My mind is currently brewing over what mere 31 movies to cast my vote for in 31 Greatest Horror Movies: Survey Announcement by Ed Hardy, Jr.
Mind you, I've noted (or at least hinted) that I'm feeling generally burnt out on both lists and horror movies, so it's not without hesitation that I'm choosing to participate. Unfortunately, I understand that the October timing is too good to pass up, and I'd very much like to support the idea of getting more horror titles out there for people to see and support.
The trouble comes for me is this number. 31. Yes, I get it.
I could write a list of 100 horror movies I love and still be disappointed at what was missing. Less than a third of that?
Making it even more of a challenge is the openness of the rules, "as for the definition of what makes a horror film, it’s entirely open to your own interpretation. Perhaps you think it’s a sense of creeping dread established by the tone. As far as I’m concerned, slashers, giallo, horror comedies/parodies, and any movie with a ghost, ghoul, zombie, vampire, or werewolf fit the bill."
Well, to make it easier for myself, I'm going to define a horror movie.
For one thing, I'm not comfortable with nebulous genre definitions. It allows a lot of room for people to sneak things in, and more importantly, out of genres for commercial or critical reasons and merely confuse the marketplace, both commercially and critically. Under these nebulous definitions, things are judged more or less harshly based on things that seem clearly not to be the intention of the work.
This is my definition of a horror movie. I don't get into it too often, because it gets me in trouble with other horror fans. With horror always being put off in a grungy closet, the disreputable inbred cousin of other kinds of stories, it's all too common for fans and creators of works that either are horror or at least within that realm to run to other more "respectable" labels such as "supernatural thriller".
I'll get to my definition, but let me be clear here, "supernatural thriller" pretty much covers how I'm going to define "horror". That's a label specifically designed by liars and cowards. It does not exist, in any manner of speaking, as something different from "horror". Anyone, fan or creator, who tells you different is either a liar, a coward or both.
That said, my definition knocks several things off the list of subgenres that are popularly considered under the umbrella of "horror".
Here goes. I define "horror" as "a story primarily intended to generate fear by use of, or suggestion of, supernatural, or otherwise otherworldly, forces working against humans or humanity as a whole."
As some of you noticed, I knocked a whole lot of popular horror movies off the list, although arguments could be made on some. Is Dawn of the Dead primarily intended to generate fear? Does The Wicker Man suggest supernatural, or otherwise otherworldly, forces? It's probably impossible to create a definition that doesn't leave some wiggle room around the edges.
But it does absolutely knock The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a movie likely to place well on the final list, off. So, what is it? I figure it's a thriller. Perhaps, if other people followed me in this, which they most certainly won't, then I'd suggest a subgenre for it to fit into, perhaps something like "hard thriller".
It also eliminates a whole lot of movies such as 28 Days Later and Night Watch, whose primary aims seem clearly to be other than generating fear. As notes, this can be tough in many cases to put your finger on, but I think it's actually the most important part. I can't tell you how many times I've had to endure complaints from people that movies like these "aren't scary", and I get stuck in a circular argument with them in which I have to explain that it they work on so many other levels and it's clear that generating fear wasn't the primary goal of the creators.
These movies, for what it's worth, are fantastique, dark fantasy. Sadly, a term out of vogue and one that, when used, often makes the user sound utterly pretentious. Until someone decides to coin a term that sounds more comfortable in the English vernacular, however, it's what we have.
Interesting, what becomes clear to me in writing this is that the larger genres are the "thriller" and "fantastique", and "horror" is, in my opinion, the subgenre that brings the two together. I accept that most people disagree, most in principle and nearly all in practice.