By Jerry Chandler
“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, they absolutely mean 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 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 it sits well within the realm of horror.
That last bit may actually bother some diehard horror fans. Just like anyone else across pretty much every fandom out there, there are fans in the horror genre who can see what they think of as allowable material in the horror genre with somewhat narrow blinders on. I know people who think of themselves as serious horror fans that make fun of shows like A Haunting, especially a shows like Ghost Hunters or Paranormal Lockdown, and certainly 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? If anything, 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 effective jump scares. 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 horror. 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. These shows are a little bit like the Twilight films. A part of their audiences don’t see themselves as horror fans. They certainly don’t see themselves as ravenous horror hounds. 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. But the smart thing to do 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 love.
This is the month of October. The various channels that air these will have been rolling them out even as other channels have been rolling out their traditional horror film run-ups to Halloween.
“I don’t like horror. I just don’t watch that stuff.”
Maybe they don’t- or at least think they don’t -right now. But there’s a world of horror out there, some seriously high quality horror at that, that falls in line 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 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. The best way to find this out is also absolutely not to throw something extreme their way because it’s what falls under some artificial definition of “real” horror as defined by someone else.
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 until the day I die. See if they’re open to viewing a more modern paranormal horror film- like, say, a Paranormal Activity -that’s not extreme, that’s not filled with gore, and that is stylistically similar to the shows they watch. 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 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. 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, 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.
Jerry Chandler can be found writing the regular Thursday column for Needless Things as well as writing the odd piece here and there for Gruesome Magazine. He can occasionally be heard as a guest on podcasts under the Earth Station One Network’s banner (most often on The Pro Wrestling Roundtable podcast) and on the Decades of Horror podcast under the Horror News Radio family of podcasts. He has recently become the one of the hosts of the new The Assignment: Horror podcast.