Highlights From the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear
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Highlights From the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear

The horror-focused event brought stars and terrors to Fan Expo 2014.

A nightmare on Front Street—Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Krueger and Nancy Thompson)  Photo by Jessica Buck

A nightmare on Front Street—Robert Englund and Heather Langenkamp (A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger and Nancy Thompson). Photo by Jessica Buck.

Even if you’re a big chicken when it comes to scary movies, you’re likely somewhat familiar with Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers, and Freddy Krueger. Horror fans crowd conventions with the chief goal of meeting cast members of iconic movies and shows such as A Nightmare on Elm Street, Twin Peaks, Evil Dead, Black Christmas, and The Shining. But what is it about the horror genre that inspires such interest and devotion? (It’s doubtful that there’ll ever be a RomComCon.) We checked out the Rue Morgue Festival of Fear—the horror-focused arm of Fan Expo—to find out.

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Probably not the kind of baby doll you’ll be buying your kid for Christmas. Photo by Christopher Drost.

Within the first few hours of the convention, we found some big answers to our questions, thanks to Why Horror?, a documentary on the global impact of the horror genre throughout history. Filmmaker Tal Zimerman, sociologist Andrea Subissati, and Rue Morgue editor-in-chief Dave Alexander gathered to show clips of the soon-to-be-released film and discuss some of their findings. The conclusions? We’re drawn to horror because it shines a light on death—the great unknown—and because it provides emotional catharsis by dramatizing our common fears. And as the documentary notes, everyone in the world is afraid. While adrenaline junkies may be attracted to the tangible effect that fear has on the body—the sweating, accelerated heartbeat, and so on—scary movies go a step further by worming their way into the mind, too. As Zimerman succinctly put it, horror “invades your nightmares the way roller coasters don’t.”

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Proof that you don’t have to be a monster to create one on screen—Rue Morgue‘s Aaron von Lupton with Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham. Photo by Jessica Buck.

From an outsider’s perspective, there may not be a lot of redeeming qualities in films about the slaughter of helpless teenagers. However, Sean S. Cunningham, director of Friday the 13th is quick to defend these franchises—and not just because they pay his rent. Unlike the fairy tales we grew up hearing, he says, horror is honest about its intentions—to scare, entertain, and highlight societal truths. He points out the dark themes in stories like “Hansel and Gretel”—themes obscured by the idea that these terrible things happen only to made-up characters in a made-up world. We’re told that nothing bad will happen to us if we’re “good” and abstain from things like sex, drugs, and alcohol. Slasher flicks eviscerate this idea, and show us that we are all potential victims.

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Putting the artistry back in poster art—Justin Erickson and Paige Reynolds of Phantom City Creative. Photo by Jessica Buck.

But the horror industry isn’t just about movies. Morbid themes and imagery bleed out into the art, music, and fashion worlds, too.

This is old news to Ghoulish Gary Pullin, Justin Erickson, Jason Edmiston, and Andrew Wright, otherwise known as the Four Horsemen of the Artpocalypse. All celebrated horror artists, they’re changing the poster game with their inventive representations of classic films and upcoming releases. No longer regarded as simple marketing tools, illustrated film posters are enjoying a renewed interest among fans, collectors, and production companies alike. Not content with relying on the same images that have defined releases in years past, these four find and focus on the films’ overlooked visual minutiae, exploiting the creative flexibility they feel is inherent in the horror genre. “No one is reimagining the cover of The Notebook,” commented panel moderator Andrea Yvonne Butler.

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Fancy some morbid trinkets? Jen Wright Makeup has you covered. Photo by Andrew Wright.

The music industry also benefits from the popularity of horror. Rabid fans spend hours scouring record shops for the soundtracks (on vinyl, of course) to their favourite films, while the more artistically inclined channel their love of the genre into creating music. Horror punk fans were treated to an exclusive panel (and performance at the annual Friday night Shocktail Party) with band The Independents, who sat down with Rue Morgue music editor Aaron von Lupton to talk about touring, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Joey Ramone, and their surprisingly catchy “songs about murder.”

The world may never appreciate monsters, murderers, and madmen the way that horror fans do—and that’s okay. But before you condemn the genre for being violent drivel made by—or for—closeted psychopaths, remember that our not-so-distant ancestors used to congregate willingly in town squares to watch their peers be hanged, chopped up, or torn to bits before their eyes. Kinda puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?