[Documentary Review] THE HORROR CROWD
THE HORROR CROWD l Buffalo 8
Even for a die-hard horror fan, THE HORROR CROWD is a difficult movie to finish. The definition of the titular group frequently changes, as does the film’s intended audience. It is often framed as a primer for non-horror fans, yet it is so directionless and tedious that it could only appeal to the most devoted horror completist. The audio and video quality are quite poor, and there seems to be no thesis or narrative at all. Amateurish and alienating, THE HORROR CROWD does a disservice to the subjects it interviews and the genre it claims to celebrate.

Ruben Pla directs, edits, and narrates the film, which feels like an end-of-year video that your high school class makes (and has about the same level of filmmaking quality). It’s fun for you to watch as you reminisce over the good times you shared with your friends, but when you show it to people who didn’t live through it, they won’t find much value in it. Despite the appearance of quite a few horror icons — including Lin Shaye, Ernest R. Dickerson, and Jeffrey Reddick —- fans of the genre won’t learn anything new from the documentary, which swings wildly from such entry-level subjects as the significance of Night of the Living Dead to the stigma surrounding horror. None of the subjects are discussed for very long or in any significant depth or detail, and much of the film features Pla and his subjects shooting the breeze or having self-congratulatory conversations about things like the Jumpcut Café, a famous hangout they once frequented. In one of many bizarre choices made in the film, Pla takes the time to show a picture of the spicy chicken sandwich the café served.

The viewer can glean no greater meaning or insight about the horror genre because the film seems either uninterested or incapable of providing any. The editing is so jarring and breakneck that the viewer eventually succumbs to a type of catatonia, not so much enjoying the film as enduring it. It’s a relief when the viewer gets a chance to breathe and listen to extended commentary from the talking heads, particularly Dickerson, who is an incredibly thoughtful and incisive horror scholar. Unfortunately, those moments of relief are few and far between.

THE HORROR CROWD is shaggy and rambling; it has no structure to speak of, with only hamfisted transitions providing any sort of signpost between aimless conversations. For example, Highlander director Russell Mulcahy tells an anecdote about Freddie Mercury cooking him breakfast, and then Pla’s narration bellows, “That is amazing!” and then launches into a halfhearted introduction to a segment about how the interview subjects first became interested in horror. Later, Shaye discusses her approach to roles as a woman in horror (a segment helpfully delineated by red graphics that read “WOMEN IN HORROR,” in which male filmmakers predictably talk about “strong women”). She discusses being inspired by characters, and Pla’s narration pipes up again, saying, “Speaking of being inspired,” just before launching into the most cursory of discussions of film festivals.

Still from THE HORROR CROWD

The sound and camerawork are, to put it bluntly, not good. Conversations frequently take place outside with car noise and nearby shouting threatening to drown out the talking heads. The camera often shakes as if it is being nudged into a better position or bumped carelessly by someone walking by. The music is pedestrian, and at one point it drops out completely in an unintentionally hilarious moment. The subjects discuss how becoming a parent changes your view of horror as sentimental instrumentation plays in the background, but the music abruptly drops out just before journalist Brian Collins discusses being unable to watch Gage’s death scene in Pet Sematary. The scene then plays onscreen with dead silence behind it. It is clearly an accident on the film’s part, not a deliberate choice, and the morbidly funny timing is almost too much to bear.

The main takeaway from the film is the importance of knowing the right people, as it frequently emphasizes networking and being in the right place at the right time as the best ways to get ahead in horror. This does its subjects a grave disservice, because there are so many hardworking and talented people interviewed in the film. Rather than focus on their insights and their struggles, the film seems far more interested in celebrating the fact that Pla is friends with them. In fact, Pla’s contributions to the conversations — he is often onscreen with his subjects, frequently sharing a couch with them — do little but distract from the topic at hand. During another whiplash-inducing detour into a surface-level discussion of comic books, Ryan Turek talks about reading “Watchmen” at a young age, at which point Pla, referring to the character of Dr. Manhattan, simply yells, “The blue penis!”

THE HORROR CROWD opens and closes with bizarre narration framing it as an introduction for non-horror fans. At the beginning of the film, Pla says this about horror filmmakers: “Are they dark and weird individuals? Or do they have normal, everyday lives with families and friends?” The film’s intended audience can’t possibly be actual horror fans, who know how strange and insulting that question is. Yet the intended audience can’t be people who earnestly want the answer to that question either, because the movie promptly forgets it ever asked it. The definition of “The Horror Crowd” changes with Pla’s whims as well. Though he never truly defines it, sometimes it seems to refer to horror fandom in general, and sometimes it seems to refer to Pla and his LA pals. In keeping with the film’s exclusionary tone, the latter is far more prevalent.

The best documentaries enlighten you while they entertain you, but ultimately THE HORROR CROWD does neither. It is a poorly constructed endurance test that sends the viewer careening from one random conversation to another, learning nothing about the subject at hand or the person speaking. The viewer ricochets like a pinball, an unwilling eavesdropper to Pla’s casual, meandering encounters with his buddies. There is no forethought to this documentary, no overarching message or structure to give the viewer any further insight or appreciation for the horror genre. There are many bright, talented, and interesting people interviewed in this film. It’s a pity THE HORROR CROWD doesn’t care enough about what they have to say.

THE HORROR CROWD is now available on Digital and on Demand.

Jessica Scott
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