‘Why Horror?’: Paris Fantastic Fest Review
From Romero to Roth, "The Evil Dead" to "The Walking Dead," this horror fan compendium investigates our obsession with all things bloody and disgusting
Diehard Canadian fanboy Tal Zimerman turns the camera on himself, as well as on some of the greatest gore aficionados of our time, in the globetrotting investigative documentary Why Horror? What he and co-directors Rob Lindsay and Nicolas Kleiman find out may not be all that surprising – or scary – for those familiar with the genre, although the filmmakers reveal some intriguing historical predecessors to the modern-day slasher, as well as a few worthy psychological insights. Otherwise, this blood-soaked love letter is filled with enough clips, interviews and cool posters to please any certified horror junkie, making for an easy sell on the fest and VOD circuit.
Zimerman has been a dedicated gore freak since his teens (“People have been on my ass about it since my bar mitzvah,” he claims early on), practicing gross-out makeup effects on his younger brother, while watching his favorite horror flicks over and over again. More than twenty years later, he lives in a man cave filled to the brim with books, magazines, DVDs and assorted movie memorabilia – all of which he’s managed to build a professional career upon, while also living a seemingly balanced home life replete with wife and mega-cute baby.
Trying to get to the bottom of both his own, and millions of other people’s, fascination with all things that bleed on screen, he sets off on a quest to interview directors, writers, critics and researchers about the horror genre, while crossing the world to see how it’s practiced in countries like Mexico (with its El dia de los muertos traditions) and Japan (with the J-horror trend of the late 1990s). He also interrogates his own family, even subjecting his mother to a physiological exam where she’s forced to watch scary movies alongside her son while scientists measure their vital signs.
The results of Zimerman’s many inquiries are not always groundbreaking – watching horror films is “a very physical experience,” says a chatty Eli Roth – even if it’s a pleasure to hear masters like John Carpenter and George A. Romero speak about what they love. More thought-provoking are the talks with select academics, including The Philosophy of Horror author Noel Carroll, who describes the genre as “a rite of passage” accompanying us through the murkiness of puberty into adulthood.
Perhaps the film’s most engaging portion is when Zimerman heads to Europe and explores some of the literary and artistic origins of horror, such as The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, The Four Stages of Cruelty engravings by William Hogarth and The Disasters of War prints of Francisco Goya, not to mention Mary Shelly’s classic gothic novel, Frankenstein. In many cases, those masterpieces are more disturbing and bloodcurdling than anything found in today’s R or NC-17 rated shockers, which the filmmakers rightfully describe as just the latest part of a longstanding tradition whereby society expunges its fears through gory works of art.
Along with dozens of interviews featuring the above-mentioned horror heavyweights, as well as relative newbies like Ben Wheatley, JT Petty and Simon Barrett, the documentary is loaded with clips ranging from classics like The Exorcist, The Shining and The Evil Dead to forgotten schlock slashers like Death Screams and Eaten Alive.
It’s a nonstop flesh feast rendering homage to all the movies that inspired fans like Zimerman to take up arms years ago in favor of a once slighted genre – one that has now gone mainstream with the zombie phenomenon sparked by video games like Resident Evil and TV series like The Walking Dead. As a longtime friend and fellow horror maniac remarks late in the film, “Now we live in the party that we helped create.” Call it Revenge of the Nerds with fake fangs and a bucket of corn syrup.
Venue: Paris International Fantastic Film Festival
Production companies: Don Ferguson Productions, in association with Super Channel
Cast: Tal Zimerman, Eli Roth, John Carpenter, George A. Romero, Joe Dante, Chris Alexander, Shinji Mikami
Directors: Rob Lindsay, Nicolas Kleiman
Producers: Colin Geddes, Rob Lindsay, Lucy Stewart, Kevin Wallis, Bob Culbert
Executive producer: Don Ferguson
Director of photography: Kiarash Sadigh
Editor: Nicolas Kleiman
Composer: Joel S. Silver
Sales agent: WTFilms
No rating, 81 minutes