Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What Makes a Horror Film?

Bleeding Tree’s recently posted some thoughts on the definition of horror, as a result of trying to come up with his list for the 31 Greatest Horror Films survey. He brings up some interesting points, although I disagree fundamentally with the definition he comes up with for himself, which is “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.”

I am excited that the possibly banal exercise of yet more list-making is provoking thought. Through the list of films we nominate and ultimately include in our list of 31 Greatest Horror Films, we will be—as a community—coming up with a definition of horror, in a way. We’ll be saying that these 31 films represent the history of horror—the best it has to offer.

As we go about doing that, I’d like to hear what guidelines each of you is using to determine your own lists. As Bleeding Tree quotes me saying in the original announcement for the survey, “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.” I’m already taking flack for the all-inclusiveness of this statement, and I do agree that genre definitions are important and useful tools in film criticism. So let me hear it: What makes a horror film?

UPDATE: On that post I linked to above by Neil from Bleeding Tree, Piper from Lazy Eye Theatre posted a comment saying of the criteria he's using for inclusion on his list, "Anything that gives me the willies is in." I like that.

8 comments:

Neil Sarver said...

As I said in my comment in reply to yours, "quite pleased that you have chosen to keep the rules for the survey itself as loose as possible. That is more interesting, and offers a better chance for a greater variety, which should always be the goal of these kinds of lists."

I made my definition only for myself, although I do think it's as best I can do, accurate to what should be the best "definition". That said, there are plenty of movies outside of that definition I'd expect to see, and a few I'll even be hoping to see.

Ed Hardy, Jr. said...

Neil:
I certainly agree that "a greater variety... should always be the goal of these kinds of lists." What was the definition you set for yourself--or the criteria that you're using to determine which films to put on your list?

Neil Sarver said...

That's actually me in the link there. Hi!

Ed Hardy, Jr. said...

Duh, I knew that already. Guess that's what you get for commenting on the run from a coffeehouse...

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

I like the open-endedness of the criteria, I'm still fine tuning what I will include.. initially I thought anything I found scary could apply but people think I'm nuts that the top of that list is 2001....

Ed Hardy, Jr. said...

Shannon:

That's hilarious! My two best friends made their list together, and a massive argument ensued over whether 2001 could be included on that list or not. Eventually, the point was rendered moot because of the wealth of other choices, but I'm interested to know how that argument would have ended.

I wonder if 2001 fits under Neil's criteria?

Even though I'm calling the list 31 FLICKS THAT GIVE YOU THE WILLIES, my own list includes a few films that don't really set out to give anyone the willies so, yeah, the criteria remains pretty loose.

Neil Sarver said...

Well, if my rule were to catch on - and evidence suggests that, exactly as I would have predicted, it won't - I'd still hope that people would leave themselves room to interpret how they apply it.

Personally, I admit to being kind of curious of the question of 2001... for myself, I can't decide.

Ed Hardy, Jr. said...

Let's take 2001 and apply your criteria to it, Neil. Does the film suggest there are supernatural or otherworldly forces? Yes. Do they work against humanity in the film? Well, this is Kubrick. Is the story PRIMARILY interested in provoking fear in the viewer? Hmmm. I guess it depends on what you mean by "fear."

As for me, I definitely would not classify 2001 as horror. It pretty neatly resides in the sci-fi category as far as I'm concerned. (Not that they can't crossover--calm down EVENT HORIZON fans. I know, I know, and ALIEN.)