“I don’t like horror. I just don’t watch that stuff.”
I’ve been told that, or a slight variant of that, more than a few times over the years. Occasionally, the person saying it absolutely means it. Interestingly, more often than not, they don’t realize that what they’re saying isn’t actually true. If you’re wondering how someone can be unaware they like or have been watching and enjoying horror while saying they don’t like it, you might not realize the levels to which people can, in general, compartmentalize and separate some things in their own mind. Well, that and how much some people take the “reality” part of reality TV seriously.
For me, a lot of the “reality” of paranormal reality television is not really a matter of question. Let’s just say I’d be far more at home on a panel in the Dragon Con Skeptic Track than I would be on a panel in its Paranormal Track. The thing is, for a lot of people, their beliefs switch those positions around for them. It seems for some, once the category of the entertainment they’re viewing in an evening is switched from “horror” to “reality” in their minds; it becomes something different for them even as what they’re watching sits well within the boundaries of the realm of horror.
That last bit may actually bother some diehard horror fans. Just like so many others across pretty much every other fandom out there, there are fans of the horror genre who can view what they think of as allowable material in the horror genre with a pair of somewhat narrow blinders on. I know people who think of themselves as serious horror fans while making fun of shows like A Haunting and especially shows like Ghost Hunters or Paranormal Lockdown. A lot of younger fans who encounter them will make fun of old school shows like Unsolved Mysteries.
Here’s something to look at- presented in the form of a question -when trying to figure out whether or not these shows qualify as horror.
Outside of the narrative quality in such shows, as they do tend to skip the character building and slow burn buildup in the plot; what’s really the difference between a television show like A Haunting and a movie like The Conjuring? What was really the difference beyond budget and the quality of acting between the original The Amityville Horror and a paranormal haunting segment of Unsolved Mysteries? Shows like A Haunting should make some horror fans happy little viewers. Hey, they can’t complain that the story is dragging and not getting to the good stuff fast enough.
Shows like A Haunting– for me anyway -absolutely sit well within the borders of the horror genre whether or not they’re seen as true stories or as fiction by the individual viewer. Additionally, while it’s easier to make that claim of the shows that involve actors recreating events claimed to have happened by the alleged victims of those events, I would even put shows like Ghost Hunters into the realm of the horror genre.
The reasoning here is simple. Whether or not they actually ever find or show anything in an episode, the visceral thrill for the viewer is the same as it is for someone watching something like We Are Still Here or The Witch. The person watching ends up on the edge of their seat, they hope they see something almost as much as they hope they don’t see anything, and careful editing right before a commercial break can occasionally create an effective jump scare. I’ve even witnessed the same reaction- that one, solitary tear the person is trying but failing to hold back -with viewers of both well-done horror films and well done paranormal reality shows alike.
These shows are absolutely a part of the horror genre. I know, I’m repeating that, but it bears repeating as so many seem to want to ignore this fact or deny it outright. I don’t say this to convince most people who have their minds firmly made up against this notion, but rather to offer a suggestion to others who haven’t considered the idea but might be willing to look at the notion with an open mind.
These shows are a little bit like the Twilight films. A part of that audience doesn’t see themselves as horror fans, either. They certainly don’t see themselves as ravenous horror hounds. Like the Twilight crowd, a good portion of the fans of these shows will never move on from where they are with regards to dipping their toes deeper into more intense horror pools. Likewise, a portion of horror fandom may never stop ridiculing these shows and the following they have any more than they will ever stop ridiculing the Twilight series of films and the following it has. Indeed, some parts of the horror fandom may never stop making fun of the fans of these shows or of the Twilight films.
But the smart thing to do here- just as it would have been the smartest course of action when the Twilight film franchise was at its biggest point of popularity -would be to acknowledge what some of these shows can do for fandom and to embrace some of that fanbase. Why? Because in these shows you’re looking at a gateway drug for the genre we all claim that we love.
We just left the month of October. The various channels that air these types of things were rolling them out for marathon viewings even as other channels were rolling out their traditional horror film run-ups to Halloween for marathons of horror movie blocks.
“I don’t like horror. I just don’t watch that stuff.”
Maybe the people saying this really don’t- or at least think they don’t -like horror right now. But, the thing is, there’s a world of horror out there, some seriously high-quality horror at that, that falls in line in tone, style, and execution with these shows. Maybe some of these people- because to their minds horror is more in line with bloody slasher films and high levels of gore -are actually some of the future fans we need in order to help strengthen and grow at least some parts of the genre. The best way to find this out, and I say this from experience, is not by making fun of the material they view for their version of a horror fix or making fun of them for enjoying such shows. The best way to find this out is also absolutely not throwing something extreme their way because it falls under some artificial definition of “real” horror as defined by someone else. That’s doubly true when the goal is, rather than to nurture a budding horror fan, the attempt is to go for an extreme shock to “weed out fake fans” of the genre.
There are no fake fans, people. The simple fact is that different people like different things. Some horror fans like almost everything the genre has to offer, some gravitate towards psychological horror, some gravitate towards haunting/thriller stories, some gravitate towards gore fests, some towards etc, etc, etc. A lot of us like pizza, but we don’t all share a love of the same toppings. Same thing here. These are potential fans of a wealth of material the genre has to offer, it’s just their tastes indicate they’re the type to gravitate towards classic haunting stories and modern films like The Conjuring.
See if you can introduce them to some classic horror in the same mold of 1963’s The Haunting. Yes, I will absolutely plug that film at every available opportunity until the day I die. See if they’re open to viewing a more modern paranormal horror film- like, say, Paranormal Activity -that’s not extreme, that’s not filled with gore, and that is stylistically similar to the shows they watch and enjoy. If you’ve never seen an episode of A Haunting, let me assure you that they can certainly amp up the creepy factor and then some.
Even if some horror fans may never embrace these shows as something they can watch, horror fans should absolutely accept the fact that these shows belong in the horror genre. They should also accept the fact that these shows are potential gateway drugs for some individuals to start their journey into the larger horror community as a whole. As with the influx of people who came in with Twilight, some may not stick around while others may stick around without ever venturing that much more deeply into the genre than their initial ventures take them. However, some others may go on to one day become quite the raving horror fanatics themselves. Hell, one of them could even go on to one day be the creator of the next The Conjuring of the horror world.
If you’re a fan of the horror genre, you should want to see it grow. Our fandom is not meant to be an exclusive club with a select membership based on artificial standards of what is or is not “real” horror or a “real” horror fan. When someone you know is a hardcore fan of these shows or even just a casual one, take advantage of the opportunity these shows create to see if you can bring some fresh blood into the fold.
Growing our community can only help it in the long run. Building the horror community’s base into a larger, stronger foundation can only benefit us as fans as well as the creators who make horror. What have you got to lose by embracing the possibility of new fans for the genre rather than ignoring them altogether or, worse, ridiculing them and treating them like they don’t belong in the genre with the rest of us?
Jerry Chandler is a lifelong geek who, while enjoying most everything fandom has to offer, finds himself most at home in the horror, dark fantasy, and science fiction genres. He has in the past contributed to websites like Needless Things, Gruesome Magazine, and others while occasionally remembering to put up the odd musings on his own blog. He’s been a guest on several podcasts from the ESO Network, on Decades of Horror, and on the Nerdy Laser. He is also a regular co-host on The Assignment: Horror Podcast as well as the primary writer for its affiliated blog.