What Makes us Scream? – Horror Movie Panel at MCM Birmingham Comic Con

word Horror

Love them or loathe them, horror movies definitely have a strange power over their audiences, compelling us to watch them even as they disturb or repulse us. Featuring guests from three classic horror films – Melanie Kinnaman from Friday the 13th : A New BeginningJohn Dugan from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Oliver Robins from Poltergeist – the Horror Guests Panel at the MCM Birmingham Comic Con sought to find out what it is that made these movies so successful, and what it was like to work on them.

Fans of genre films are often fiercely loyal to their favourites, attending events and celebrating stories, characters, actors and creators many years after their initial release. The first question put to the panel was about their films’ faithful followers, and how it felt for the actors to still have such strong fanbases. With the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre now almost 40 years old, John Dugan, who plays Grandpa Sawyer, explained that attending these kind of events and interacting with fans has been and continues to be a big part of his life. For him, it’s been great to have so many fans and to still be remembered for what was actually quite a short film job. Oliver Robins, who plays Robbie Freeling, said poltergeistclownthat making Poltergeist had really changed his life, since at the time, he’d had no ambitions of becoming a professional actor or filmmaker. As a child, the popularity of the film was a complete surprise for him, and fans’ responses to it continue to amaze him. Entering into a franchise at a much later stage, Melanie Kinnaman, who plays Pam Roberts, in Friday the 13th Part V, has encountered both positive and negative reactions from viewers. Describing a kind of backlash against the film, Kinnaman nevertheless said she was grateful to all the people who had expressed their appreciation for it.

Horror movies have always had a tendency to elicit mixed reactions in people, and often serve to break a lot of boundaries, challenging audience expectations. With this in mind, the panel were asked whether being involved with these films and the criticism they had been met with had had an impact on their personal lives. As far as John Dugan was concerned, it’s had much more of an effect on his professional life, since the part is always there on his resume when he goes for new jobs. It’s not often he gets recognised in the street – in his own words, you’d have to be a “really hardcore fan” to notice him without the make up he wore in the film. Nevertheless, he did recall one time when a woman had spotted him sitting outside smoking. Once she’d managed to place him after staring at him for some time, she started screaming, and no one was able to calm her down until he left. Both Oliver Robins and Melanie Kinnaman, meanwhile, focused of more positive experiences. For Robins, GrandpaSawyerworking on Poltergeist was the spark that kindled his love of filmmaking. Whilst working on the movie, he was given a super 8 camera by Steven Spielberg, who then acted as a kind of mentor to him as he began to learn the craft. Kinnaman, on the other hand, has been amazed at the impact Friday the 13th seems to have had on other people’s lives, and spoke of letters she’d received from fans thanking her for helping them through difficult times in their lives: her role as a survivor in the film has helped inspire strength and confidence in many of her fans.

After Oliver Robins spoke about how Poltergeist taps into people’s primal, childhood fears, the panel were asked what they felt was the key to giving a great horror performance. Both Dugan and Robins agreed that the most important thing is to make it seem as real as possible. Of course, this isn’t always easy: often, when making horror movies, an actor has to be able to react to things that aren’t there. Melanie Kinnaman went so far as to say it’s the most difficult thing for actors to do. In Robins’s case, it was particularly challenging, since as a child, he’d had no idea what the final film would look like or how the special effects would work, so had tried to react realistically to the scariest thing he could imagine. It’s this degree of imagination that’s perhaps the true secret to the success or failure of a horror film: it’s those that leave us room to conjure up our own monsters and nightmares which tend to affect us most deeply.

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