Amongst many of my Twitterverse and Actual Real film friends I am somewhat of an anomaly in that I am not a Horror film fan. Whenever anyone writes film reviews or features for various publications, a standard question is: 'Are there any types of films you are not interested in reviewing?' I tend to tick the 'Horror' box with the recipient usually swiftly saying 'Oh I Love Horror films. Why don't you?' So why don't I make a crazed dash towards my local cinema as if my life depended on it whenever the latest slasher film or nightmare fuelled Horror wonder splats itself across a big screen?
Well now I should make a caveat regarding my watching Horror films. I have of course seen what I categorise as 'Scary Films.' The afternoon I spent with a friend holding my hands and then my feet up in front of my face due to the terror caused by watching Event Horizon has stayed with/scarred me for life. But have I watched the Nightmare on Elm Street films in full, Salem's Lot or The Exorcist? No and I have done so on purpose. Again, that said, I currently have the boxset of The Exorcist in my home. A team meeting between the commanding forces of Cinemart (www.cinemart-online.co.uk) have challenged me to watch these films to educate me in 'real' horror and to ultimately bring me closer to Mark Kermode. My childhood film viewing was along the lines of Action films as supplied by the babysitting money paid for film tastes of my older brother. We were an Action orientated household and not lovers of the Horror genre. Therefore, as a child, when most Horror loving film fans are cutting their horror thrill teeth, I didn't built up my Horror immunity. Plus I simply just don't see the point in scaring myself. Prone to nightmares, I like to keep my waking hours free of horror images seeing as I can get them for free when I go to sleep. But of course nowadays it takes a whole lot more to scare me. Life itself can be a scary place to navigate and to be honest, I've seen enough of real life blood drench situations and kept my calm that it takes a Hell of a lot to upset me. Plus I tend to be that one person in the cinema you can hear laughing away when the fake blood squibs erupt during fight scenes. For example, having watched Prometheus with me a friend stated: 'I didn't realise Prometheus was a comedyMairéad.'
But when Laurent (ie FilmLand Empire man) set me this FrightFest assignment I realised it was a good opportunity to not remain ignorant about a film genre that is so beloved and financially successful since films were first made. As stated above, I don't enjoy the sensation of being scared but the other main reason I am not a lover of Horror films is the amount of misogyny I have seen in the genre. Yes, I'm clearly not an expert in the genre and it is unfair of me to make a blanket statement but it cannot be ignored that there is a rich seam of misogyny that runs through the Horror genre. Why is it so many women get mutilated, sexually assault and are the ones attacked and screaming? True one could say that of so many films and it's part of a wider attitude to women in films. There are standout heroines in Horror. As James Madden, writer of Cockneys vs Zombies specifically made a comment in a recent interview, that when he saw that Nancy could and did fight back in Nightmare on Elms Street 'Oh you can actually fight back. You don't have to sit there and scream and take it. That's pretty cool.' [http://cinemart-online.co.uk/2012/08/29/interview-matthias-hoene-james-moran] So washing away any expectation or preconceived notions about Horror, I found my seat on Friday night of last year's FrightFest. With assurances as I walked in that 'Oh it's Really scary' I settled into my seat with Horror loving friends peppered about the auditorium. I laughed heartily at the short film of The Raid re-imagined in Claymation with Cats. I made a note-to-self to not see Brandan Cronenberg's Antiviral and then the new Horror anthology film V/H/S began in ernest. We do not need me to write a review of V/H/S here so I will pick out a few things that left an impression on me.
First of all this was a particularly good film to have picked for a non-Horror film fan to see as it is an anthology with five directors - well Radio Silence is a collection of people - and their work. The film has a framing device of a group of video happy filmers tasked with retrieving a VHS tape from a house. Much to the disappointment of the 'Well were you scared?' askers after the film, I didn't find V/H/S scary in the least. I did move my hand up to the bridge of my nose on a few occasions in case of 'the fear' overtaking me. But it was an unnecessary precaution. Actually, I was mostly quite delighted to see a gang of guys who think it's hilarious to sexually assault a single woman by having a group of masked men grab her and pull up her top exposing her breasts to their waiting recording camera being [SPOILER ALERT] picked off painfully. And there is the question of Boobs. Just when a section of V/H/S was feeling promising to me along David Cronenberg's The Brood vein, a young attractive female character would be asked 'Show me your boobs' or would volunteer to strip off including full frontals. There is nothing wrong with nudity in film but why not make it even Stevens? The film featured a few naked men but most avoided full frontals even in situations that might naturally cause one to ignore the fact that they were au natural at that moment. Some male characters had stripped off specifically to facilitate them having sex with a woman who was unaware of the film making plans.
That said, I did enjoy some of the sections of V/H/S. I particularly enjoyed the Hannah Fierman staring section when the meekly whispered phrase 'I like you' had far bigger implications than the characters initially suspected. With strong conscious or unconscious correlations with Jacques Tourneur's 1942 Noir classic Cat People bar the planned exploitation of women theme also featured in this film, I found a lot to like about it stylistically. But as a general member of the public and without my reviewers hat on, V/H/S wouldn't be a film that would do it for me and the film makers lost me every time boobs were flashed in what just seemed like a gratuitous desire for a 'boob shot' to be included in their film. By the fifth story my interest was flagging and any ghosts or ghouls featured felt more like a 'Where's Wally' challenge to me and I'm pretty good at that sort of challenge. What I did find appealing was the buzz within the auditorium as true Horror fans clapped, shrieked, groaned and laughed during the film. Seeing that many Goths being thrilled and happy causes infectious delight. From time to time, I found myself watching the audience more than the film out of sheer interest. It is always fascinating listening to anyone talking or being engaged in a topic they have invested time into exploring and it is the same when Horror fans get together who really know their topic and one cannot but respect their expertise. Was I converted into a Horror Fan? No. Do I appreciate that some people just love the genre? Absolutely. That is the thing about being a film fan, there are so many options and opinions about what is or is not a 'good' film that we can discuss and debate it for all time and that is what I find appealing about Horror Fans though Horror films do not count me amongst their devotees. V/H/S is out on the 18th of January in the UK. Its sequel S V/H/S is already in production.