NYCC 2014: REINVENTING HORROR PANEL RECAP
The Reinventing Horror panel was one I had checked out during my first New York Comic Con, but I somehow missed it for the past couple years. Fortunately I was able to get in to it this time around. I almost got shut out, as it proved to be a popular gathering. Horror has quite a following amongst comic fans. Mark L. Miller (Pirouette) moderated a panel consisting of Frank Barbiere (Five Ghosts), Matthew Rosenberg (Twelve Reasons to Die), Jeremy Gardner (The Battery), Justin Jordan (Spread), and Matt Pizzolo (Godkiller). I'll apologize in advance if I mistakenly attribute a quote to the wrong person, as I was sitting in one of the last rows and this particular room didn't have a raised stage. As such, I could really only see the tops of the speakers' heads, so I made note of who was moving around while I was hearing words. Here goes!
Miller kicked off the panel asking the group when the last time they were really scared was. Rosenberg felt that the recent film All is Lost, although not a horror story, was very scary. The sense of dread that this man faced alone on the ocean was terrifying. The consensus seemed to be that what scares you changes over time. Now a mortgage is scary to some of the panelists. Barbiere added body horror, while Gardner said that existential dread was what frightened him, along with the concept of aging and dying or being aware of one's own mortality. When 2012 was coming up, he knew that all of the predictions about the world ending was not going to happen, but there was a part of him that thought it would totally happen. Jordan chimed in to say that what scared him now was when the protagonist of a story is insane.
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The discussion of recent scares continued with Rosenberg saying that the film Sightseers freaked him out a little, as the main character reminded him of his childhood best friend. Gardner said that an element of the novel The Troop, in which a quiet kid tortures little animals, was way creepier than anything else in the book. The idea of "innocent evil", in which someone has no concept of their effect on others, was added to the mix by Jordan. Gardner said that he has five nephews and one of them could be a sociopath for all he knew.
Miller asked the panelists how they approach horror and if there was anything they wouldn't do with the genre. All of them agreed that rape and animal torture was off the table, not because it was taboo, but because it rarely serves a purpose outside of shock value. Jordan called it overused and cheap. Beheading a guy with a chainsaw hardly ever happens, so it's not like you're going to piss someone off. Gardner said that he had toned down a scene in his film The Battery, in which a man originally sexually assaulted a zombie. This was revised to just masturbating in front of the zombie. Regarding animals, they cited Afterlife with Archie #4 as an example of it done right in horror.
The panelists were asked about any non-horror movies that they considered scary. Jordan said Martyrs. Gardner said The Descent and Under the Skin. Rosenberg added that he was re-reading David Lapham's Stray Bullets, which is a well-written crime story in which you know that all of the characters are going to die. Barbiere said that he can't play the new Silent Hill demo in the dark.
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The discussion then turned to character building within horror. Everyone agreed that the story is much better when you grow to care about the characters before doing something horrible to them. Someone joked about rebooting Friday the 13th with six really awesome people. One of the characters could be a volunteer at an animal shelter saving up to buy grandma a new heart. How can you want to see that person die?
An audience member asked about remakes and if there was anything the panelists would like to reboot. Most of the group said that they would only want to remake something if it could have been good but wasn't. Gardner said he would only do them if they offered a lot of money or if the studio was going to do it anyway and go with a really crappy director. He threw out Tremors and Cujo as ideas. Jordan had a great pitch for a real horror remake of I Am Legend, where the protagonist realizes that he's the villain in another story instead of the hero in his own. Gardner added that writer Richard Matheson said something along the lines of "I don't know why Hollywood keeps trying to make my book. They clearly don't like it."
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It turns out that Rosenberg's mother wrote the 1980 film Maniac. When audiences began to get outraged at the misogynistic film, the studio wanted to use that to hype it up and asked if they could credit her as "C.A. Rosenberg" instead of her actual name. This hid the fact that it was written by a woman.
The final discussion was about comedy in horror. Everyone seemed to agree that there's a place for laughs in a horror movie and that the two genres can be very similar. All that matters is that they work. It doesn't have to be Evil Dead 2, but there can be a level of comedy in there. Both help create a human connection to the characters.
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