Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Horror and the Theatre Going Experience

In what manner would you say you consume the vast majority of your horror diet? Is it alone in your domicile? Strune across a well worn couch, shrouded in an assortment of blankets, do you watch Christopher Lee drain the blood of hapless villagers with one hand in a buttery bowl of popcorn and the other resting on or near your lady or man bits? (Do you sometimes forget which hand goes where, ending your night with a buttery gender batch?)

Hot stuff coming through!

The dynamics of how viewers of all genres watch films have dramatically shifted in the past decade and sadly look to be taking a horrific turn away from 35mm print in the very near future. While this is going to be happening across the whole of the cinema landscape, it's going to impact horror film aficionados most of all. But why is that? To answer myself, let's swing back around to the first paragraph and ask (in seriousness this time) how the majority of horror fans consume their preferred media.

Two answer we must first consider that there's two types of media consumption when it pertains to film: in home and theatre. They're both very important and our rituals around them have become culturally engrained milestones that we pass on to younger generations like the tribal stories of old. Let's look at them separately.

In Home Viewing
This is likely where the majority of folks' watch horror flicks. We've come a very long way in three decades from the macabre humor of aging late night horror hosts to the tape trading and dubbing of the pre-internet days - most horror titles are now directly streaming to the mercilessly commanding fingers of the nerds who covet them. It's not an enormous logical leap to assume that 70-80% of our horror film viewing is done in the home. As to how and when you watch them (your rituals) perhaps it's a sign post along the road to my "getting older" realization, but I typically watch later in the evening (I grew up on a USA Up All Night diet of Gilbert Gottfried and bad horror films). With your options ever exploding, it seems that this method of viewing is safe and sound, continuing to become easier to accomplish as time passes.

Theatre Viewing
A dark room full of strangers emitting ooos and aaaahs in time with the cinematic unravelings, it's likely a time traveller from the past would brand us all witches to be burned at the stake if he came upon this odd scene (which is fine because we've learned through countless 60's and 70's films that witches have the hottest orgies).

This film viewing experience proportionally makes for a smaller percentage among most horror fans but it is a vastly more important part of the monster scene. These films were meant to be viewed in a certain way, on a certain medium and with a certain crowd (one not consisting of your cats and boyfriend). However, the sad fact is that many a horror geek has shunned the theatre going experience and subsides wholly on in-home viewing fare. It's understandable given the state of the multiplex viewing experience- unwashed masses who can't be bothered to shut their gaping talky holes and aren't capable of fathoming a world where they don't check their text messages and Words with Friends notifications for 89 minutes.

You have a choice and it’s important to make before it’s too late. Tap into the internetz, with its tubes and lolcats, and FIND repertoire shows in your area. Where ever there are passionate fans, there you'll likely also find screenings. Don't JUST go to screenings of Evil Dead 2 or The Exorcist. Trust that these passionate show runners have your best horror interests at heart and are likely showing you something rare, unique and awesome.

The Colonial Theatre: a movie palace of cinematic delight!

Listen, I'll level with you: it's entirely possible that your chances to see horror flicks in 35mm are dwindling down to nill. The major studios are quickly forcing digital projection on all theatres and will thereafter not be renting out their archival film prints to classic movie houses. When it’s gone, an era will have passed and the only songs to be sung of it will be lamentations.

So what’s the answer? Why is this shift going to affect horror fans more than those of other genres? It has to do with the nature of the genre itself: Fear. The herd mentality as a survival mechanism is at the very root of our fight or flight mechanism- which is the very reason you should be watching horror films in a dark theatre with your peers. In a way, they cause you to become closer to those around you. The shared experiences build a community- as cheesy as it may sound. One of the things I look forward to in hosting horror shows is seeing the familiar faces. You’re watching a 35mm print- which is being changed just by the act of viewing it. Very fitting that you’re changing it since it’s very likely to effect a change in you too.


  1. Awesome idea for a post, my man. For my money, the theatre experience is worth it simply to eliminate distractions. 95% of my horror viewing is done in my mancave, and the temptation to look something up on my tablet while a movie is playing is very strong. Couple that with the liklihood that either my wife or children will come knocking, and you've got a less than ideal viewing environment.

    But in a theatre, you can't pause the movie, the screen takes up an entire wall, the sounds that accompany the jump scares is cranked up to 11, and assuming that a family of rednecks doesn't show up 10 minutes into the film (that always happens during horror movies in Helena, MT BTW), you've got a competely immersive experience.

    I'd love to live in a city big enough to support a repetoire theatre, but... Also, a bit of advice to repetoire theatre owners: make each show an event. Get guests when you can, when you can't, find some local sponsors to donate prizes and have pre-movie events. Make the crowd afraid to miss a week. In college, we had an on-cmpus theatre like this, and we'd never miss a showing, no matter what they were playing, simply because the crowd was so enthusiastic you'd have fun whether the film sucked or not.

  2. I think being in a dark theater is the only way you can be transported back to your innocent childhood days. Like “M the M” says in his comment, there are too many distractions. But when you sit in a theater, it's the closest thing to a time machine. Unfortunately more and more assholes are bringing cell phones into my time machine. Haven't they seen Somewhere in Time? Don't they know what can happen?

    From a physical & philosophical point of view, watching a film vs a digital medium is unique because you literally take something away from the film. The physical integrity of the medium is diminished by watching it. The wear and tear effect doesn’t exist in a digital medium. You don’t literally take anything away.

    How cool is it to think that when you watch a print of Jaws, you have literally altered the film? Maybe it’s so minimal that it isn’t perceivable by the human eye, but you have in fact taken some of the “life” from the film. You can pass that on to other people too, but when it’s gone it’s gone. There is something romantic about that.

    Digital is cold. It’s like a machine that will be here long after we’re gone.

    I am all for the preservation of film, but do we want it to be immortal?

    You’re watching a 35mm print- which is being changed just by the act of viewing it. There is something very comforting about this sentiment.