Social media has been abuzz this week with talk of “Film Twitter” and “Horror Twitter,” whatever those things are. According to some, it’s a community of like-minded movie lovers who come together online to celebrate the things they love with positivity and enthusiasm. For others, they’re exclusionary cliques—popularity contests in which the Heather Chandlers rise to the top while the Martha Dumptrucks of the world are left fighting for scraps of approval. The truth, as is so often the case, lies somewhere in the middle: there is a true community of fans that has built up around the horror genre, and within that community can be hierarchical structures that can result in some members feeling left out.
I’ve long struggled with the idea of “the horror community” not in the abstract, but as the codified entity constantly referred to in online circles. I love horror movies and have always loved horror movies. Does that make me a part of the community? Is there a special handshake I need to know? The truth is, I used to consider myself part of what some call “Horror Twitter.” I was in those circles, talking with the other fans who make up the “community.” But then I stepped back from social media, and, as a result, I lost any standing I might have had in the horror world. Gone and forgotten. Does that mean I’m no longer in the community? I still love horror movies, but is that enough? Is this community everyone talks about something that only exists in the virtual space? Because I also know that I can attend something like Chicago’s Flashback Weekend—any year but fucking 2020, of course—and immediately feel welcome, like I’m among my own people. Everyone at a horror convention is a friend. The sense of community is undeniable. As much as it seems like some ephemeral construct online, I’ve seen and felt it firsthand.
I got to thinking about all of this while rewatching Clive Barker’s Nightbreed (before you ask, it was the theatrical cut and not the restored “Cabal Cut”). Like Tod Browning’s classic Freaks, it’s a film about a family of misfits and outcasts welcoming a new member into the fold—“One of us, one of us.” The difference is that in Nightbreed, these outcasts are literal monsters living in an underground city called Midian. It’s easy to view the film and see Midian as the horror community, a collection of people who have gathered around a genre because they, too, felt like outsiders and misfits. (This, of course, raises the chicken/egg debate: are we drawn to horror because we feel like outsiders, or do we feel like outsiders because we love horror movies? Discuss.) Each of us has, at one time, been Aaron Boone (Craig Sheffer), the young man who is murdered and resurrected as a monster who finds his place in Midian. We discover horror movies at some age and are fundamentally changed in some way, killing off our old selves and being reborn as horror fans obsessed with monsters, slashers, and all things scary. I discovered horror at age 7 or 8 when I began poring over the pages of library books full of classic movie monsters—Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Fredric March’s Mr. Hyde, King Kong and Godzilla—but it was a solitary pursuit for much of my life. I wouldn’t be welcomed into Midian until years later when I attended my first horror convention and got my first real sense of “community.”
Therein, they say, lies the rub. Without that community, I was just some isolated horror fan, enjoying the films on my own without anyone off of whom I could bounce ideas or seek recommendations, without the boutique shops from which I could buy obscure titles on Blu-ray or my favorite horror films in t-shirt form. But isn’t being a fan what makes us part of the community? I would argue yes. Once you fall in love with horror, you’re One of Us. Worrying about whether or not you’re part of a larger community is an exercise in futility. You are, whether the cool kids recognize you as being part of it or not. Boone isn’t a monster. Because he becomes a part of Midian; he’s a monster either way. It’s a lesson I’ve had to learn for myself: I don’t necessarily need to be on social media to be part of the horror community. The very act of watching Nightbreed—even alone—makes me part of the horror community, because it’s a movie that loves its monsters the way we horror fans love our monsters.
Nightbreed is a film about finding our place in a world where we finally feel like we fit. Don’t allow others to draw those lines for you—to define your community or your place within it. Find your own Midian. Maybe it’s online. Maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s at the Cool Kids’ table. Maybe it’s not. Doesn’t matter. We’re all monsters here.