The Horror Crowd (2020)

The Horror Crowd first published by

Near the beginning of the documentary The Horror Crowd, its director Ruben Pla, talks to camera in a graffitied alleyway in Hollywood where, he states. “it all began for me.” Pla does not mean his career as an actor, which commenced over two decades earlier, but rather his initiation into Los Angeles’ incestuous genre community. For while in this alley helping out his friend Mike Mendez shoot an ultra-gory promotional trailer for a feature called Ov3rk!ll that to this day remains unmade, Pla met its second unit director James Wan, who asked him if he fancied a rôle in Wan’s feature Insidious (2010). The rest is history.

What is important about this anecdote, besides its personal touch, is the way that, in LA’s horror world, one connection quickly leads to another. As actor Lombardo Boyar (from Mendez’s Big Ass Spider!, 2013) later puts it, “You do it for the fun, to be in it, to be part of this cool community that keeps calling you back, and appreciates you.” Indeed, while in The Horror Crowd Pla covers a wider range of issues – like the nature of the genre, the state of the business, the place for POCs and women, and the genesis of horrific ideas – it becomes clear from both the way that Pla talks with his many subjects, and from his physical proximity to them, that these many horror directors, actors, writers, producers and journalists are not merely interviewees, but personal friends, appearing in Pla’s film as he has appeared in theirs. For this is a portrait of a network of horror-associated folk who enjoy an unusually tight and passionate bond with each other, as much social as professional – a band of misfits who love to work and play together.

In keeping with its presentation of the ‘horror crowd’ as a sort of extended family, several of Pla’s lines of inquiry focus on roots and relations, with topics like ‘A Parents’ Influence’, ‘Losing A Parent’ and ‘Becoming A Parent’ finding their way into the mix of questions, and five pairs of the subjects (Spooky Dan Walker and Tammy Sutton Walker, Sean Decker and Sarah Nicklin, Staci Layne Wilson and Aaron Kai, Chelsea Stardust and Sean Keller, Adam Gierasch and Jace Anderson, Darren Lynn Bousman and Laura Bousman) also being actual couples. 

Pla’s feature debut may be a conventional combination of talking heads (including Lin Shaye, Russel Mulcahy, Brea Grant and Ryan Turek, among many others) and film excerpts, but it is mixed together with infectious charm and affection, allowing the viewer to feel among friends, as part of the crowd – even if their favourite hangout the Jumpcut Cafe has now been converted into a sushi restaurant. Near the end of the film, the cafe is commemorated and its passing mourned as a symbol of an industry that is always changing, before one final section looks towards a future dominated by low budgets and the new theatre of streaming services.

Strap: Ruben Pla’s affectionate documentary shows Los Angeles’ horror community as a family of misfits who have all found each other.

Anton Bitel