Horror with Heart, a list and story by Aaron B Koontz

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Horror can be so many things to so many people, and I think that's part of what makes it so special. My first experiences in horror were sneaking around with friends to watch things like ALIEN or going to the drive-in with my family and sitting up on the moonroof of our car and turning around to the screen behind me to see A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. These were films that immediately threw me into this immersive, alternate world, with danger lurking behind every dark corner. I never knew I could feel so exhilarated watching a movie and in some ways I've been chasing that first high ever since. 

But then something happened. My neighbor passed along a VHS tape (which I quickly hid from my Christian mother) that contained three unknown horror films. To this day I still have no idea what the others were, because the third one changed my life. That film was EVIL DEAD 2

As much as I never knew I could feel the way I did watching ALIEN, this was an entirely different experience. I could be both scared and happy? Frightened but laughing? Fundamentally these might sound opposed to many, but when it comes to horror and comedy in particular, I really feel like they are two sides of the same coin. 

But when I started to examine why I liked this sub-genre so much it led me to the fundamental craft of a scare. You're building tension and releasing it, much like a set-up and punch-line of a joke. What I discovered is that while you can accomplish this with a joke, you also can with a well timed emotional beat. In the end, as filmmakers we are trying to create a false sense of safety that when you pull the rug out from under the audience it makes it just that much more jarring. 

Take TRAIN TO BUSAN for example. A film that is fast paced, action packed, scary and gory as hell, but also a film that might make you cry. Or LET THE RIGHT ONE IN that can be equal parts a touching, coming-of-age love story and a frightening vampire film that somehow still manages to tackle anti-bullying. And I defy anyone not to truly feel something when they use Morse code saying they love each other on that train. 

Or on the comedy side take TUCKER AND DALE VS EVIL. A film so rich and loving in the tropes it subverts but does so with gusto and gore. You can almost feel the fun the filmmakers are having leap at you like a well timed jump scare. Or HOUSEBOUND, a wonderful and underseen New Zealand riot that sets up every haunted house trope but playfully usurps it with clever twists, and well... heart. 

And in the end, that became the key word for me and subsequently my production company Paper Street Pictures. We want to make Horror with Heart. 

SCARE PACKAGE, THE PALE DOOR and the upcoming SORRY ABOUT THE DEMON are examples of this. These are films that are crafted to make you laugh or make you cry but at their core are still designed to be fun and heartfelt.

Because in the end, that's what the best horror was to me. EVIL DEAD 2 was an escape. It was this vehicle for me to leave this world for 90 minutes and experience something so surprising and entertaining so that no matter what real terrors we might have in our daily lives, these cinematic terrors could replace them. And in truly effective examples maybe even give me the tools to better handle that world after the credits rolled. After all, Roger Ebert famously said that movies are the ultimate empathy machine and horror I feel exemplifies this on the highest stress filled levels. 

So what is Horror with Heart? It's not easily defined. But I think you know it when you see it and to help, I've created a list of twenty films that I think epitomize it. 

In the end, these films may make you laugh, or cry, or shriek (or all of the above) but they'll always make you smile. And I feel like the world could use a little more of that these days. So join me and lets' bring back fun horror. Let's usher in a new era... of Horror with Heart

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A former producer at Universal Studios Production Group with two decades in the film industry, including key crew on multiple studio features, Aaron set out to create his own production outlet, founding the boutique genre studio Paper Street Pictures in 2012.

With Paper Street, Aaron has written, directed, and produced multiple genre bending films, including CAMERA OBSCURA, a psychological thriller released by NBC/Universal, SCARE PACKAGE, the cult hit horror-comedy anthology via AMC's SHUDDER, as well as THE PALE DOOR a horror-western he co-created with renowned author Joe R. Lansdale with RLJE Films.

In 2014, Aaron was a producer on the SXSW Midnighter STARRY EYES, and is currently leading the Producing team for a horror doc and in post of five other horror-thriller films, including the Lucky McKee directed and Stephen Lang starred thriller OLD MAN, the Alicia Silverstone lead shark infested thriller THE REQUIN, Emily Hagin's coming-of-age Horror Comedy SORRY ABOUT THE DEMON and a horror adaption of the growing internet mystery SHELBY OAKS from YouTuber Chris Stuckmann.  

Aaron's most recent venture is founding and launching the Genre consulting firm Blood Oath alongside multiple horror industry veterans, geared at helping both experienced and new voices in horror through their mantra of "Making Scary Movies, Less Scary to Make". Blood Oath already has four films in post now including the Tony Todd and Tobin Bell Sci-Fi Horror THE BUNKER. 

You can follow Aaron on Facebook, Instagram, Letterboxd, and Twitter.