Today marks the 20th anniversary of David Fincher’s phenomenal thriller/horror Se7en, which featured the amazing cast of Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, R. Lee Ermey, and Kevin Spacey. It’s a movie that has withstood the test of time, one of those rare 90’s films that doesn’t feel dated or any less relevant as time as passed.
However, there are many horror fans who adamantly state that the film is not horror and I just don’t get it. It’s a serial killer that offs people based on the seven deadly sins. It’s gory, it’s horrifying, and it’s got an ending that still haunts people to this day.
In fact, it’s not just Se7en. There are a slew of other incredible films that are apparently “not horror”, according to comments I’ve received based on my “What are the Most Beautiful Horror Films?” piece. Many people wondered why I put The Cell and Pan’s Labyrinth of the list when there were far more “appropriate” choices.
And you know what? This whole “it’s not horror” argument? It’s bullshit. It’s childish, melodramatic, and, worst of all, it fucks over us horror fans. Your need for purity is what is ultimately proving that horror is “bottom of the barrel” material. You disassociate from that which is intelligent and thought provoking so as to embrace the tried and true. Instead of accepting and embracing that films like Silence of the Lambs are horror ON TOP of being a psychological thriller, you’d rather push it to the side and laud films like Friday the 13th or Hostel, which are great films in their own right but they lack subtlety. A movie like Pan’s Labyrinth deals with conceptual horror while Friday the 13th deals with overt horror.
I was talking about this phenomenon with two other BD writers: Kalyn Corrigan and Daniel Baldwin. The three of us were all on the same page about our frustrations with this attitude. After all, why push a film out of the horror label when it could add some sense of validation to the genre? Some films can add such rich dimensions to horror and prove that us horror fans want more like it if we only embrace it. Daniel said something that wonderfully describes horror, saying that it’s “infinitely malleable”. It can be applied to drama, romance, sci-fi, comedy, action, etc…
I think it comes down to expectations. Many of us go into theaters expecting to get scared and then leave disappointed when we’re not. But that doesn’t mean a film isn’t horror! For example, I saw Sinister in theaters and never got truly scared. Sure, I jumped at the lawnmower scene (who hasn’t?) but I never once felt a sense of dread or concern for the characters on the screen. Does that mean that Sinister isn’t horror? Of course not! It’s 100% a horror film!
Look, I can understand why some of you may think that Pan’s Laybrinth isn’t a horror movie, even though I respectfully disagree. But The Cell? Really?! It’s packed to the brim with some of the most inventive and insane horror visuals I’ve seen in a movie and the story is pretty damn interesting, even though the full execution may be a bit lacking. The whole premise made it possible to show multiple full-fledged nightmares realized on the screen. Just look at this clip and tell me it’s not a horror film.
You know what the real problem is? When many horror fans are given something smart that isn’t overflowing with gore and viscera, it’s “not horror”. But then those same people complain that horror is too dumb and panders to the lowest common denominator. Guess what? You can’t have your cake and eat it too. Embrace horror movies that aren’t all about monsters/zombies/axe wielding psychopaths/creatures/whatever. Horror can be cerebral. In fact, that’s when it’s the most effective. It shouldn’t take an axe for fear to get into your head.