What the hinterlands of IMDb’s user reviews tell us about the human condition.
I’ve recently been enjoying the repeats of Tales Of The Unexpected on Sky Arts and after each episode, I like to go to IMDb to check out user reviews of what I’ve just seen. Some episodes have none, some have several. But my eye was caught by one reviewer who posted his opinions on many of the Tales.
He goes by the username of “poolandrews” and his reviews fascinated me not because they were especially well written, but because there were so many of them and they were all penned in a distinct, quite eccentric, style.
I clicked on his username to find out more about him. What I discovered intrigued me. Firstly, it seems he’s posted an incredible 3,554 reviews on the site. And the last one was eight years ago, on the final day of December 2012. Why did he suddenly stop…?
He has a ’Top Reviewer’ badge and has been an IMDb member for nineteen years. I looked at the blurb he’d written about himself. His full name is Paul Andrews and for his age, he wrote “Far too old”. He then created a template to which he added details about himself. So for ‘Best Asset’ he writes: “I don’t have any asset’s so it’s impossible for me to have a ‘best’ one”, and for ‘Worst Asset’ he writes, with the same incorrect use of the apostrophe, “I don’t have any asset’s”.
The black humour, if that’s what it is, gets considerably blacker a line down where under ‘Skeleton in the Closet’, he writes: “I used to slash my wrist’s [sic] with razor blades on a regular basis”. The following one exhibits no less self-loathing: under ‘Fave Places’, he writes, “The rock from which under I crawled.”
After a brief respite from darkness, where he lists his ‘fave food’ as “Fish n’ Chips”, he puts his ‘Occupation’ down as “Unemployed + scrounger = loser”. Under ‘Like’ there is “Watching horror/cult/trash/sci-fi films &/or telly programmes” and under ’Dislike’ there includes “not having a job, myself, not having any money”.
Under ‘Misc’: “I have Type A Diabetes & have to inject myself with Insulin up to four times a day, I have done this all my life & will probably have to continue injecting myself for the rest of it too,” and under ‘Ambition’: “To be a decent Human Being & make a Horror film!” Then he lists his favourite film quotes, some of his favourite films, and some that he hates.
My eyes then flicked down to the reviews themselves, and the regularity they were posted was amazing. There seemed to be a new one up every couple of days or so – and he posted a review of World Of The Dead: The Zombie Diaries 2 (2011), which he awarded 3/10, on Christmas Day 2012!
The headlines for his reviews display his character. For Dredd (2012): “Watchable but nothing special, I was a bit disappointed really.” For Jersey Shore Shark Attack (2012): “Absolutely terrible yet strangely amusing & witty at times.” For Arachnoquake: “Why do I keep watching this SyFy Channel crap?”. Dead Heist (2007): “Surprisingly I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would.” Zone Of The Dead (2009): “The first ever Serbian zombie film & it’s crap.” House Of Bones (2010): “Better than usual SyFy Channel horror film, it’s still pretty bad though.” There’s a lot of “Not as bad as I expected.”
His star rating system is perhaps a little askew. He gives The Garbage Pail Kids Movie (1987) 5/10 but his headline reads “Garbage indeed…”, whereas he awards Piranha 3DD (2012) 6/10 and writes “I thought it was great”. After a while, you find his writing style quite endearing; he seems to know his stuff, and there’s no denying the plucky effort he puts into creating the posts. There’s a reasonable amount of variety too: Midsomer Murders sits alongside Grade-Z horror dreck, Quincy ME, old Doctor Who, the aforementioned Tales Of The Unexpected, and much else besides.
I kept scrolling, delving further into his past scribblings. Then I twigged that I could see the very first review he’d posted by flipping the arrow on ‘Review Date’. His debut review is of Sister Street Fighter (1974), which he posted on 16 September 2001 (“Good, if you like this sort of thing”), so that meant that he was posting reviews for eleven and a half years at an average of [gets abacus out] nearly one a day (approximately 0.8 a day). And many of them are pretty lengthy (with lots written as one huge paragraph). Delving deeper, doing my Jerry Thompson in Citizen Kane, I saw that there were gaps, one of almost two years between October 2002 and September 2004, meaning that on many days he posted several reviews. Probing further, I noted that he’d only given three films the maximum 10: Ms 45 (1981), Killer Klowns From Outer Space (1988) and Braindead (1992). In contrast, he gives a few hundred films the lowest rating of 1/10, including several films by Jess Franco, whom he dislikes.
So, this is the world of poolandrews, and I have so many questions: why did he endure so many movies he knew he’d hate? Why did he write so much about them? What else did he do in his life? Where did he manage to find such a ready supply of movies (particularly in the early 2000s)? How could he afford it?!
And: why did he stop? I want to find my ‘Rosebud’.
But that may be an impossible mission, so I’m going to put my amateur psychologist hat on now, because I can’t tell you how intriguing I find all this. Am I weird for doing so, or does it reflect well on me because it shows I care about my fellow human beings? Maybe it’s that Paul represented one part of my personality, and if the dice of life had been thrown just a tiny bit differently, I would have been him. So I posit the following:
Paul was a lonely person, probably overweight, who struggled at school to both achieve academic qualifications and to fit in socially with his fellows. He was bullied, that most vile of child activities. After leaving school he found it difficult to hold down jobs, going from one poorly paid, menial occupation to the next, and when he could find work, which he would have disliked, he came home every night to take refuge in food, movies and the internet. Then he drifted out of work, and thus society, altogether.
There was the self-loathing. Why else would a person subject themselves to experiences they knew they would not enjoy? And there was the appeal of addiction. And addiction is, in a sense, easy. Relationships are hard; keeping a marriage together is hard; doing a pressurised job is hard; tending to the needs of your children is hard. Watching movies and writing about them is easy. I should know – I’ve been doing it for years, and my film review blog currently has 6,619 entries, albeit shortish ones. Horror, fantasy and sci-fi movies represent the ultimate escape: they are very far from reality and therefore easier to digest. An erotic coating makes them more pleasurable still, as the viewer is treated to sights they could never possibly hope to see in their real life and be witness to unrealistic scenarios that they can then imagine to be possible.
Paul escaped from this cruel world, this vale of tears, this nasty, brutish, short life full of misery, into another that offered the comfort he could never feel in the real one. No matter that he endured bad films – what were they in comparison to bad life – the insults, the sneers, the rejections, the contempt. Movies would pass before his eyes as he munched on his messy takeaway or his high-calorie microwave meals (I don’t think he drank), and for a couple of hours, he could be free of unpleasing reality. Writing the reviews on IMDb was an extension of the escape and made him feel part of a community – we all need to feel like we belong, it is one of the main human needs.
And then Paul died. Which is why the entries stopped.
Or did he? I don’t know. Everything I’ve just written is conjecture (possibly I’ve got all sorts wrong), something from the point of view of an amateur (stress on the ‘amateur’) psychologist who suspects that he could be just a few steps away from being Paul.
Maybe Paul found his great love, or the job he always wanted, and dedicated himself to one of those things, throwing off his old life. Except he didn’t. Probably. Paul’s talk of his diabetes makes me think that his ill health got the better of him (or the worse of him), and he succumbed. But I hope I’m wrong – and Paul, if you’re reading, get in touch. Or if you know of Paul, who lived in Redditch, Worcs, West Midlands, please do get in touch to tell all.
Life’s a weighty challenge, we all cower under it afresh each morning, and who’s to say that whatever we choose to nullify its barbarism is the right or wrong way? I don’t condemn anybody for the weapon of combat they choose – and I’d like to thank Paul for taking the time to give something to the world in the shape of his 3,554 IMDb reviews.
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