I never had “the” moment when it came to horror films, as all the horror film fans I know seem to have. There was never an older sibling or periphery family member who attempted to get into my good graces by allowing me to pull a VHS copy of A Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th off the video store shelves. In fact, my younger film viewing life was left up to the whims of my parents, and whatever they decided to pick-up from the local Video Connection on a Friday night, usually a Steven Seagal film. I spent my teen years either causing or being an accessory to the general mayhem that young men in small towns get up to in order to amuse themselves on the weekends, especially when they could care less about their high school’s sporting ventures. I did not truly start to pay attention to films until my early to mid twenties. It was around that time that I began working in a record store and I began to see the different kinds of films that were available, it also did not hurt that my fellow employees had eclectic tastes and introduced me to what I thought at the time was new and exciting indie film. I sat down and watched Trainspotting and Twin Town, films from countries that I was well aware of, but not of their film; up to that point, if the mainstream media did not tell me to watch it, I did not. It was then that I began searching out more indie films, films more complex and envelope pushing than the local multiplex fair. I do not remember the names of many of the films that I watched at that point in my life, most were forgettable, but I know knew that films like these existed, and that there were more than likely better ones out there, if I just kept searching.
These viewing habits continued for the next few years. I would watch any indie film that I could find, loving some, but hating most. However, around 2003, if memory serves, I walked into a local video store that I rarely frequented and was met by a quasi-familiar face. As I browsed, the clerk and I kept exchanging that “I know you from somewhere” look. After a bit, we both figured it out. We had met about 2 years earlier on the porch of a girl I was dating at the time. He was an old friend who’d dropped by to say hello, and while my girlfriend at the time clean her rented house in preparation for a move, this strange guy who I had discovered sitting with my girlfriend – and to be honest was a little weary of – began talking, but the conversation was about music, not film. That young man who I thought at first was trying to get into my girlfriend’s pants, now the guy behind the video store counter, was none other than the bearded svengali of this website, Wes Allen (though at that time his beard had yet to see the light of day). We exchanged pleasantries, I chose my DVDs, and went about my way. Over time, I ended up hanging out with Wes. One night, over several Miller High Lifes and Parliament Lights, Wes began talking about horror films, and I informed him that I had never really seen many up to that point. Sure, I had seen the classic Universal monster films and Night of the Living Dead, but outside of those, I knew nothing of the genre. Wes decided to make it his mission to educate me.
The first film that I watched, or that Wes forced me to watch, was The Evil Dead. Now, I know that many readers have not had the pleasure of watching a film with our fearless leader. To give you an idea, it is akin to watching the film with the director’s commentary on and the director having full control of the remote. Stopping every five minutes or so to explain a scene to you in detail that I imagine even Sam Raimi would not have comprehended. Through the start and stop frustration of watching the film, I saw something in the movie that I really enjoyed. Wes sent me home with several hours of homework and over the next few weeks I watched The Evil Dead 2, Fulci’s Zombie, Audition, and several others; I was hooked. I began to study on my own, buying each month’s copies of Fangoria and Rue Morgue, searching for the classics of the genre, and taking handful of DVDs from Wes’s own canonical and massive collection. Soon my money was spent on copies of those films to add to my own scant, but burgeoning, collection. I couldn’t get enough of what I was seeing: the black glove killers, maniac slashers, rotting zombies, and horrifyingly insatiable cannibals. I never in my life thought I would be a “horror movie nerd,” but here I was turning into a massive one.
Over the course of the next few years, my life was consumed with the horror culture, not only DVDs, but novels, t-shirts, magazines, documentaries, and conventions. I was happy with watching nearly nothing but horror films; exploring everything from exploitation to whatever indie film was the buzz of conventions and film festivals. However, around 2006 something happened. I don’t have any explanation for why it happened, but suddenly my love affair with the horror movie culture slowly started to wane. There is one man that I see as the blame for coming between my beloved and me: Ingmar Bergman.
If I made enough phone calls and spoke to enough people, I could pinpoint the exact day that I began to cheat on horror films. I had just started a new job and during my first weeks, I was forced to work every shift in order to learn the nuances of my new profession. On a Friday night while my friends were in the midst of a goodbye party for another friend, I was stuck at home because I had to be at work at 7 am the next morning. I decided that instead of just relegating myself to whatever was on television that evening that I would head to the local Blockbuster and pick up a few DVDs. I searched and searched for something to strike me in the New Release section, but nothing at all was of interest, so I began to browse the other sections. In the International section, I came upon a case that displayed the iconic image of Bengt Ekerot as Death in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. I immediately recalled the spoof of this image and character in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey and decided that it was time I saw the original, after all, it was suppose to be a cinematic masterpiece, or so I was told. Watching the film was a completely new experience for me, and once again, I was hooked. However, this time it was not on blood and gore, but on writing, character development, themes, and cinematography. I am not saying that these things were not present in some of the horror films I had seen, but I felt as though they were more pronounced in Bergman’s film. The scene that did it for me, the scene that I believe changed me forever and stuck a wedge between the horror genre and myself was the final scene: The Dance of Death. In a wide shot, several of the main characters dance in a daisy chain across a Scandinavian expanse, and I absolutely loved the look and feel of it, and what it represented as a climatic event to the film as a complete work. I flipped the scene back and watched it several more times, knowing full well that I had a new favorite filmmaker.
This change in my viewing habits coincided with many other changes in my life. Besides the new job, I quit the band I was in, began dressing differently (what some would call more “adult”, less black t-shirts with HG Lewis films emblazoned on the front and more shirts with collars), and most significantly, I went back to college. Between working full-time and studying for my bachelor’s degree full-time, I had little opportunity to watch many films, but when I did find that space of two hours, I never rented or watch a horror film, and to be honest, I’ve no explanation for my reasoning, and I still don’t. It just happened. The Giallo films were replaced by French New Wave films, the cannibals were devoured by films of Hollywood’s Golden Age, the exploitation films gave way to the, admittedly, equally shocking visuals of Catherine Breillat, and an impish French character named Amélie destroyed all the zombies. It was over; the affair had ended. We’d had a great run, but horror movies and I were no more, and for the most part, we parted ways forever.
Occasionally, as with any ended relationship, we run into each other. There are still several films in the stacks of my collection, ones that I refuse to let go, though Criterion editions from the French New Wave, Ingmar Bergman films (I am about three away from completing my collection), and black and white classics now outnumber them. And every now and then I’ll catch wind of a genre film that I have to see and end up loving (Let the Right One In and Martyrs helped me to regain a small piece of my former life and The Walking Dead was one of the best shows on television last year). I now spend my free time on repeated viewings of Truffaut and Godard films and my new obsession with the Czech New Wave; horror films are an afterthought. Instead of attending the Famous Monsters convention in Indiana with my friends last summer, I was studying literature at Oxford and then getting lost in Prague. Instead of reading H.P Lovecraft, I now spend my time with Tolstoy and Kundera. It had all ended.
When I began considering why I suddenly stopped being part of the horror community it was suggested that perhaps I never really loved horror cinema and culture at all. However, I do not think this is the case, though I did seriously consider the possibility. I do not believe I would have devoted all the time and money on something that I did not love at some level; but, then again, I am still somewhat unsure. To be honest, I do not know whether I will ever be sure if I was part of the horror community, maybe I was just a hanger-on, someone who was co-opting the culture in order to have something in common with a group of new friends.
There is no sense in attempting to analyze my brief affair with horror films. Analysis will solve nothing and only lead to more questions. However, there is one thing that I do know about my former love of the horror genre: Every few months I go through my media shelves and see if there is any deadweight. I cannot count the number of times I have pulled Nightmare City, Dead Heat, Let Sleeping Corpses Lie, and others off the shelf and set them aside to find their way to the shelves of a used record store. Yet, when I grab my box of unneeded and no longer loved CDs and DVDs, the previously mentioned films always find their way back on my shelf and have never seen the inside of my car since the day they were brought home; I just cannot bring myself to part with them. Though the fan boy days are over, there is still that part of me that will not let go of certain things from the past. I may no longer spend large amounts of money on new horror films, but the ones that I own will remain with me for a very long time to come. And that, I would like to think, has to account for at least a little something.
Tags: Audition, Bengt Ekerot, Czech New Wave, French New Wave, Fulci, Godard, Ingmar Bergman, Let the Right One In, Martyrs, night of the living dead, The Evil Dead, The Seventh Seal, The Walking Dead, Truffaut