Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Horror vs. Psychological Thriller/Drama

What exactly is a horror movie? Well, as much as many people don’t like Wikipedia as a source, I have to agree with their definition of a horror film… they “are movies that strive to elicit the emotions of fear, horror and terror from viewers. Their plots frequently involve themes of death, the supernatural or mental illness. Many horror movies also include a central villain.” However, there are movies that use elements of horror to further stretch the plot or to make the movie more realistic. Normally, they are called psychological thrillers or just thrillers but something that has always caused controversy are the movies the fall on both the horror side of genre and the drama/thriller side of genre. There are some movies that I want to point out, to me, that should not be considered horror movies.

I do want to note that not every horror fan will agree on these charges. These are based on some research that I have done and looking on top 10 ‘horror’ movies lists.

First there is the psychological drama or thriller films that seem to always have a reputation of being a horror film. Films like, The Silence of the Lambs, Frailty, American Psycho and Hard Candy seem to be associated with the horror genre. Though I will agree that Silence does have depictions of blood, cannibalism and some jump out moments I don’t think it’s a horror movie. It’s a drama, it’s a crime drama and crime often involves these sorts of things. Hard Candy, I didn’t really get scared at all and the only shock value of that movie was the castration. American Psycho, it has lots of blood and violence but I see it more of a drama or a character study.

When you have films like Frailty or Seven, sure they have some pretty creepy imagery and some haunting scenes but in no way should it be a horror. I think it’s a horror themed drama/thriller. It’s real life horror but I don’t think it provokes the audience as much. However, Frailty is pretty close.

Then we have a confusion of sci-fi with horror, which, I can’t blame because some sci-fi crosses over smoothly with horror like The X-Files, Virus or Alien but movies like A Clockwork Orange, Aliens, Cloverfield and District 9… they are mainly sci-fi movies or sci-fi action movies. Alien is really a slasher in space and it keeps all the elements of a slasher but Aliens is more along the lines of action then anything else. I don’t know why Clockwork Orange appears in so many horror film entries when it’s really a sci-fi about a dystopian society much like Logan’s Run or Bladerunner. Cloverfield and District 9 are really just sci-fi action movies and as much as Cloverfield does have some jump out points, it’s more action than anything else.

Another thing that always seems to find it’s way into the horror section are films like Shaun of the Dead, Scary Movie and the recent film Zombieland. Though I am not even going to talk about Scary Movie, films like Shaun and Zombieland are really only comedy movies. They make you laugh more than they scare you and they have more comedy elements than anything else; they horror themed comedies no comedy themed horror films. An example of a comedy themed horror movie would be Scream or in some cases A Nightmare on Elm Street.

The only reason why I did this post is because I wanted to clarify some things and to state what I thought. Of course, if you look at it, a lot of movies have horror elements to them and I pointed that out in a beloved cartoon called Toy Story… but there is a fine line between having elements of a genre and being solely part of the genre.

Other movies I don't consider horror:
Donnie Darko
King Kong
Earth vs. The Flying Saucers
War of the Worlds
The Rocky Horror Picture Show
Pan's Labyrinth


The Divemistress said...

First off, great post. I sometimes find it hard to make the distinction between horror and thriller and I'm happy to see someone just come right out and state their opinion.


I will have to take issue with your comment about comedy and horror. I firmly place Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland in horror because, though light, they still address the same themes, both visual and vicseral, as their serious counterparts.

You are right, though, Scary Movie is best left alone.

Andre said...

BUT Scary Movie 3 is GENIUS! I think have talked about that before Rick- Scary Movie 3 will always make me laugh- but I can't stand any of the others...

Emily said...

Nice post on an issue that I can never really define. I like the definition of a horror film made specifically to elicit fear from its audience, but I can't really accept 'thriller' eing used for films more about their characters, since that seems like any 'good' horror films would get put in that category. The Exorcist is as much about the priest's struggle as it is about a little girl's head spinning, but I can't think of anybody that will call it a thriller.

My biggest problem comes when actors and film critics use the term 'thriler' simply as a cover, as if horror is such a dirty word that no A-list actor or 4 star film could possibly fall under its definition.

Post a Comment