By: Jackson Montalbano
As a movie buff, I enjoy films from nearly every genre, ranging from old westerns to stoner comedies to tear-jerking dramas. I even enjoy the occasional chick-flick (e.g. Mean Girls). However, I’ve long held a sharp disdain for horror movies. By horror, I mean a genre that utilizes supernatural, verging on unrealistic elements to elicit fear from the audience. Like many movie-goers, I’ve considered horror to be a “low brow” genre filled with poorly written scripts and even worse direction. In my experience, the typical horror movie is comparable to a merry-go-round: a shallow protagonist runs around town from a static monster who occasionally pops out dark corners to deliver cheap scares. While I admit this is an overgeneralization, Hollywood has provided plenty of support for this belief. The duds that come to mind are Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saw 1-6, The Hills Have Eyes, Pet Cemetery…the list goes on. My favorite movie critic, Roger Ebert, captured my feelings regarding these films and horror in general in his review of TCM, saying
“There is not a shred of a reason to see it. Those who defend it will have to dance through mental hoops of their own devising, defining its meanness and despair as ‘style’ or ‘vision’ or ‘a commentary on our world’. It is not a commentary on anything, except the marriage of slick technology with the materials of a geek show.”
Moreover, the majority of horror films seem more focused on making a quick buck with cheap production than providing a quality, thought-provoking experience.
In contrast, I thoroughly respect and enjoy horror’s neighboring genre, thriller. Although a broad classification, I consider thriller to be a genre that uses realistic elements to generate suspense and provoke excitement, anxiousness, or terror. Please note, however, that realism is not what attracts me to thriller and supernaturalism is not what repels me from horror. Rather, thrillers tend to actually contain some cinematic value. In an effort to generate suspense, thrillers contain complex plots and dynamic characters that draw the audience into their world. I’ve left many thrillers with my mind blown and my body shivering (Memento and Shutter Island come to mind), indicating just how engrossing thrillers really are.
Even though this classification sounds clear, there is, of course, a gray area between the genres. Many films trend on the line between horror and thriller, primarily because evaluating the realism of monsters is inherently subjective. For example, Silence of the Lambs walks the line between horror and thriller due to the nature of its antagonists, particularly Hannibal Lecter. Although Lecter is human, is he a realistic human? It’s tough to say, considering Lecter is both a terrifying cannibal and an ingenious psychiatrist. While both characteristics exist in our world, this combination seems to boarder on the impossible. To solve this dilemma in the past, I created a simple system of classification: I classified all good scary movies as thrillers and all bad scary movies as horror. I originally developed this philosophy to irritate my friends who like horror movies, but I honestly felt that it carried some truth.
This course, however, challenged my views through its presentation of Rosemary’s Baby. Like Roman Polanski’s other films (e.g. The Pianist), Rosemary’s Baby was right on cue. The plot was suspenseful, the characters were interesting, and the ending blew my mind. Accordingly, I initially classified it as thriller. Yet, this classification doesn’t hold considering the film stretches into supernatural territory with its inclusion of the devil. As a result, I reluctantly must make an admission: Rosemary’s Baby is a horror movie. More importantly, I actually enjoyed a horror movie. With this realization, it’s clear that this course has started swaying my opinion. While I’m not ready to embrace horror movies altogether, I’ll acknowledge that they can carry cinematic value. Maybe horror has been good all along and I just haven’t seen the right movies. Or maybe I’m just focusing too much on the duds and not enough on the classics. I’m not sure at this point, but I look forward to having my views challenged as the semester continues.