Horror movies are a staple in Hollywood, but there's one question about the genre that becomes a debate every time a horror movie that isn't pure, classic horror is successful: What exactly is considered "horror"? We're all too familiar with the familiar tropes: The creepy, disheveled lady dressed in white, the little girl who haunts the halls of an abandoned building, the poor possessed individual who spouts off biblical insults to scare off a brave priest, the serial killer. Movies that use those elements are unequivocally considered horror... but what about films that don't use them? What about horror films that dare to blend genres?
Movies like #GetOut, The Witch, mother! Goodnight Mommy, Cabin In The Woods and even It all employ different facets of the genre. They explore psychological, body and comedic horror in their own unique ways, and should therefore be considered #horror movies. Their goal is to delve into our psyche and take advantage of our greatest fears for the purpose of entertainment, after all.
Unfortunately, those types of movies are ultimately ignored as proper horror stories because we've gotten too used to the idea that the genre boils down to a couple of interchangeable tropes, familiar beats. #mother! is and Goodnight Mommy was more often described as a thriller rather than a horror movie, Get Out as social commentary piece more than anything else, and IT has been the focus of heavy debates on whether it actually is horror (come on, the movie's about a demonic, children-eating clown, of course it's horror) or '80s nostalgia or something else entirely.
The thing is, every major movie genre has its set of subgenres. Take the Marvel Cinematic Universe, for example. It's a superhero franchise, and its main goal is spectacle entertainment, but each of its films is its own genre. The first two Thor movies were fantasy, Ant-Man a heist film, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a political spy thriller, Spider-Man: Homecoming a high school romcom. The list goes on. Horror is the same, yet audiences are unwilling to accept the fluidity of horror in the way we do with other genres.
Ok... Why Does That Happen Exactly?
The human mind is a complex machine, so defining exactly what makes moviegoers unwilling to recognize horror films that highlight unexpected elements as horror is a tough venture. However, there are two noticeable factors: audience expectations and public perception. There's a very interesting double standard at work when it comes to what we ask for in a horror film when compared to other genres.
When we think about an action film, we don't just expect explosions, bullets and fight scenes. We also expect a certain level of heart and comedy to balance out all the excitement. Same with a drama. We aren't just looking for a heart-wrenching story. We also want some nuance to balance the heavy drama and probably tear-jerking storyline. In comparison, horror has become a one-sided genre.
People go to the movies with the specific purpose of being frightened. Most general moviegoers want to sit down, be scared, and then walk out two hours later. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong in wanting to do that (I do it all the time), but that narrow mindset has the potential to close the door on the genre growing, evolving, and becoming better.
Then there's the matter of how hardcore horror fans feel when the genre goes mainstream. Horror isn't exactly the pride of the movie industry; it's largely considered low budget and low brow. People are less surprised when pure horror successes like The Conjuring, Insidious and #AnnabelleCreation come around, but every now and then the genre catches people's attention with smart movies that tackle different subjects and points of view in a fresh way, such as the aforementioned Get Out or Cabin in the Woods. The thing is, that often doesn't sit well with followers of the genre, or film snobs.
Imagine you're a fan of an obscure music group. Nobody knows about them and you find great pride in that. But someone eventually takes notice of the group, and they pass it along to friends and family until the band goes mainstream. Odds are that if you felt great about liking a band nobody paid attention to, you're not going to be thrilled with others listening to it and making it something big. It's the quintessential hipster joke: I liked thing X before it was mainstream.
Yes, the genre is evolving and changing in some ways, but that's a good thing. The traditional scary films will always be there; the newer, smarter films are what help the genre from getting stagnant. We should be happy that horror is taking different shapes and exploring new horizons.
This Doesn't Mean You Should Like Every Different Horror Film That Comes Out
This isn't by any means a diatribe for those of you who just don't enjoy different types of horror films, because it's totally fine if you don't. I'm not a huge fan of Get Out, for example. It's a phenomenally well-done movie, but my personal immersion in it diminished a great deal after the second half revealed that Rose's family were kidnapping people to have their brains transported into their bodies in a creepy effort to live longer.
Same thing with mother! I don't like it when a film gets too heavy-handed with symbolism to the point where it becomes an unnerving metaphor that leaves you wondering what you just saw, as opposed to being a fully enjoyable, escapist moviegoing experience. But that's simply my personal preference. I can't deny the quality of these films or the fact that they're greatly needed variations of the horror genre; experimentation breeds evolution and evolution is great.
The film industry thrives with different ideas. Most of us are getting tired of the constant barrage of easy #horror movies that rely on a few jump scares and creepy apparitions before calling it a day, throwing originality or quality out the window. I'm happy to know that there are smart filmmakers out there making the effort to innovate with well planned twists on horror that actually make us think, ask questions, and realize the various different ways there are to embrace terror.
How do you feel about horror movies that ditch tradition horror tropes for a more unique storyline? Let me know in the comments!