Any horror movie buff worth their salt knows the basic history of the divisive film genre. But horror isn’t just a part of the movies—it’s a part of our culture. Filmmakers Rob Lindsay and Nicolas Kleiman wanted to explore not just what horror as a whole means to us, but also why we need it. They couldn’t have found a more knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and endearing fan than Tal Zimerman, who serves are our host and gateway into this sprawling, blood-spattered subject. Their feature-length documentary WHY Horror? screens Thursday, October 23 at 9:30pm as part of the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and we got to talk to all three dudes about growing up as horror lovers, interviewing some of their most beloved directors, and the impact they hope their doc will leave on horror fans and non-fans alike.
Space: WHY Horror? isn’t your typical genre exploration. What would you say is unique about it?
Tal Zimerman: Other docs deal with the who, what, where, and when of horror, but as far as I know, the why hasn’t been attempted before. Also, WHY Horror? attacks the genre from a variety of disciplines: filmmakers, comic writers, novelists, video game developers, actors, and academics. It brings the idea of horror past genre trappings and into the philosophical side.
Rob Lindsay: Horror is something we all have in our lives on some level. It's ingrained in our DNA. There have been a lot of documentaries that discuss how horror is made or that explore filmmakers’ careers, but we wanted to discover WHY we like horror. And who better to guide us than a die-hard fan like Tal?
Nicolas Kleiman: What makes WHY Horror? unique is Tal. Most horror documentaries are about the skill needed to make horror films. WHY Horror? looks beyond movies, through the eyes of a horror fan that wants to learn more about himself.
Did any of you receive flak growing up as horror fans?
RL: I was more of a casual horror fan growing up. The older I got, the more I got into it. But I do remember when I went to the video store and my friends were checking out sports-comedy films, I loved to go to the horror section and check out all the cool horror VHS covers. Then I'd rent them when no one was looking.
TZ: It’s not like I was persecuted. I was accused to sabotaging my friends' attempts to get laid by wearing zombie t-shirts. Once, a high school art teacher drew a comparison between me and serial killers based on my art. So the flak wasn't too serious, but the stigma was very apparent and in truth I kind of enjoyed it.
What are some of your fondest horror movie memories?
TZ: Watching George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead for the first time was a sublime experience. I changed as a person from that moment on. I believe it's why I currently do what I do, with regards to being a horror fan. Discovering Rue Morgue Magazine and their Cinemacabre movie nights in the early 2000's was also a great experience. Discovering a scene that was starting to emerge was very exciting because my horror fandom was spent in relative isolation.
RL: My parents said I couldn't watch Jaws and I was sent to my room while they watched it. I snuck out and hid behind my mom's chair. When the head popped out of the boat, I screamed so loud my mom jumped right out of her chair. I think I got grounded, but it was worth it.
NK: For me, horror is something that's enjoyed more in the present than in the past. The tension that you feel while watching a horror movie, with your heart racing and that constant feeling that something will go wrong, is stronger than any memory I have.
What do you hope WHY Horror? will get across to horror fans, and perhaps even detractors?
RL: We hope people come away with a different perspective of the genre. So many people are black and white when it comes to horror. They always say to us, "I love it" or "I hate it." But we hope the more people look into the history, evolution, and psychology of horror, the more they come away with a better understanding of why it's in our society in the first place.
NK: One of the most memorable experiences with the film was in Mexico. After the screening, a fan mentioned that he saw his life projected on the screen. This is what I expect horror fans to feel. But more important, in the same screening, a non-horror fan approached and mentioned that the film made him reevaluate his views on the genre.
TZ: To horror fans, I want the film to show that we are part of something bigger than a segment of modern geek culture. Humans have always desired a way to explain or view the dark side of life and the modern horror film, novel, or video game is an extension of that. And I suppose to the detractors, I'd have the same idea. Though, half the fun of being a horror fan is knowing it grosses other people out. So keep on detractin'!
You landed some diverse interview subjects. Was it hard getting them all on board?
TZ: Amazingly, we got most of the people we wanted. We had an initial wish list that included filmmakers from countries like Spain and France, and we didn’t get to visit those countries. However, directors like Alex de la Iglesia and Alexandre Aja ended up in Toronto. And our Japanese coordinators suggested some interview subjects we hadn't considered, like storyteller Junji Inagawa and manga creator Kazuo Umezu.
NK: We just had the right people working with us. Our producer, TIFF Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes, is extremely well connected and helped us a lot. But we also trusted people's ideas. Our fixer in Japan, Jason Grey, not only got the people we requested but also some that were unknown to us but extremely popular in Japan, and they became central pieces of the film.
RL: We had a whiteboard with our wish list. It had such diverse names like George Romero, John Carpenter, Alice Cooper, and Rob Zombie. Then we said, "Okay, who can we really get?" But suddenly, we landed an interview with Carpenter at Fan Expo in Toronto. Then Colin Geddes set us up with Romero right after that. It was amazing how quickly others came on board when we said we already spoke with these two legends of horror. Sadly, Cooper and Zombie never happened, but we hope to get them for the sequel…
Ticket info can be found here. Check out the trailer for WHY Horror? below: