On Horror Movies

There are a few things I feel I should explain about my approach to horror movies. First, though I do enjoy the gorier ones (Evil Dead, The Descent, the remake of Dawn of the Dead), a horror movie need not be explicitly violent for me to regard it as a good film. In fact, my three favorite horror movies are each notably lacking in gore (though of course, they have their moments). They are, in no particular order, Nosferatu, Halloween (the original), and Night of the Living Dead. Now, obviously, they each have various moments that are violent or bloody or gory. But the significant point is that those moments are very few and very far between. And although movies like Re-Animator are fun, and certainly have a legitimate place in the horror pantheon, it is far too easy for a movie to go beyond the ideas of story or characters, and instead rely on as many brutal deaths as possible, with as much violence in between as possible. (It is notable that, although Saw and its sequels are arguably if not objectively more gruesome than many horror films, they maintain meaningful story and characters, at least for the first two or three.) And obviously, this is not intended to be framed as a binary system; I certainly do not mean to say that any gory film lacks story, and any film with good story lacks gore – indeed, Aliens and The Descent are other movies that expertly included both aspects. But I find that, typically, when I watch a movie that has a riveting plot and remarkable characters, I don’t care whether or not it’s violent, because the movie goes beyond needing it.

As far as the genre of “horror” goes, it is a wide-ranging and much-encompassing title. I find it also tends to overlap with many other genres – suspense/thriller, action, even comedy. But over the years of watching a large variety of movies, I’ve come to think of there being four sub-genres to horror, four themes that usually relegate a film to the status of “horror” – movies about psychological terror/suspense, movies featuring some sort of monster/creature, movies about disasters, and movies about paranormal/supernatural phenomena. Again, there is a good deal of overlap between the sub-genres – where do you draw the line between a creature movie and one centering around a supernatural monster? How do you separate the psychological terror many disaster movies angle at from the disaster aspects? What about a psychological terror caused by a monster? And of course the answer is you don’t make those distinctions, because ultimately, they’re irrelevant to the classification. Once you’re asking yourself those questions, you know you’re firmly in the horror neighborhood of movies. Just to give some examples, so we’re all on the same page – psychological terror/suspense: Silence of the Lambs, Se7en – creature/monster: Alien, Halloween, Jaws – disaster: Twister, The Core – paranormal/supernatural: The Ring, Night of the Demons. (The one point I want to stress right now too is that this relationship is one-way – while any horror movie will more or less fall into one of these four sub-genres, it is not necessarily true that every movie featuring paranormal/supernatural phenomena, for instance, is a horror movie.)

So that’s my basic approach to horror movies. In my posts, I have tried to follow this scheme to varying degrees. Feel free to dive right in and enjoy the reviews!

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