Most common comment we receive? “This isn’t a horror movie.” Let’s talk about that.
I’ve been writing for Bloody Disgusting for nearly two years now, for various other horror websites (starting with my own personal blog) for the past ten years, and I’ve been an active member of the online horror community for even longer. I spend most of my non-writing time interacting with fellow fans on social media, and one thing has become immediately clear to me in recent years: horror fans, by and large, aren’t quite sure what makes a horror movie, well, a horror movie.
Granted, there are certain films that are more action than horror and perhaps even more comedy than horror, which can make it tough to pin those movies down to one specific genre. But the sheer number of bona fide horror films that I’ve seen horror fans dismiss as “not horror movies” over the course of the past couple years, in particular, is staggering. Nearly every critically acclaimed horror film in recent years has been banished by a vocal group of fans, including The Babadook, It Follows, The Witch, Split and most recently, the now Oscar-nominated Get Out. The list goes on.
I recently penned a bit of a love letter to Mike Flanagan’s Before I Wake here on BD, and that too was dismissed in the comments section as being something less or something more than a horror film, depending on who was commenting. Some expressed that Before I Wake‘s focus on human drama made it *more* than a mere horror film – whatever the hell that really means – while others outright dismissed that it was even a horror movie at all. After all, if a movie can impact you on a deep emotional level, it surely can’t be a scary movie… right?
You can’t see my face right now, but I’m definitely rolling my eyes.
As for Get Out, which made headlines once again today for scoring multiple Academy Awards nominations, including Best freakin’ Picture, I was not at all surprised to see that our article about today’s big time victory resulted in a flurry of comments pointing out that no, actually, Get Out isn’t a horror movie. It’s a statement I’m having a lot of trouble even wrapping my head around, as the Get Out I saw was mostly definitely a horror film. Same goes for every aforementioned film, as well as nearly every film that comes up in this particular conversation – The Silence of the Lambs, to date the only horror film to ever win Best Picture, is still fighting the internet battle that Get Out is currently at the center of.
So where did so many horror fans get this idea that “horror” is a tiny box that only very specific films fit inside of, when horror has ALWAYS been a wide open playing field that allows writers and filmmakers to explore all facets of the human condition and experience? More specifically, why is Night of the Living Dead unquestionably a horror film, while a movie like Get Out is up for hot button social media debate? I’ve pondered questions such as these for quite some time, and the conclusion I’ve drawn is that it often comes down to one thing for many horror fans:
“If it didn’t scare ME, it’s not a horror movie!”
Take last year’s IT, for example, an adaptation of a terrifying Stephen King novel about a killer clown who literally eats children. Unquestionably a horror film, right? Well, believe it or not, I had many fans explain to me last year that IT actually wasn’t a horror movie! Whether they called it a “thriller,” a “supernatural fantasy,” a “dark drama” or whatever other description they were able to come up with to distance one of the genre’s biggest success stories from the genre they hold so near and dear, the sentiment that was driving those comments seemed to have been entirely derived from the fact that those fans simply were not scared by the movie. And if the killer clown movie didn’t scare them, then it wasn’t truly a horror movie.
It’s fine if any of the movies I’ve mentioned in this article didn’t scare you – what scares one person isn’t always going to scare another, it’s only natural – but to scrub them from the genre simply because they didn’t work for you, on whatever level, is to do a huge disservice to the genre at large. And if you’re going to take the stance that a horror movie, in order to be a true horror movie, needs to avoid focusing on human drama or imparting any social commentary, then guess what? George Romero didn’t make horror movies. Wes Craven didn’t either.
“Horror” is more than “killer in the woods chasing down topless teenagers,” SO MUCH MORE, and I can’t help but get a little depressed whenever an incredible horror movie is dismissed by so many fans simply because it dared to do something more than slice, dice and spew blood all over the screen. There are no rules within the horror genre, which is really the most wonderful thing about the genre. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead’s Spring and Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water may have been love stories above all else, but are they not still monster movies at the end of the day? Do they lose the right to call themselves creature features simply because there’s something more to them?
More than anything, “Horror” is a tone. A feeling. An umbrella for endless sub-genres. A deeply versatile means through which filmmakers can exorcise the demons we all deal with on a daily basis. George Romero’s flesh-eating zombies can be found in your local mall any day of the week. If you’ve been paying any attention to the news, you’d know that Jordan Peele’s racists are unfortunately all around us. Jennifer Kent’s Babadook? A representation of our grief. The titular “it” in David Robert Mitchell’s It Follows? That inescapable feeling of adolescence being shattered by the realization that death is breathing down our neck. These are all horror movies. All wonderful explorations of what horror can be, when filmmakers respect the genre enough to do more than grab the lowest hanging fruit it has to offer.
It’s time we all have that same level of respect for the genre we love. For the endless possibilities it provides. For the movies smart enough to explore those possibilities.
Slasher movies are great. But horror is so much more than blood and guts.