It’s the kind of story that artists and film critics hate reading. A principal and a guidance school counselor have been suspended for their alleged role in making independent horror films. It brings up a lot of questions. Naturally, there are concerned parents who worry about the example being set for children. But also there is a very valid argument that the ones setting a bad example are not the filmmakers, but the people who are prosecuting them.
Dr. Mark Foley was suspended and Aaron Vnuk placed on administrative leave once administrators learned of films the two made under the banner Moongoyle Films. Some of the horror titles credited to the two include THE UNCODED, MIND MORGUE, THE LIMB COLLECTOR and THE DEMON OF CASTLEBURY. For the record, I am not familiar with these films, which may very well be quite explicit. But I do not feel my lack of exposure to Moongoyle’s projects is relevant to the issue.
It’s important to note that the administration does not believe children were ever at risk The films were made outside of school hours and under the aliases of Mark Daniel and Aaron Thomas Howell. When interviewed by NBC Connecticut, local resident Leona Markee asked, “If he found doing those movies perfectly acceptable, why were they made under a pseudonym?”
I’m glad you asked that question, Ms. Markee. The answer is that you are being interviewed about his activities and are now openly questioning his motives.
This is a prejudice many people in the horror community have faced. I know of people who are filmmakers or critics and trust me, this is not their day job. No, they work just like the rest of you. They struggle to get by. Even people who sell their work do so in an attempt to recoup just some of the money they sunk into the projects in the first place. The reason these people do it isn’t for money or fame. That comes to almost no one in this field and they are often happy if they can make even a small impact.
No, horror people in general are horror people because it’s in their blood. The horror community is built upon mutual interest. The people within feed off one another, gaining strength, empowerment and confidence through the interplay that exists amongst their peers. Many people in the Granby and Windsor school system probably don’t understand it. It’s okay. Horror fans in every corner of the community are used to it. So, let me just tell you a little bit about these people and the lack of danger they represent.
People in the horror community range from the ages of students in your schools all the way to those old enough to be those students’ grandparents. In fact, many adults are not the stereotypical shut-ins living in their parents’ basement. They have spouses, children and loved ones that they devote most of their time caring for. Some are high school dropouts while others hold PhD’s. They work 9-5 jobs, sometimes more than one. Some work on the low end of the customer service food chain. Others have excelled. They are doctors, lawyers and hold positions within successful businesses. And yes, some are teachers, guidance counselors and even principals. At no time has there been an epidemic of educators turning the classroom into a chamber of horrors. Just as there has never been an influx of horror-obsessed doctors getting a little too creative during surgery.
That is because of the very simple delineation between fantasy and reality. We often hear this argument, but it bears repeating. Horror is a field that often deals in some very dark subject matter. Yes, it can be as harmless as the sights one would see in a trip through Disney World’s Haunted Mansion. But yes, there are many areas of horror that deal in subjects that are violent and even reminiscent of real-life horrors. Horror is a mirror that often analyzes societal ills through a fantastical lens. Horror is a genre much like any other. It exists to illicit a certain cathartic response. The idea of a comedy for instance is to make us laugh and hopefully forget about the troubles of everyday life. Horror is also a cathartic release of the tension and fear we have all experienced. It gives us a healthy outlet to let out all that tension and extinguish it in a healthy surrounding. Yes, it’s often found within imagery and storylines that are unpleasant. That’s the idea, of working through this fantasy unpleasantness that helps us deal with the unpleasantries we all experience – whether it be personal tragedy, daily issues relating to work and family or what have you. The images found in the average horror fans’ movie library or bookshelf might be off-putting.
But it’s important to note that it isn’t real. Look at the behind the scenes footage from some of the most terrifying films out there. From THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS to graphic, shot-on-video epics of ultraviolence, the mood on the set is typically light and jovial. There is a general feeling that the subject matter may be grotesque, but we should always remember that it is fantasy. Few people have as much of a grasp on this as the fans. I will use myself as an example and even stretch this beyond the realm of horror in order to further illustrate my point.
- Several films in my collection feature dark themes about otherworldly creatures dedicated to murder and mayhem. In real life, I not only don’t condone such actions but I personally find the belief in such creatures ridiculous on a fundamental level.
- Other films in my collection feature themes of revenge through violence or other dark means. In real life, I recognize that violence only begets violence. I do not believe in the death penalty. I support war only as the very last resort. I have more often than not been accused of being too much of a pacifist.
- Like many of you, I have seen many films featuring gunplay. In real life, I detest firearms and refuse to have one in my home.
- I admit that I am not interested in video gaming. I personally find games like GRAND THEFT AUTO abhorrent. However, I recognize that tens of millions of people play these games and it has not led to the downfall of mankind any more than my interest in horror.
It used to be that people worried about books. THE CATCHER IN THE RYE by J.D. Salinger is rightfully acknowledged as a classic and was required reading when I was in school. However, many people saw danger in the book. Whether you believe the main character Holden Caulfield is an outside misunderstood by society or a self-centered brat, there’s no denying that Salinger’s book has become a favorite amongst the disenfranchised. Unlike virtually every horror film in existence, there is also a well-known pattern of violence that many have linked to this American classic. Some of CATCHER IN THE RYE’s fans have included: Mark David Chapman, John Hinkley and Rebecca Schaeffer’s murderer, Robert John Bardo. Because of this as well as other attributes that made various authoritative bodies nervous, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE has been on numerous banned books lists over the decades. And yet, it has also been read by tens of millions of people, few of them lone gunmen. It routinely finds itself on lists that refer to it as one of the greatest English-language books of all time. While it is true that THE CATCHER IN THE RYE was beloved by the man who attempted to assassinate our 40th president, it was also beloved by the man who became our 41st president.
The citation of CATCHER IN THE RYE and all its controversies is not as much of a reach as you’d think. Despite being beloved by literary scholars, there were times when Salinger was criticized and even persecuted by government bodies, parents groups and educational systems for the views he chose to espouse in print. Rumors persisted of Salinger being subversive, anti-American, sexually aberrant and mentally imbalanced. While Salinger was notoriously reclusive, he was said to communicate with students at a nearby high school (coincidentally also called Windsor) and I doubt many people would have objected to him serving as a teacher or counselor at any educational institution. While it may be true that few examples in the horror genre can be compared to Salinger’s classic, I use the extreme to serve as an ultimate example. Because if one of literature’s sacred cows can be misrepresented as the product of a damaged mind, it can happen to anyone who shares their views or their art in a public forum.
One can easily understand why parents and administrators are concerned. After all, this is the welfare of our children we’re discussing. Everyone admits the children of these schools were never put in danger. But there seems to be a consensus that an example had to be made, just in case. However, I argue that this is exactly the wrong type of lesson to be sending to our children. From the time they learn to crawl, we encourage our children to be themselves. We tell them not to worry about what others think of them. We tell them that if they embrace their individuality, the right people will take notice. Now, let’s be honest for a moment. Once students leave school, this lesson is not often encouraged in the workplace. And yet, it is still an important lesson. We instinctively want our children to not only be better off than we are, but also more confident, well-adjusted and happy. And yet by persecuting people who engaged in a legal, non-threatening and extracurricular activity, we are teaching our children that you can’t be yourself. You can’t do what makes you happy, because some people won’t understand. It might be offensive to the mainstream. It might set a bad example to others. We are teaching them young to keep their heads down, to not express themselves and that being themselves only stretches so far as the acceptance of the status quo.
I am a horror fan who frequently writes on the subject. And you should meet me. Sure, I have my problems. But I have to admit I’m smart, I’m witty and quite frankly, completely adorable. I have found the people I’ve met within the horror community to be some of the friendliest, most well-adjusted and accepting people I’ve come across. It makes sense. They have to be when the public’s opinion of them is irrational and antiquated.
You might not want the films, music or literature of the average horror fan in your home. That’s your prerogative But don’t ostracize someone because their personal tastes don’t mesh with yours. There are a great number of professionals who can aid our communities and just happen to unwind with a Lucio Fulci flick. By shunning these people from your lives and from the lives of the children we’re serving, you are teaching our children a bitter and cowardly lesson. A lesson they should not be taking with them when they are trying to find themselves.