Hands Off Our Horror!

500 Days Of Film Reviews The Latest Spate Of Horror Genre Refusers

Among some sections of the film community, there exists a disdain for horror so great that certain movies are being recategorised - removed altogether from a genre that is considered to be a lesser artform.


The Sixth Sense and The VVitch are not horror movies, they are psychological thrillers. IT is a coming of age drama, mother! is a biblical art film and A Quiet Place is a survival thriller. Oh and, of course, Get Out is a comedy. 


Meanwhile, Silence Of The Lambs is a thriller because no horror movie could possibly win Best Picture at the Oscars - let alone Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. Let’s just ignore director Jonathan Demme’s references to horror classics such as Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre shall we? 


No, these films couldn’t possibly be horror movies. They are too stylish, too clever, too… well, too good. 



When forced to accept that certain films belong to the horror genre, many anti-horror (let’s be frank) snobs resort to distancing qualifiers. It Comes At Night is an example of “post horror”. Personal Shopper and Get Out are “elevated horror”.


However, as any (increasingly weary) horror fan will attest - dress them up anyway you like, these movies are all - first and foremost - horror films. They are influenced and inspired by the classic horrors of the past, contain (even as they subvert) traditional horror tropes and form part of the evolution of the horror genre.


Of course, a horror film can also be a thriller, a tale of survival or an art film. Many films belong to more than one category. A drama can also involve action, a real-life tale can include fantasy elements and, of course, a romantic film can also be a comedy.


In these examples, genre mashups are accepted for what they are - no one thinks less of a science fiction movie if it’s also a thriller, a comedy if it is also a drama. So why are some people so reluctant to acknowledge horror? 




Perhaps the difficulty lies in the very definition of the horror genre. In his interview with Mike Muncer on the Evolution Of Horror Podcast (one of my favourite movie pods), horror expert, Kim Newman, struggles to define the genre. 


If Newman, with his vast encyclopedic knowledge of horror, cannot pin down this definition then it is, perhaps, unwise for me to attempt the task. However, we all know (more or less) what we mean when we talk about the horror genre.


We are talking about the films that unsettle us, scare us or horrify us. Horror examines our deepest fears, our most disturbing nightmares. These films explore uncomfortable societal issues and confront taboos.


As a result, horror is one of the broadest film categories - ranging from intimate tales of terror to apocalyptic stories of survival. It is the sheer scope of the horror genre that has spawned the creation of so many sub-genres - including psychological horror, comedy horror, zombie horror, slasher horror, action horror and sci fi horror. 



As we have already noted, while sub-genres can be helpful, they are something of a mixed blessing. They can enable non-horror fans to recommend a horror film without endorsing a genre they feel is somehow unworthy of academic attention and serious consideration.


Why is the horror genre treated in this way?


On the Evolution Of Horror podcast, Kim Newman posits a theory. “It may well be that the name 'horror film' caught on because it was what the people in Britain who wanted them banned called them,” he explains. “It’s why the British Board of Film Censors brought in the ‘H’ certificate for horrific."


"This may be one of the reasons for the cultural cringe about horror," Newman continues. "It’s a genre that was named by its enemies. It was called horror by the people who wanted to suppress it.”  



So, what is the answer? 


Well, as many horror fans have long accepted, there’s just no changing the prejudiced minds of some anti-horror film commentators. There will always be those who want to deny horror movies and dismiss the genre as a whole. Sadly, they rarely keep these opinions to themselves. 


Of course, they are wrong. However, it is very much their loss. By refusing to agree that certain films belong to the horror genre they are surely missing out on key references, broader meanings and a wealth of incredible movies. 


So, I’ll just keep on loving and championing the horror genre. How can I not when it keeps evolving in such new and exciting ways? When it continues to surprise and challenge? When horror movies prove - more than any other genre - the value of the communal cinematic experience.


Over To You...

What do you think about the treatment of the horror genre?


Let me know by leaving a comment in the box below or you can find me on Twitter @500DaysOfFilm.

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Jane Douglas-Jones
Jane Douglas-Jones

E: jane@500daysoffilm.com


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