Taboo of the horror nerd
Horror artist Joel Robinson of Artpusher.net
October 19th, 2011
08:53 AM ET

Taboo of the horror nerd

Editor's note: Aaron Sagers is a New York City-based entertainment writer and nationally syndicated pop-culture columnist. He has specialty knowledge in 'paranormal pop culture,' has lectured at conventions across the country on the topic and is a media pundit on supernatural entertainment. He covers pop culture daily at paranormalpopculture.com and can be found on Twitter @aaronsagers.

They are outsider fans in an outlaw genre. Even as comic book, science fiction and fantasy nerds are embraced by popular culture for their quirk and charm, the horror fan culture exists on the fringe, left out in the cold and dark – perhaps with a chainsaw-wielding maniac on the loose.

And that may be how horror nerds prefer it.

To be a horror nerd is to celebrate a low-rent, often underground kind of entertainment, even when it doesn’t involve Jason Voorhees, Samara or Pazuzu. It also means being the bad kid playing in the mud when others are allowed in the mainstream sandbox.

Basically, there is no “The Big Bang Theory” chronicling the lovable foibles of a dedicated nerd who can list his top five cannibal movies, and is steeped in a fandom of dismembered bodies and buckets of blood.

But if other groups have become eccentric darlings of the mainstream, horror nerds prefer their passion to be punk. Even with an implied desire for more widespread respect of the genre, there is concern about the mainstream attention that accompanies it.

“It should feel like two steps away from pornography,” said Joe Hill, the horror novelist of “Heart Shaped Box” and the comic “Locke & Key.” (He's also Stephen King's son.Yeah, THAT Joe Hill.)

“Let’s keep it grubby and dirty and shameful,” said Hill, who added he likes his horror to feel like a taboo “private pleasure,” and that part of its appeal is delighting in content that can unsettle.

Reigning scream queen and genre heroine Danielle Harris (“Hatchet II,” “Halloween,” “Stake Land”) believes horror stands alone in a “little world of its own” for that reason.

“It’s not quite in the mix,” said the actress. “That’s what makes it special.” Harris added part of the appeal of horror as a fan and creator is its ability to force a reaction out of audiences.

As a sociology professor who teaches about the horror genre at the University of Colorado – Boulder, Marshall Smith concurs.

“[Horror] is a genre that is meant to evoke a bodily response – shivers, goosebumps, etc.,” he said. “It celebrates what is supposed to be reviled.” As a result, Smith said, nerds “derive some sense of identity from reveling in that which others find objectionable.”

Exploring horror
Brad “Mr. Disgusting” Miska has built a career out of being an insider amongst the outsiders. The co-founder of BloodyDisgusting.com, launched in 2001, Miska’s site attracts approximately 1.5 million unique visitors to his horror entertainment site each month – and up to 2.5 million during October and January, the two most popular months for genre movies. Miska’s site serves casual horror fans but also the nerds who like to take ownership of, and share, new genre entries.

He said the culture of those nerds is to be “the discoverers of new, independent horror films – the lower budgets ones friends don’t know about.”

Miska said another important aspect to the horror culture is the tight-knit community where celebrities such as genre actor Kane Hodder or makeup effects master Tom Savini are accessible.

At horror cons such as Spooky Empire in Orlando, Florida, Miska said fans “can just walk up and talk to these guys and it makes them feel special.”

Petey Mongelli, the founder and promoter Spooky Empire, (which wrapped its ninth year Oct. 9) noted the appeal of the genre to a nerd like himself probably isn’t unlike other fan cultures – and that includes the tendency to obsessively collect and categorize details.

“They know every single scene in every movie and every movie each actor has done,” he said. “They have the original posters or the first copy of the VHS or Beta autographed by everybody, and need every single zombie from ‘Dawn of the Dead’ on their poster – even if they were in the movie for five seconds.”

Hard-gore fans versus loose screws
Mongelli also described the “real hardcore fan” as those who have actor or character likenesses tattooed on them, then “go get that autographed and get that tattooed.”

Speaking of those hardcore fans, Harris said a horror nerd is someone who loves the genre and has fun with it, and even wants to be a creator of it, but acknowledges there is an element within fan culture that has a “teeny, tiny, little screw loose” and gets excited to see someone murdered onscreen.

“The guy who can recite every ‘Halloween’ line and is so into it or has seen the movies 500 times – like the Adam Greens and the Rob Zombies of the world” are the nerds, she said. “Then you’ve got the guy who comes to a convention dressed as Michael Myers and stands in the corner with the mask on and breathes heavy and stares at me for an hour; there’s a difference.”

The “screw loose” element Harris refers to is the negative stereotype of the creeper fan that Miska says doesn’t really apply to most horror nerds.

“’Hostel’ set this precedent that horror fans wanted dark gore and torture,” he said. “But people don't want to watch that (expletive); people want to have fun when they watch movies – Even with a horror movie.”

Torture porn aside, Mongelli said fans still exist on the fringe even though horror is easily accessible on Netflix and dedicated TV networks such as Chiller.

It is an interesting point. Horror is readily available to audiences, but audiences don’t readily take to it. It has never really been uncommon for the general populace to respond to individual horror films when they become part of the pop-culture zeitgeist.

The masses have gleefully paid for their screams with commercial hits such as 1931’s “Dracula,” “The Exorcist,” “Halloween” and “Jaws.” Action figures of Freddy Krueger can be found on the shelves of a big box toy store, and most people have an awareness of who the character is, but the nerdy pursuit of the genre lacks the mainstream momentum seen behind fantasy, for instance. Even if the average “Entertainment Weekly” reader is aware of the plot of “The Human Centipede,” that knowledge doesn’t necessarily translate into viewership.

Although he said it depends on the subgenre of horror, Smith said he doesn’t see that changing. If part of the appeal of the genre is the “deviant or repulsive,” not too many fans from the mainstream will convert to horror nerd-dom no matter how easily you can purchase “Cannibal Holocaust” on Amazon.com.

“Casual fans are more interested in just an occasional scare particularly when a film is somehow registering on the cultural level as a phenomenon,” said Smith. He acknowledges the successes of anomalies such as the $193-million box office take of “Paranormal Activity,” but added, “I think of summer blockbusters; horror films will only ever make so much money in comparison to the action, comedy, etc.”

Commodity of horror
Besides, “Paranormal Activity” isn’t really for horror nerds anyhow.

Harris speaks to a consensus amongst horror fans that mainstream culture doesn’t “get” them, but that entertainment media is nonetheless trying to capitalize on the genre – often times through gimmicks, remakes, found footage flicks and 3-D – without always adding to the art or craft.

“It used to be that horror movies were always thought of as ‘B’ movies or Grade-Z movies, and now sometimes they’re tentpole releases,” Hill said before adding, “In some ways things were more exciting when they were more risky, when there was an outlaw vibe.”

“We’re being played to a wider audience than we used to; that’s positive, I think,” Hill said. But he added he has “mixed feelings” about mainstream acceptance.

But there might be another alternative for horror nerds that allow them to hold onto their outsider status while also embracing the mainstream, or at least other nerd cultures.

Horror events such as Mongelli’s have recently become part of an overall convention culture where everyone mingles together. He calls them “convention fans” and started noticing their appearance two or three years ago. Instead of fans dressed up as horror genre favorite Victor Crowley, or even as a generic monster, there were non-horror characters from “Star Wars,” “World of Warcraft” and so on.

“I was surprised they weren’t there earlier,” said Mongelli. “You see zombies at the comic book conventions, so why wouldn’t we have Iron Man or Spider-Man?”

Mongelli said this is a good development. He and Miska agreed that horror enthusiasts will stay loyal to their specific circle, but that the convergence of fans blends together like-minded people – nerdy about different things – into a more diverse social gathering.

What Harris called “a place where nerds can play,” regardless of the common obsession, and what Hill referred to as “genre play” and the “sandbox of the imagination,” conventions have become a site of a giant nerd herd merge where – to borrow from Adina Howard – everyone is a “freak like me.”

And in the end, those horror freaks can maintain their status as outsider fans in an outlaw genre – or at least as insider nerds with fringe benefits.

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    September 15, 2012 at 1:28 am |
  3. Bloodonthebeach.net

    Blood on the Beach horror convention invades Virginia Beach, VA! April 20-22, 2012
    http://www.bloodonthebeachDOTnet

    October 24, 2011 at 8:34 am |
  4. Hypatia

    Gorefests? Bah! Try "Love Slaves of the She Mummuy" for REAL low-rent horror. *giggle*

    October 23, 2011 at 12:59 pm |
  5. Jill

    I wouldn't consider myself a horror nerd, b/c I'm too squeamish for slashers (think blood and gore from the 70's and later). I really like some of the 60's thrillers though (I don't know if that belongs in this forum or not)...like, "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte, "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" and, "Strait Jacket".

    October 21, 2011 at 7:28 am |
  6. 58yearoldHorrorFan

    My parents raised me on horror films ( That might explain a lot ) Triple features every weekend at a drive-in theater where we lived. Pay once the beginning of the season and stay through all 3 films , during the second half of the 3 film they would give you a pass for the next weekend. Go to the movies free every weekend all summer except for the opening weekend. I saw all the 50's and 60s B films like that peeking over the back of the front seat and through my fingers. I also was in on the Creepy. Eerie and Vampirella comics when they started AH childhood memories :-)

    October 21, 2011 at 1:08 am |
    • 58yearoldHorrorFan

      I meant " duirng the second half of the 3rd film "

      October 21, 2011 at 1:11 am |
  7. Donovan

    Favorties are still old-school. I have original 1/2 sheets of Vincent Price's "House of Wax" (the black & white printing, not the color 3-d version) and "Masque of the Red Death" framed and on my wall.

    Newer movies? There ARE some good ones out there ... but most aren't very successful in theatres if they reach it that far. I LOVED "The Jacket" ... though not a typical "horror" flick. It didn't last very long in theatres. "28 Days Later" STILL is the best zombie flick of all time and it wasn't a major release. I had to travel almost 2 hours to a theatre that had it.

    October 20, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  8. Vlad

    Classic horror films like "Nosferatu", many Lon Chaney movies and of course the Hammer films set the stage for the modern movies of the day. Zombies are really popular now, even in more mainstream culture. I wonder why that is? The more grusome "Saw" films seem to be running out of steam right now anyway. Del toro is making an H.P. Lovecraft film based on the "Mountains of Madness" novella. Its like there are sub-sub genres inside of the Horror genre. I enjoy most of them, because it fun to be scared from time to time. Enjoy!

    October 20, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Donovan

      Del Toro + Lovecraft = music to my ears

      October 20, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • 58yearoldHorrorFan

      I have been waiting for over 40 years for someone, ANYONE, to do justice to H.P. Maybe just maybe Del Toro will accomplish it

      October 21, 2011 at 12:59 am |
  9. Mrs Karachiski

    America, you owe it to our brave troops for fighting Pakistani terrorists abroad for your freedom and safety here at home, to call your Congressman today to STOP ALL AID TO PAKISTAN NOW! Obama stop funding the killers of our sons and daughters in service !

    October 20, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
    • pod

      wrong article lady!

      October 20, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Vlad

      Off topic! Take your agenda elswhere nutty lady.

      October 20, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Donovan

      There was no worse horror in our country than what Bush and the GOP laid on us for 8 years ... sorry. Now THAT was horror.

      October 20, 2011 at 6:26 pm |
    • logicareason

      Indian troll trying to foment american anger against pakistan so that they can take over. You want to conquer pakistan, spill your own indian blood, not americans'.

      October 20, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • umm no

      Trolls who spam the wrong articles with their nonsense is what I find horrfying.

      October 20, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
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      September 12, 2012 at 2:44 pm |
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  10. charli3

    If you.ve never seen the work of Lon ChaneySr do yourself a favor and see these silent movie classics.He was an innovator in the Horror genre.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:50 am |
  11. cici

    This guy is defiantly on the outside looking in and doesn't have a clue. No mention of Troma, Dario Argento or the whole Horror music industry. Horror movies are so much more than a cheap thrill; for many of us it has turned into a way of life.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:33 am |
    • rocklobster

      this didn't need to be a list of a the inside horror films. i think the point was to explain the overall culture by talking to some notable people on the inside. that is different than just a list of the top films.

      October 20, 2011 at 9:40 am |
    • Donovan

      Troma? Are you kidding? Troma isn't horror. It's more dark comedy than horror.

      October 20, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  12. missoctober

    Standing next to Tom Savini doesn't make me feel "special". He's an incredibly rude guy.

    October 20, 2011 at 9:28 am |
  13. Rock

    Reading this was torture p0rn

    October 20, 2011 at 8:27 am |
  14. Anthony Foust

    How the hell does one separate "Hostel" from any of the cheesy slasher flicks made famous in the 80's? ?I fail to see the difference about maniacs torturing people in dark rooms and a maniac running around with a chainsaw and a mask...??? It's all horror, suspense and gore by the end of the film. "Hostel" just put it in a more realistic (less cheesy) perspective, which is what made me rather watch that than another stupid slasher flick. Hostel 2, on the other hand was completely idiotic and a waste of time, but we all saw that coming. :(

    October 20, 2011 at 6:51 am |
    • Maine Man

      Dude, there is totally a difference. Friday the 13th or any 80s slasher flick was bloody or gory but never attempted to look exactly like the real thing such as body parts being cut out or a person having an organ removed. Hostel or Turistas or those types of films are completely different than those 80s slasher movies.

      October 20, 2011 at 9:46 am |
      • Donovan

        Agreed. 100% different.

        October 20, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
  15. Harlow

    Check out this new horror film Cassadaga that will premiere at Screamfest this weekend. Directed by Anthony Diblasi – Starring Kelen Coleman, Kevin Alejandro, Louise Fletcher and Russ Blackwell at http://www.facebook.com/cassadagafilm

    October 20, 2011 at 12:35 am |
    • Harlow

      Here is a link to the trailer for Cassadaga – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLZu8hLEz64&feature=share

      October 20, 2011 at 12:49 am |
  16. Kristie

    Dear horror nerds,
    I need your help. I've been trying to figure out for years what movie it was that scared me as a kid, but so far no luck. The only scenes I remember are the main character (a man who's skin/body parts are falling off...reminded me of leprosy) grabs the woman he's chasing after by the legs while he lies under a car. The other scene is him standing in front of a mirror pulling parts of his face off. I know most of you will say 'The Fly" or 'The Fly II", but I've watched both of them recently and neither rang a bell. Is there any other movie that anyone can think of that may fit this description? Thanks!!!

    October 19, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
    • Mike

      That could very well be "The Incredible Melting Man," from 1977.

      October 20, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • Gillian

      I don't recognize the first scene you describe, but the second (where a man pulls off parts of his face) could be from Poltergeist. Sometimes I mix up scenes from different movies I saw when I was very young.

      October 20, 2011 at 11:22 am |
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        September 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
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        September 14, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • JT

      Likewise, I remember a movie where there was a kid at a computer and his parents or someone else shot at a monster/creature and managed to put a piece of it in a jar. The piece of monster would shake like it wanted to rejoin the rest...

      Can't for the life of me figure out what movie this was...

      October 20, 2011 at 1:08 pm |
    • T.rex

      i don't know but it begs my own question of a movie, i'm trying to figure out. A lone rogue shark is terrorizing a town called Amity, near Cape Cod, a few years after another shark had done the same thing. The chief of police is trying to warn everyyone, because he knew of the first shark, but no one believes him. Anyone know?

      October 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
      • Archibald

        I believe you're thinking of Godzilla. The one that had Matthew Broderick in it.

        October 20, 2011 at 2:25 pm |
      • umm no

        Sounds like Jaws, then again most killer shark movies sound like Jaws.

        October 20, 2011 at 9:15 pm |
    • MPD

      Definitely the incredible melting man. I was 9 and my sister got me in to see it. After the first scene I went next door and watched the rest of Annie Hall.

      October 20, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  17. Bloodonthebeach.net

    Blood on the Beach Horror Convention Invades Virginia Beach, VA, April 20-22,2012!
    WWWbloodonthebeachDOTnet

    October 19, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
  18. THX

    I have seen every film mentioned here except "Paranormal Activity" – and I plan on seeing that. I'm a sci-fi/fantasy/comic book fan and I am also a horror fan – the horror fandom coming first. I haven't owned posters since I was a kid but I do have a whole shelf of horror movies spanning the decades from 1930's to present. I especially love zombie flicks. I do have t-shirts from some of my faves. My tastes range from Battle Royale to Shaun of the Dead. Not so much into gorn films like Saw but I'll sit through them if they're free. I love horror games too, especially Silent Hill.

    I've never seen a "screw loose" horror fan personally but I imagine that'd be a bit creepier than the drooling otaku type.

    October 19, 2011 at 8:59 pm |
  19. Ari

    Nice post- I just helped to make a horror film inforgraphic at my company and am very paranoid about the feedback from true "Horror Nerds" although I consider myself one at heart... pretty mainstream but I think we have the bases covered...

    http://bit.ly/nsNkr6

    October 19, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
  20. tic tac

    The guy in the picture at the top looks like he loves what he does. I can't see much of the art behind him, but it looks amazing... I am not a huge horror buff, but i REALLY enjoy seeing someone do what the love and are good at. Clearly this guy makes that list.

    October 19, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
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  21. TwoCents

    I enjoy a good zombie movie and I'm all for the gore that makes others squeemish, but I wouldn't go as far as to say it's a "private pleasure". Half the fun is making fun of the movie with your buds, or synchronizing that gut wrenching "Oohhhh" when somebody splatters all over the screen.

    But, is it just me or did this article make horror fans out to be creepers who get off to blood and guts by themselves in a dark corner? Keeping it "grubby and dirty and shameful" just sounds wierd. To me, horror is about getting away from reality for a couple of hours, disconnecting from the real horrors of every day life like tainted cantaloupe and politics and laughing at zombies getting run over or alien car tires brutally murdering the locals.

    Oh B Rate Netflix movies, you never fail to amuse.

    October 19, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Becca

      Yeah, I agree with your take on this. I'm a fan of horror movies, and always have been since I was a kid. I'm now going on 50 and still love them. I'm also female, and I hardly know any other women who are big horror fans. I am not really sure why I love those movies. I think it's like you said, that you get away from the "horrors" of real life which are somehow much more tiresome. And you can escape into a situation where just staying alive is a great triumph. Everything else that human society deems as so important, and which is kind of all stupid crap anyway, is thrown out. Or maybe I'm just a creepy nut. No idea. But I do wish there was someplace for horror fans to meet each other. I'd love to have just one friend to go to scary movies with and discuss them. My husband hates them, and my brother lives too far away now.

      October 19, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
      • Jackie

        Try being a female horror fan who is also African American. I use to keep my fandom a secret since no other females are interested but once I hit 40 I decided I'd just be me, whether anyone liked it or not. Maybe you should start a female horror fan club so that you can attend these conventions with other female fans. I'd join up!

        October 20, 2011 at 9:11 am |
      • Tha Chikin

        Becca & Jackie – There are plenty of female horror junkies... I am one!! Been hooked on horror since I was 7 years old. You just gotta get out there! I know it blows to go out by yourself but, you are bound to meet someone once you get there. Who knows? Maybe you will make a new horror movie night buddy!! There is also Facebook... there has GOTTA be a horror movie group! They have everything else on there!

        October 20, 2011 at 11:12 am |
      • Julez

        I hear ya, Becca. I'm a married mother of four, and a lifelong horror nerd. The most watched channels in our house (by my husband and me, that is) are Chiller and SyFy, and nine out of ten times we order something from NetFlix, it's from the horror genre. Halloween has been my favorite holiday since childhood. Needless to say, the vast majority of people I can can commiserate with about it are the 20-something guys who work at my gym!

        October 20, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  22. Blood on the Beach

    Blood on the Beach horror convention taking over Virginia Beach, Va, April 20-22, 2012
    http://www.bloodonthebeach.net

    October 19, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  23. Jason Beam

    As a former horror convention artist and rounder – this was a wonderfully accurate article.

    October 19, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  24. Tha Chikin

    Yah know... I had no idea there was such a thing as a "Horror nerd". Well, I don't totally geek out like those that dress up at conventions but, in my own way, I definitely geek it up!! That said, every "horror nerd" almost always has a screw or two loose... and PROUD OF IT! We are all looking for that next scare, shot of adrenalin... the fight or flight roller coaster ride by merely sitting in a chair with a bag of popcorn. In the immortal words of Ash from Army of Darkness: YEAAAAHHHH BABEH!!

    See, I have seen pretty much every horror movie known to man and I have been waiting for years for a movie to scare the pants off me. I am not talking about a few shrieks here and there... I mean the type of movie that is so terrifying, I have to go out into the lobby for a breather, or when I go home, I am checking in the closet to make sure the "Boogey Man" isn't patiently waiting for the lights to go out. I wish someone in Hollywood would get with the program.

    October 19, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  25. Love it

    Loved this article. Me and my two best girlfriends spent our high school weekends watching B, C, D horror movies and eating fruit gummy snacks all night.

    We have silly one-liner jokes in reference to those movies (especially Hellraiser) that we still die laughing from. All three of us have always had a screw loose in that every single horror movie managed to be a comedy to us.

    We are now in our late 20's and nothing has changed but the addition of husbands and babies. My husband really doesn't get it at all.

    October 19, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  26. Blood on the Beach

    Blood on the Beach horror convention taking over Virginia Beach, Va, April 20-22, 2012
    http://www.bloodonthebeach.net

    October 19, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  27. Gene

    I could get into a slashfest set on Wall Street.

    October 19, 2011 at 1:12 pm |
  28. onipar

    I guess Aaron forgot to mention that horror nerds are also haters. Ha! :-) Pretty decent article. And I'll agree. I do prefer remaining on the fringe, as both a horror fan and writer.

    October 19, 2011 at 12:39 pm |
  29. NOT MY CHAIR

    wow there was a lot of name drops with no real acknowledge to the true fringe of horror. this was written rather unnerdy. where is the evil dead references? how about Lloyd Kaufman? they didn't even make an effort to what dawn of the dead they were referencing... crappy article written by some one with no idea what they are talking about

    October 19, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • Barb

      This --> Evil Dead

      October 19, 2011 at 2:02 pm |
    • burnout

      I actually think Evil Dead is soooo out there anymore that it's not fringe to talk about. It's not insidery. But I did go to his site and he has a very, very long interview with bruce campbell (and Romero actually) where they nerd out about Bubb hotep and Maniac Cop and Evil Dead. I think he had to be less nerdy for Cnn.

      October 19, 2011 at 10:39 pm |
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      September 12, 2012 at 12:40 pm |
  30. palintwit

    New movie : " Human Centipede 2 " starring the entire Palin family with special guest star Michele Bachmann bringing up the rear.

    October 19, 2011 at 11:37 am |
  31. nerd

    Couldn't make it past the first sentence. Go back to lecturing, you suck as a writer.

    October 19, 2011 at 11:32 am |
    • G$

      Agreed. Painful read. Tried multiple times, but could not get through the entire thing.

      October 19, 2011 at 11:56 am |
      • hironabokov

        oooh goodie the haters have come out to play. maybe they couldn't get past the first sentence since they never learned to read.

        October 19, 2011 at 10:41 pm |
  32. jables19

    Great article Aaron. I consider myself a fan but not a total geek to the genre. But I did recently write a blog about my favorite horror movies. Please feel free to check it out.

    http://www.triond.com/jables19

    October 19, 2011 at 11:20 am |