Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Seedy Underbelly Of The Horror Blogging Community

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Have you ever read a glowingly positive review on the DVD cover of a horror movie and wondered how anyone in their right mind could truly feel that way about that particular movie? We all have different tastes, this much is true, but there are times when a horror movie is so bad that nobody but the director's mother could find anything to like about it and yet, even the worst of the worst movies seem to have those gushing quotes slapped all over the cover art. Three years ago, this is something that I always wondered about. Since starting my own blog and seeing just how the whole screener review system works, at least among dishonest individuals who have no respect for their readers, it's become quite clear to me why every horror movie ever made has at least one or two people who seem to love it. Now I don't like attacking other horror bloggers and I certaintly don't plan on naming any names here, but I just wanted to briefly touch upon this tonight and share with you folks some things i've learned through doing this for the past three years. So come take a walk with me through what I dramatically refer to as the seedy underbelly of this wonderful community. The only reason i'm ranting about this is because it's a community I love so much, one I hate to see bastardized.

How the whole screener thing works is like this. A blogger either requests a copy of an upcoming release they want to check out or is contacted by the company behind it asking if they want to review a copy. The blogger receives and watches the movie and then posts his review, which is either A) totally honest and true to his opinion of the film or B) dishonest and more enthusiastic about the film than he would've been if he didn't receive the movie for free, as a screener copy. Why would any blogger choose option B over option A and thus, blatantly slap their readers across the face with a big pink dildo? There are several reasons for that and though none of them are malicious or intended to hurt anyone, they all betray the trust of the readers, whether the readers know it or not, which is in my opinion the cardinal sin of blogging of any sort.

One possible reason why a blogger would be dishonest about their thoughts is simply because they want to remain in the good graces of the company or sometimes the director who sent them the film. They want to continue receiving screeners or want to build a friendship with that company/director that will result in them getting more perks down the road, so they choose praising movies they don't like over revealing their true thoughts, which could possibly result in relationships ended and screeners from that company no more sent to their homes, free of charge. I admit that getting free horror movies sent to my house is something that never ceases to make me geek out. It's the one form of payment most of us ever get from toiling away at this day after day and it's pretty damn awesome to not only get movies free, but to be able to watch them before everybody else. It makes ya feel good and it makes ya feel like you're a part of some kind of inner circle. Believe me, I completely understand not wanting to lose this privilege. But let me ask you this. Is it really worth lying to your readers and sacrificing your dignity all so that you can continue to get crappy movies you don't even like in the mail for free or maintain a friendly relationship with a company or director whose output you don't even dig? Think about that one.

The other main reason some bloggers fall into the trap of praising movies they don't really like is tied to the whole quote on the cover thing I talked about above; every horror blogger wants a quote of theirs printed onto the DVD art of a horror film. It's a sort of bucklet list goal for movie review bloggers, whether they admit it or not. It's the one way for a blogger to transcend their internet space and make it into print, thus boosting the ego and hopefully even driving traffic to their site. A quote of mine has never been used on the DVD of a movie but i'll be honest, it's something i've always in the back of my mind desired. But some horror bloggers want it a lot more than I do and they don't care if they have to lie to get it. So they watch an early screener of a movie that the official DVD of hasn't yet been created, they dislike it, but they decide to write up a positive review of it anyway, making sure to add in key phrases like "The Best Indie Horror Movie of the Year!", which are perfect fodder for DVD marketing. They e-mail it off to the company that's going to soon be putting the DVD together, (somehow) able to sleep at night under the notion that maybe, just maybe, their bullshit kiss ass review will end up being used to make the film look good. Oftentimes, it does. Naturally, those bloggers continue to do it. Why broke what aint fixed? Nobody can get inside my head and nobody will ever know that my reviews aren't honest. It's all about being on the cover, baby!

But again I ask; is there really any pride in having your untruthful words printed on the cover of a movie that you don't even like? As much as i'd love to see my words and the name "Freddy In Space" on the cover of a DVD, I would never want to endorse anything I didn't truly like, encouraging you guys and gals to go out and buy or rent a movie under false pretenses. I honestly wouldn't be able to sleep at night and I can't understand how anyone would be able to. Bribe me, pay me, do whatever you want to do to sway me; you're not getting me to type up untruthful words to my readers. Ever.

When it comes to movie blogging, you've gotta build up a certain level of trust with your readers and then and only then will they feel comfortable taking recommendations from you. I like to think that i've done this over the years and I can assure you that you will never read a word on this blog that doesn't reflect how I truly feel about something. I obviously could never guarantee that you'll always feel about movies how I felt about them, but I can promise you that you will always be reading my true feelings when you sit down to read one of my reviews. At the end of the day I don't care about getting my quotes on the cover of a movie or being in the good graces of anyone in the horror community (though both things are admittedly nice). It's all about being honest and telling it like I see it. That's all i'm interested in and if that gets me blacklisted from screener mailing lists or on the bad side of directors, I certaintly won't lose any sleep over it.

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To my fellow horror bloggers ... JUST BE HONEST. Stop making readers question the validity of all of our thoughts and focus on being truthful to your individual readers, above anything and everything else. I've always said that even though I am huge fanboy of someone like an Adam Green, and though it would be kinda painful, i'd be the first person to tell you if I didn't like something he made. Afterall, if my faithful readers can't trust the words that I print, then what the hell is the whole point of this blogging thing?

12 comments:

Jesse Lee Alan Bartel said...

Just like we talked about at work today son! BLOODLUST!

Jayson said...

Hell, I've only gotten two screeners in the lifespan of my blog! I don't even have the opportunity to shill! :P

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Definitely agree with everything you posted here. I, too, would love to have a quote on a DVD blurb or cover. But I'm not going to lie in order to make that happen. Sometimes I'll read very positive reviews for films I didn't think that were good, wondering if I missed something. Sometimes I watch the film again and still feel the same way, wondering if they're lying or they just like everything they see [which could be possible]. But I think trying to please filmmakers just to be in their good graces instead of telling loyal readers the truth is a big no-no as far as I'm concerned. If I don't like a film, you're gonna know I don't like it and why. It's just who I am. This issue probably won't change, but it's nice to see someone actually acknowledge it in an intelligent manner.

Bahnick said...

You forgot #3..the blogger uploads his screener of the movie to the torrents before its official release, helping the filmmakers lose millions of dollars and guaranteeing you get less screeners in the future, due to less films being made. :)

I've been quoted on film boxes of films I DID NOT like! Sometimes the filmmakers get very 'selective' with their phrasing and quotes, in order to have a more positive slant.
Great article though!

That being said, your upcoming video podcast debut is indeed The Best Film Of The Year. ;)

Slowdeath77 said...

Man when I saw the house of the dead poster I thought you found someone who gave a positive review of that film which would put that person on the take. Great post.

Dr. Jimmy Terror said...

I always try to curse as much as as possible in my blog thus preventing anything I write from being on the cover of any box.

The only box I wanna be on is Wheaties. Or maybe That rad Wax Eye version of a Wheaties box.

Good call. So is this Union official? Instead of a giant rat can we use a giant Crispin Glover in our picket lines?

Strange Kid said...

You hit it dead on, John. For most of us it takes years to ever get any sort of payoff for reviews, if ever. We do it for the love of the genre and once that little safeguard is gone all Hell can (and does) break loose.

I know that I personally try to be as forward and fair with the film and its director as possible. If a film is really that bad I'll tell the distributor or director straight: "Hey, I don't think you want me to print this" and give them the option.

Otherwise I try to find the good and the bad in every film because, really, no one wants to be slammed with a wave of negative criticism nor should a fake review be given to readers.

Caffeinated Joe said...

Totally agree with you, man. I have to be honest about the films I do get (only a very few, actually), cause otherwise I would feel like an ass.

By the way, can I use your "union of independent horror bloggers" pic on my page? Would be a good thing for the community to have on our sites, showing solidarity in being truthful.

Johnny said...

Joe - That graphic was made by my buddy Pax Romano (who runs the blog Billy Loves Stu) and it's meant to be put up on blogs so feel free to post it on yours!

Geof said...

I also totally thought what Slowdeath did until I read the post. From your lips (or is it fingertips?) to the whatever you believe in the universe's ears. Look no further to some of the reviews I have written which have either caused companies to stop sending me screeners of their distributed work or led to filmmakers going as far as un-friending me on Facebook. Like, ooohhh don't do that.

Listen, whether flicks are getting sent for free or not, I am going to say how I feel because in the end, it's my time that is ultimately compromised...and I don't have a lot of free time to spare. Also, I'm not getting paid for it and even if I was, I would still call it as I see it. When you send something out for review, there is a possibility that someone is not going to like it. That's reality. As a reviewer, if you don't like a film, at least keep the critiques meaningful and not just write "whoa that sucked" or "whoa that was lame." In the end, you need to be honest with people as a reviewer. It is only fair to those who, in turn, have their time compromised reading your review. It's all rolls downhill. Whether you lose getting free stuff, lose cred with the "community" or lose a "social media" friend, at least you are honest with your audience and still have your integrity. It is important to be honest (and fair) as the judge and jury of someone's work. Isn't that the fun in being a reviewer? Also, what a disservice to a filmmaker if you do not point out some flaw (in your humble opinion) that they could use to improve their next production.

Wow...sorry to rant on your rant, John...it's your post. I'm just reading it.

Mike/All Things Horror said...

We're at the point where more often than not we're contacted rather than seeing out films for review on our site. We received a film recently that I'll have a review of next week. When the DVD came in the director sent a note mentioning the budget then proceeded to ask that a) I not mention the budget and b) not publish a review if i didn't enjoy the film as it's in the process of "getting sold".

I'm sorry pal, but if i have to sit through an 1:40 slogfest that completely does away with the central conceit of the film in that fifteen minutes because you've painted yourself in a very uninteresting corner then you get what comes to you.

RobocopsSadSide said...

Great write-up. I don't receive screeners. Last time I did was many moons ago when I was doing write-ups for a website. I usually got the god-awful shit that every other staff member cared not to review, because I was the newbie.

Two I clearly remember: 1. A piece of shit vampire film called 'Fangs' that granted a generous 1 out of 4 cleavers. 2. The Wes Craven produced 'They'. My write-up of 'They' resulted in an email of the screenplay writer letting me know how wrong my negative review was, but he was actually nice about it. He had said that his original vision was strongly altered and gave me a run-down of how the film may have ended up had they stuck with his original script. It felt awesome. I felt bad for outing him for poor scripting, but he actually told me no harm done, because there was no possible way I could have known.

I'll always write truly, whether I hate the movie, love it, or just think it's passable. That's the only real way to do it. Never is everybody going to agree, and that's really one big beauty of it for me, because it creates awesome debates.