The 9 Levels of Horror Fandom
This was my year of horror. No, I was no neophyte, to be sure, but this was the year I really dug in and got deep into the trenches of genre, encountering new levels of horror fandom I had never fathomed. I attended several 35mm horror movie marathons at places like the Alamo Drafthouse. I covered a major horror festival (Fantasia Fest) for a week, and spoke on a panel at another (Brooklyn Horror Fest). I briefly semi-ran ShockTillYouDrop between the editorships of Sam Zimmerman and Chris Alexander. I wrote a horror screenplay and directed a horror short. Most importantly, though, I immersed myself in horror movies: Old, new, cult, Oscar-worthy, trash and even the borderline amateurish.
My horror Blu-ray collection has grown into a mini library, partially due to reviewing so many for Shock. Recently I took a good look at three that had peaked my interest: the Criterion edition of Guillermo del Toro’s triple Oscar-winning 2006 Spanish language masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, the Scream Factory reconstruction of William Peter Blatty’s flawed 1990 sequel The Exorcist III and Kino Lorber’s release of the 1974 cult oddity Chosen Survivors, about people locked in an underground bunker filled with vampire bats. After looking at the three discs together I asked myself, “What is the common thread between these movies?” The answer? Not a goddamn thing.
This realization made me wonder what the hell kind of horror fan I am. Clearly I have no easily-discernible taste, but something drew me to these flicks. I realized that there must be different levels of horror fandom. Not so much like reaching a skill level in a video game, rather an awareness of the kinds of movies one is willing to expose themself to. Preferring one kind of terror tale over another doesn’t make you any more or less intellectually superior, nor measure how big of a wuss you are, but it definitely shows the threshold of what you’re willing to eagerly expose yourself to.
Like Dante’s 9 circles of Hell I have mapped out The 9 Levels of Horror Fandom for you below. When you’re reading, keep in mind this was written in the spirit of love rather than condescension, then see how many of these levels you find yourself identifying with. If you’ve read this site with any regularity, I imagine you’ll feel simpatico with at least three or four of them. Feel free to flesh out or debate the merit of these 9 Levels in the comments below!
Okay, time to level-up. Here we go…
LEVEL 1: The Tourist
Has seen some of the touchstone movies (The Exorcist, The Shining, Rosemary’s Baby), the hybrids (Alien, The Sixth Sense) and any new horror film that comes out that gets approved by the mainstream critical community (Let the Right One In, The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch), although they don’t always care for them. Not particularly interested in the genre but see the value in it, as opposed to someone who outright shuns it. Thinks Guillermo del Toro should only make Hellboy movies.
LEVEL 2: The Dabbler
This is perhaps the most common horror fan, the one that grew up on the big boys (Freddy, Jason, Chucky, Leatherface) yet has no real interest in chiseling any deeper into the nuanced crust of horrordom. They’ll happily watch whatever new mainstream studio offering is presented (Final Destination, Conjuring, Don’t Breathe, Lights Out) and then joke about how dumb it was with their friends afterwards. They own all three Evil Dead movies as well as that VHS copy of Leprauchan in the Hood they got really high to and laughed at that one time. Blockbuster Video used to be the sh*t, man.
LEVEL 3: Grandpa Munster
Typically age 50-plus, this old timer remembers the good ol’ days when horror movies relied more on atmosphere than tits and gore. He’ll rewatch Tod Browning’s Dracula or James Whale’s Bride of Frankenstein over and over, loves the slow and subtle chills of The Haunting and the cheap-but-innocent flavor of a ’60s era Roger Corman Poe outing. Still gets scared by Return from Witch Mountain for some reason. He refers to ALL modern day horror with indifference at best, contempt and disgust at worst. Wears a Svengoolie T-shirt to the grocery store.
LEVEL 4: The Gore Bro
These Grand Guignol guys are obsessed with horror movies not just for cheap thrills but as a kind of transgressive secret handshake. If you can carry a conversation about how crazy amazing the gut vomit scene from Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead is, then realize you both go to the same gym, you are in like Flynn with them. The foot slice scene from Audition is the background on their iMac’s desktop. Their Facebook profile pics typically feature a Betty Page-lookalike girlfriend or a posed snapshot of them drinking PBR with Ti West or Adam Wingard at a premiere party. An appreciation of heavy metal bands goes hand in hand with these guys. Note the Rob Zombie ringtone on their phone.
LEVEL 5: The Aficionado
They’ve seen all the Friday the 13ths, all the Nightmare on Elm Streets, all the Texas Chainsaws, all the Halloweens (especially III) and all seven Saws. They own at least two different editions of each film in the Evil Dead trilogy. And then they dug deeper: The Last House on the Left, The Sentinel, Phantom of the Paradise, both TV movie versions of Salem’s Lot, and everything Charles Band ever produced. They even enjoy the older classics like Creature From the Black Lagoon AND its two lesser-but-fascinating sequels (Clint Eastwood’s in one of them!), or any random cheeseball ’80s slasher flick they saw on USA Network at 2am as a child. They read books about the history of these films, and are card-carrying Fangoria subscribers since age 13. Own an extra They Live “OBEY” T-shirt in case one gets messed up.
LEVEL 6: The Criterion Erection
Ahh, the “foreign horror” fan. These peeps are not afraid to read some subtitles. They worship at the altar of Eyes Without A Face, Onibaba, Hour of the Wolf, Martyrs and The Vanishing. There isn’t an Italian Giallo entry they’ve not seen or at least read a film journal essay about. They also loves them some Val Lewton, David Cronenberg or any film christened by the cinematic illuminati that is The Criterion Collection. They seek out the latest South Korean masterpiece at festivals, and the New French Extremity can’t get extreme enough for their tastes. Ever met a Takashi Miike completest? Now you have. They also make a good argument about why the Dario Argento edit of Dawn of the Dead is better than the Romero version… although you still think they’re full of sh*t. Ringu > The Ring.
LEVEL 7: Autograph Hound
You’ll see this guy or gal at a horror convention sporting a Christopher Lee tattoo or a vintage Don Post mask. They’ll stand in line for two hours and pay $50 to get a signed photo from Sid Haig or Linnea Quigley, and buy bootlegs of Toho Godzilla movies on eBay. Their home/apartment/trailer is filled from floor to ceiling with horror posters, toys, and autographed collectable busts of Michael Myers and the like. Has attended every one of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights since the mid-nineties dressed as Bub from Day of the Dead. Prefers the direct-to-video Hellraiser sequels to the original. They have not seen the sunlight in a long time, and bear a passing resemblance to a vampire with Misfits patches on its jacket.
LEVEL 8: The Obsessive
Pasty skin? Check. Thousand-yard stare? Check. Publish a poorly-zeroxed zine? Check. These half-human/half-celluloid sprocket fiends literally live every waking moment of their life in service to horror. They grew past their Gore Bro, Aficionado and Autograph Hound phases at a fairly young age and now dig frantically through cult movie mags and the internet to gain awareness of a film (or just pictures of dead bodies) they may not have already seen. With cult fetish objects like The Gore Gore Girls or Nekromantik now too mainstream for their tastes, they’ve dug to the molten core of obscure splatter directors like Andy Milligan, Jim Van Bebber, Fred Vogel and a few from German mail order catalogues we don’t want to know about. Reviews movies solely based on kills, nudity and the musical score. Owns four different books on Ed Gein, and once tried to get a job at a funeral home… unsuccessfully.
LEVEL 9: The Professor
This fine fellow had to rent out two storage units, one for his VHS collection and the other for his memorabilia, which includes complete runs of Famous Monsters of Filmland, Starlog, Fangoria, Gore Zone, Twilight Zone Magazine, Rue Morgue, Scarlet Street, etc. His DVDs and Blu-rays take up the whole basement of his suburban house. Has seen all 1245 episodes of Dark Shadows twice, and owns slipcase editions of every EC Comic (ditto Creepy and Eerie). He corresponded with Stephen King as a teenager, teaches a class on Horror Fiction and Film at the Learning Annex, and is on the voting committee for the Rondo Awards each year. Wrote a self-published book on Wes Craven, and whenever Tobe Hooper or Bill Lustig does a Q&A guess who moderates it? On a first-name basis with most members of the Los Angeles and/or New York horror community, and is sporadically invited by Mick Garris to Masters of Horror dinners. Recorded an audio commentary for Cannibal Ferox that was rejected by the DVD label for being “too academic.” Has a wife, two ex-wives, three grown children and volunteers to read H.P. Lovecraft books for Librivox. He’s a really good guy.