A Bloody Good Time 03.29.12: Defending The Horror Genre
Posted by Joseph Lee on 03.29.2012
From unrealistic monsters and gratuitous violence to dumb characters, plot recycling and more, the horror genre has a lot of criticism levied at it. 411's Joseph Lee takes a look at the criticisms and provides his own defense!
Opening Logo courtesy of Benjamin J. Colón (Soul Exodus)
Welcome to A Bloody Good Time.
Last week I gave you my favorite ten horror movie fights. Let's see your feedback.
TJM said: Im confused on how you reach that Predator is a horror movie.
I'll let Adrian answer this for me, as he helpfully did in comments section. He replied: Group get killed off one by one by monster. final person does battle with monster. sounds like a horror movie to me.
Wylun added: lol .. king kong vs godzilla.. sigh.. ya i love how they magically made king kong from having to climb the empire state building to actually being bigger than it in this film just to fight godzilla.. man. godzilla would of just stomped him.. movie over!
Yeah, and when you get into the history of that movie it's even more confusing. It was originally King Kong vs Frankenstein.
Dr. Toboggan said: Good list. Sucks that they don't make more horror movie mash-ups like Jason v. Freddy more often. Seems like a perfect idea for these sort of franchises. I remember a rumor going around for a while about a Jason/Freddy/Ash movie which would have been great.
It got turned into two comic series that are pretty great, although I prefer The Nightmare Warriors for managing to get as much continuity as possible into the story. It would never fly as a film, but it was fun to read.
Jon said: I'd be inclined to let you have your opinion about Jason "winning," but when the director of the movie himself has stated that Freddy was the real winner, it's hard to argue.
I'm a fan of Ronny Yu, but he also thought it was a good idea to replace Kane Hodder. Jason's in one piece and walking around at the end, Freddy's just a head. I can't fathom how one could say he won.
Two people complained that I didn't like Jason's fear of water in Freddy vs Jason, and rightfully pointed out that it was in his subconscious. I get that, really. It just rubs me the wrong way to have him all badass, ready to strike and some falling water (not even that much, mind you), stop him cold. If it was a rushing geyser, or even a lake that suddenly formed, that would make sense. I think had the way it played out looked dumb (and the writers agree in the His Name Was Jason documentary). Freddy taking Jason into his worst memory and drowning the child version, that was a much better way to get that into the movie, and I thought that was well handled. The fear of water could have been handled better, and probably would have made sense to more people if it was.
This week, I've decided to defend the horror genre against some common criticism that the mainstream world seems to have against it. This is no real set list, just things I've heard when I ask people why they don't want to watch the next Friday the 13th or why they have never seen The Exorcist. I asked friends, I looked up intellectual articles, etc. I'm don't have any kind of film degree, and I'm obviously not a professional critic. I'm just a lifelong horror fan who always feels dismayed when people look down on something I love.
Horror has always been the red-headed stepchild of film, and I've never understood why. I'd put some of the very best horror films (and I'm talking movies like Halloween or The Fly) against any of the Best Picture winners in terms of quality. But I'm not going to generalize and say that the only reason people hate the genre is because it makes them feel icky when someone dies in a violent manner. What I will say is that I'd rather watch a Chucky movie than an obvious Oscar bait film like Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Whatever that says about me, I don't care.
Let's look at some criticisms and I'll try to defend them as best I can.
Characters act stupid because it's a storytelling necessity to put them in danger.
This happens a lot in slasher movies. It is a necessity because the killer is out there, and you have to put that person out there in order to have them be the next victim. But not all horror is like this, as much as people would have you believe. Sometimes the evil event just happens to a nice, smart, well-meaning group of people. Take The Exorcist or Poltergeist. Nothing that happens to Reagan or the Freeling family is a result of their own actions, but malevolent forces that choose to attack them. Granted, those are considered some of the best of the genre, but I think it fits my point.
Not only that, but there are stupid character decisions in any genre. In the action film, the woman in distress almost always does something dumb to get captured, and the hero has to save her. In the romantic comedy, one of the leads (usually the male) does something stupid to endanger the relationship. I'd argue that it's human to be stupid once in a while, and there's a lot of stupid people who die as a result of their dumb decisions. Plus, being scared often doesn't lead to the most rational thinking anyway. You can say "I'd never crawl under the bed to get away from the killer" but you never know what you'd do in that situation until it happens.
Trust me, horror fans know that rules are always broken, and that's why there are constant lists and articles about horror rules. It's why Scream was a big hit with many.
Horror fans get enjoyment from senseless/meaningless/pointless violence and/or torture.
This is a little harder to defend because it's more a matter of taste. But I can say that it's unfair to generalize an entire genre because of a popular trend or movie style. Yes, there are films that are nothing but torture/killing. The Saw series comes to mind. But there are just as many good horror films that do not rely on violence or torture at all. There's not a drop of blood to be found in Robert Wise's The Haunting. Invasion of the Body Snatchers isn't even about actual death, it's about the fear of losing who you are, and that's terrifying.
Most people don't watch horror films to see gratuitous violence. There are some who do, and I'll admit to enjoying a good beheading every now and again (in fact, my favorite film of 2011, I Saw The Devil, has one of these). But most people watch to be scared. Now why would someone want to be scared? It's a release. If you have anxiety about something in your life, getting scared then laughing it off is a good release. So is watching something blow up, if action movies are your thing. I happen to enjoy both.
Everything's the same (plots, characters, scenarios).:
I could get really pretentious and point out the same basic story plots that have always existed, but it seems trivial and pointless to do so. I will go elsewhere, in other genres, to defend horror of this complaint. Yes, there are the usual same plots and scenarios that set up these horror films. But the best horror films, or the ones that are just really good, usually try to play with these conventions just a little. Horror fans don't blindly love the entire genre, and if a horror movie is lazy we will call it out for being so. I praised Insidious last year because when Rose Byrne wants to move out, instead of having the husband refuse because he thinks she's crazy (something that happens a lot), they do move out. It's a nice twist on a common convention.
But there are similar story types in countless other genres. Let's go back to the Best Pictures. Do you know how many war films won Best Picture? They may have been about different topics but they are all about war, and definitely fit those plot devices. The biopic is another genre that has the same basic plot points: the beginning, the early success, the rise to fame, troubles, redemption and/or tragic death. And that's just for the people that were in entertainment. Basically if you're going to criticize horror, you'd better be ready to criticize every other film genre, ever.
Loud noises tell when you should be scared.
I've never been a fan of the jump scare. This is the horror convention when the music gets really loud or there's a sudden crash to let you know that something is about to happen or something just happened. It's just there to make the person jump and it's not an actual scare. The actual scares come as a result of suspense and build to one terrifying moment that you either see or is implied off-screen. Anyone can throw a cat into frame and play a loud note on a piano, but it takes talent to make that actually work.
This is an odd criticism, like others on the list, because it's usually reserved as a blanket complaint for the genre when it really only applies to the films that are of lesser quality. Sure, even Halloween has the score kick in when Michael lunges out of the closet. But not only is that not the scariest moment in the film, it's really one once or twice that it happens in that movie. There are moments when there is no noise, at all, that are very scary. Another example is Jaws (the musical moment happens after, in fact). The scariest moment in the film has nothing to let you know it's about to happen. That shark just pops out of the water. It's possible to scare without loud noises, it's just that some filmmakers like to use the easier route. Don't blame an entire genre of film for something that's unfortunately common (especially in Hollywood), but not the rule.
Every horror movie ends with the villain winning or set-up for a sequel.
Okay, a friend suggested this one and I have to call him out on it because it's ridiculous. Yes, a lot of horror movies do this. But there's also a lot that don't. Horror fans don't like the happy ending for the most part, but usually will if it makes sense within the context of the story. Some of my favorite horror films end with a relatively happy ending with no indication that there will be a sequel: The Exorcist, Scream, Psycho, Near Dark and The Shining, just to name a few of the obvious choices. The endings aren't what you'd call happy (although some movies do have them), but they are definitive with good prevailing in the end. Although I would say that Near Dark is positively cheerful at the end, even though it earns it.
For a lot of horror movies employing the nihilistic ending, yeah, they do. But if the movie doesn't deserve it, it's just as bad as a movie ending happily that didn't deserve that and fans will call the film out on it. The Thing ends pretty ambiguously as to who is a Thing or not, but you're pretty sure that MacReady and Childs are both going to die. But that is the way it has to happen in regards to the story. As for the films that hope to become franchises...that's the makings of Hollywood and the studios usually push for that. That's because these films are marketable and obviously the filmmakers want to keep making money if successful. But it happens in other genres too, like action movies...and especially superhero films. It's the nature of the beast.
Horror movies today show too much.
This goes back to the violence thing above in a way, but it is true. There are a lot of horror films that rely on gore and showing the CGi monsters when it should be kept in shadow. This complaint is really more of my own as I like a good chiller that leaves it to your imagination as well. But I think this is more a complaint that is suited to film in general than the horror genre alone. Remember when romantic films didn't have sex scenes? Remember when comedies were about slapstick and puns and not dick and fart jokes?
There is something to be said for subtlety and the idea that "less is more". I agree wholeheartedly with that. But again, this is a problem with all genres of film and not just horror. Even then, there are still horror films that do not rely on showing everything just as there are comedy films that rely on smart humor and not poop jokes. Some of them have even come out recently, like the Paranormal Activity series. Do they show things? Yes, it would be a lie to say they didn't. But it is mostly confined to what you don't see. Some call that boring, but it's a means of building suspense.
Horror movies aren't scary because zombies/vampires/werewolves/ghosts aren't realistic.
If you think that supernatural horror is not scary, then that is your opinion and there's nothing I can say to change your mind. There are some horror films with these creatures that I do find scary, but if you don't, you don't. If you can't possibly get scared of something that can never and will next exist, then I can see how this is a valid complaint of those types of movies. But just because Freddy and Jason aren't real doesn't mean the genre as a whole isn't credible.
Not all horror relies on a movie monster to scare its audience or something that isn't real. Bereavement, from last year, uses a very real fear (child abduction) to kick-start its story about a very real type of fear (a psychopath). Both Silence of the Lambs and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre are loosely based on a real man that killed women and cut off their skin. The world has some very real monsters out there, and horror will exploit these stories when it can. If you think all horror is about the imaginary, you're not looking in the right places.
That's it for me. Heard any other complaints or have some of your own? I'll try my best to defend them. Leave some comments here on or my Twitter. Next week we will rank another horror series, as I tackle the Amityville Horror series. Trust me, that's harder than it sounds.
Closing Logo courtesy of Kyle Morton (get your own custom artwork and commissions at his Etsy account)
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