Eric’s Portland Horror Film Festival Review: The Horror Crowd (2020)

ATMOSfx! Woo!
Lin Shaye and Director Ruben Pla in The Horror Crowd (2020)
★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★

There have been a multitude of horror documentaries that chronicle the classic and most famous films of the genre, and there have been documentaries that celebrate certain favorite eras within horror. Director Ruben Pla focuses his efforts on the Independent films and shines a light on a number of the up-and-coming influencers within today’s horror.

Directed by Ruben Pla

Horror has always been something of an outsider’s genre. It also is the breeding ground for young filmmakers to make a dent through the relatively inexpensive avenue of horror film as a point of entry. What becomes clear to anybody in the industry, and that includes The Scariest Things crew, is that this really is a community that sticks together and is a sharing and close community.

It is this part of the horror movie experience that genre actor turned director Ruben Pla has put into documentary form. The impressive lineup of interviews that he put together is largely cobbled together with people with whom he has had working relationships. A veteran character actor who had done lots of individual episodes of TV shows, he got a huge break in landing a role in James Wan’s Insidious, and since that time has had a multitude of roles within the genre, through positive work relationships and a shared love of horror with those who make the movies. He spun that experience into titles like Big Ass Spider!, Contracted (Awesome!), Chemical Peel, XX, Cabaret of the Dead, and American Nightmares.

Pla interviewed a number of directors (mostly) and some actors and producers to talk about how they got into the business, their relationship with the fans, and their relationships with others in the community. Quite often the interview will transition from one subject and then segue directly to another interview subject and you get the sense of the links of the horror network.

Interviews included:

It was great to get some little insights into the experiences of these industry players, but it wasn’t like there were any great revelations or deep insights about the community. There were a lot of stories about bonds and influences, and lucky breaks, and the expansion of representation within the underground that is independent horror.

Pla does not have natural interviewing skills, and he does not have the documentarian’s attention to detail. Unlike, say, Alexandre O. Phillipe, who can deconstruct an entire scene and amaze you at all the intricate work required to make a movie or to uncover the subtleties and nuances of a great screenplay. A lot of The Horror Crowd feels like you are relaxing with a bunch of insiders and having them shoot the shit. This is cinema comfort food, relaxing and casual entertainment. It’s crackerjack.

It’s storytime amongst friends. It’s an enjoyable reveal of the inherent goodness within the horror crowd and makes you proud to be part of it. At the same time, the documentary feels a bit thin and lacks much dramatic tension. These are mostly success stories. The great documentaries, like great dramas, will often inject a calamity or a source of tension within it to keep the audience wired in. This, while not being a tribute, necessarily, doesn’t attempt to pry anything uncomfortable out of the interviewees. It isn’t an investigative documentary.

One thing that really caught my attention came towards the end of the movie when they described a local LA hangout where the Horror Crowd would hang out. You could hang out at the bar and run into Wes Craven at lunchtime and play the most difficult Horror Trivia contest hosted by Blumhouse executive Ryan Turek in the evening. Sadly, that establishment has disappeared, and I feel like I missed out on an opportunity to mix and mingle with the crowd.

The Horror Crowd espouses good time horror and is proud of it. In this way, it’s a perfect festival documentary, as the assembled audience will certainly be amongst the Horror Crowd, and will want to bathe in the familial bonds that this documentary presents. While Pla may not have the analyst’s magnifying glass, he does have something very important: access. And it’s clear that the people who he is interviewing are close to and fond of him. It’s all affirmational for horror fans to believe in a community that is fan-driven and industry-supported.

The Horror Crowd is not rated, but it would likely achieve an R rating for casual profanity and snippets from Horror films that show gore and violence. This film was part of the Portland Horror Film Festival, and has been on the festival circuit for a while now, and will likely be streaming soon.

Review by Eric Li

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