins hardcover in an airport lounge, “why romance?” John Wayne enthusiasts are rarely required to rationalize “why westerns?” or Busby Berkeley fans “why musicals?” or 007 aficionados “why spy thrillers?” What obligation does George A. Romero have to justify an association with the genre when no journalist bothers Mel Brooks to explain his attachment to comedy?
The question “why horror?” implies that fascination with the frightful is still somehow indicative of mental deficiency at worst or puzzling proclivities at best. It’s an outdated notion that formerly stigmatized fans as socially awkward weirdos who needed to be side-eyed for serial killer tendencies. With mainstream media’s continued “come on over!” acceptance of horror in broader popular culture, getting to the bottom of “why?” is less urgent now than it may have been in the Satanic Panic heyday of the 1980s.
Nevertheless, that is the question Tal Zimerman asks as the host, for lack of a better descriptor, of Rob Lindsay and Nicolas Kleiman’s globetrotting documentary “Why Horror?” They may as well be asking “what’s the sound of one hand clapping?” given that there is obviously not going to be a conclusive or satisfying answer. The filmmakers know this too, which is why their examination of horror appreciation is ultimately inconsequential as an academic exposé.
The interview list boasts an impressive lineup of familiar filmmaking faces as well as psychologists, sociologists, an anthropologist, and assorted scholars giving gravitas that makes the movie more than mere celebratory propaganda for horror entertainment. Some inclusions are curious, John Carpenter seems like he was cornered at a convention and pressed for an obligatory sound bite, though there is incredible diversity in the professions, ethnicities, and gender of those represented.
One of Zimerman’s friends offers insight into how horror gives like-minded misfits a common identity by having an interest in something many don’t. Others speak of fictional slaughter as the present day progression from killing as entertainment in gladiator days, or the anxiety of reconciling mortality with a biological drive towards self-preservation. Some interesting surfaces see scratches here, but how many of these musings are previously unknown ideas? One hiccup “Why Horror?” has is that while the content expresses very evident affection for the genre, it isn’t truly informative.
Light at just 77 minutes, “Why Horror?” seriously struggles with ways to pad out its B-roll. And that problem starts by installing Tal Zimerman as the central figure.
It’s not that Zimerman is unlikable. On the contrary, he comes across as a fine family man and affable fellow fan who would be fun to chat movies with over a beer. At issue is that “Why Horror?” wants to give viewers a personable guide through the material, except his presence is simply unnecessary.
During coverage of horror in video games, would you rather see in-game footage of “Resident Evil” in action, or shots of the documentary host boringly taking the game disc out of its case and booting to a static title screen? “Why Horror?” has some of the former in the form of Zimerman playing the game in a wide shot, but much more of the latter as it cuts to close-ups of controllers where thumbs wiggle sticks and fingers press buttons.
Filler footage features plenty of similarly disposable moments inserted practically out of context. Zimerman rides in a taxicab staring pensively at passing buildings. Zimerman mulls over masks in a Japanese gift shop. The camera randomly pans across spines of Stephen King novels. How exactly does watching Zimerman silently read the back of an unidentified videocassette box advance an understanding of horror?
Several “remember when” moments show Zimerman reminiscing about a horror-obsessed childhood with his parents and brothers. Some recollections are cute, but without being a member of their family’s inner circle, it is a passive trip down a Memory Lane we have no personal investment in. There is a loose tie to how universal nostalgia brings youthful fantasies into adulthood, but again, anecdotes about Zimerman’s bar mitzvah aren’t going to resolve the documentary’s supposed purpose.
“Why Horror?” includes juicy clips of key moments from seminal films such as “The Shining,” “Phantasm,” “King Kong,” “Re-Animator,” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” among others. Unfortunately, a majority of them appear to have been recorded from blurry VHS transfers, with almost every clip from before the 21st century displayed in an incorrect aspect ratio, too.
Intelligent in its intent, “Why Horror?” is stacked with a great range of personalities more than capable of dissecting the nuts and bolts of horror. But including a pointless personal journey as an add-on narrative along with questionable cutaways distracts the documentary from developing memorable takeaways.
“Why Horror?” might have been a rallying cry in 1984. Three decades later, and by the movie’s own admission, the divide separating horror fans as outsiders has virtually crumbled completely. That makes “why horror?” largely irrelevant as a contemporary question. And for fans who simply want to enjoy the genre they know and love, the answer could not be more unimportant anyway.
Review Score: 50