Recently on Facebook, I had a friend that asked what do you consider to be horror/a horror film?
I felt compelled to chime in. My opinions are definitely based on watching various horror films and exploration of definitions and thoughts on the genre of horror. Thus, I don’t really consider my responses original or exceptional, but I would like to regurgitate what I have learned and have come to accept.
What is horror? More specific, What is a Horror Film?
The most basic definition of horror to me is film that plays on the fears of individuals or even a populace. The more detailed definition of horror that I have is actually borrowed from Hitchcock because he explained it beautifully – citing the differences between surprise and suspense.
Instead of just using Hitchcock’s example, let’s take for instance, the story segment called “The Crate” from the movie Creepshow starring Hal Halbrook and Adrienne Barbeau.
Hal plays a college professor named Henry Northrup and he’s married to a shrew of a wife named Billie (Barbeau). Henry’s best friend is another professor named Dexter Stanley.
Dexter is called by Janitor Mike regarding a crate he’s found while cleaning. Dexter and Mike drag the crate out from under the staircase, manhandle it onto a workbench in the basement chemistry lab, and set about opening it up.
Dexter believes that the crate will prove to contain dried-out plant specimens or some such thing, but he’s dead wrong. The specimen inside is an animal and it’s still alive! The creature makes short work of the janitor allowing Dexter enough time to exit.
We are surprised by the appearance of the creature and the attack of the janitor, but there is suspense that builds as we see have already had glimpse of the monster within and the building up of something ominous which is made real as the janitor is attacked. The suspense of the future of the janitor is further solidified by the dragging out of the janitor’s death as Dexter is scared and slowly tries to reach out to help the janitor only for the creature to finish working on it’s meal. It’s all the anticipation factor.
I believe that the best horror films are ones that build up the action. However, this is something exclusive to horror films. I like layers – who doesn’t. However, the great ones deal with moral danger, not just the physical – like the Romero films or Colin. However, not just zombies film explore more issues – even slashers like Friday the 13th – underage drinking, teenage mindset of invisibility, promiscuity, neglect, mental health, etc.