Thursday, 23 October 2014

WHY HORROR? - Review By Greg Klymkiw - World Premiere Toronto After Dark 2014

Why Horror? (2014)
Dir. Nicolas Kleiman, Rob Lindsay
Starring: Tal Zimmerman, George Romero, John Carpenter, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Karen Lam, Don Coscarelli, Eli Roth

Review By Greg Klymkiw

My heart briefly sank during the first few minutes of what turned out to be an otherwise entertaining personal journey into the world of horror fandom when the movie initially assaults us with images of a "zombie walk", one of those pathetically annoying parades of geeks adorned in full living dead regalia, marching "in character" down big-city streets the world over. I'm not sure why this drives me insane, but perhaps it's because I'm a lot older than most of the participants and I came to my horror obsessions in the early 60s and expressed said devotion in very different ways.

Luckily, Why Horror?, a personal journey taken by host-subject Tal Zimmerman, quickly dispenses with this offensive way into his genuine exploration of all things horror and a lifelong devotion to popular culture devoted to scaring the faecal matter out of its most avid proponents. Replete with his own personal reminiscences (including great childhood home movie footage and photos), as well as his current activities, Zimmerman is a likeable, intelligent and unpretentious aficionado and public face for so many of us who share his healthy/unhealthy lust for shivers and blood.

The film delivers plenty of interviews with eggheads and writers who offer up historical and intellectual tidbits as well as an dream-team display of talking heads from the world of horror movies including the likes of George Romero, John Carpenter, Jen Soska, Sylvia Soska, Karen Lam, Don Coscarelli and Eli Roth. Zimmerman and his directors aren't North America-centric either and deliver plenty of Euro and Asian spokespersons for the genre.

The selection of clips are always bounteous and thrilling and the whole affair is nicely put together with numerous animated sequences and slick graphics as both drivers, inserts and clever interstitial material. I was also impressed with a lovely film within the film which attempts to provide a very short history of horror cinema from its early beginnings through to the present. Much as I appreciated this sequence and acknowledge how impossible it would have been to include all salient issues, it does seriously err with one extremely important omission. By not touching upon the RKO horror division led by the visionary Val Lewton, it doesn't address how horror changed forever because of Lewton's insistence upon finding the things that really scare us in:

(.a) the contemporary world/themes

(.b) the mind/imagination of children (plus adults under stress of societal pressures/expectations) and;

(.c) the dark and shadows.

Lewton also pioneered the use of sound in horror and in so doing, in collaboration with the likes of Jacques Tourneur and Robert Wise, he pretty much invented the shock cut that became so de rigueur in virtually every horror film that followed it. For decades afterwards, crew members would always refer to shock sequences (the kind designed to make you jump) as "The Bus". Watch the original The Cat People sometime. Follow the heroine as she eerily makes her way through the park and eventually gets the crap scared out of her by . . . "the bus" (and a whole lot of other stuff blended in).

I'm sorry, but no matter how brief any history of horror films is going to be, ignoring Lewton borders on, sorry guys, boneheaded.

The only other quibbles I have with Why Horror? is that it's a bit too lightweight in terms of delving into the personalties of those who love horror, including the host. Where is the self-loathing? To ignore it is to say it doesn't exist, which is, ultimately major denial. Maybe Zimmerman is in denial on that front. It's his journey, after all, but someone (given that two directors and several producers are credited) should have been on the ball here to push this particular envelope. As well, even though the film interviews several older filmmakers, the movie seems a trifle ageist in terms of ignoring the experience(s) of fans who discovered horror at earlier junctures than those the film focuses on. Again, it's Zimmerman's journey, but by exploring horror using a few more old fart fans could have expanded the breadth of the movie.

And don't get me wrong, I wasn't expecting this to be the Shoah of horror, but I must admit, seeing that someday might be just what my psychiatrist ordered.


Why Horror? enjoys its world premiere at TADFF 2014 and will eventually be broadcast on SuperChannel.