No Title Productions Mar 17, 2024 0

What Makes a Horror Film?

Horror films are a mainstay of cinema, going back to Frankenstein and Dracula in the silent era through modern horror classics like The Exorcist and Jaws. They have the ability to make our skin crawl, our hearts beat faster and cause us to flinch and jump for joy (or cry in terror). But what makes a film a horror? And why do we keep coming back for more of those scary, gory and suspenseful thrills? Malcolm Turvey, an assistant professor of film and media studies at the University of Maryland and a lecturer on the history of horror movies, has some answers.

The horror genre is a protean form, encompassing subgenres such as supernatural horror (ghosts, demons and other spirits), psychological horror, body horror, splatter horror and slasher films, among others. Horror movies can also explore themes of melancholy, isolation, loneliness and madness. “Horror movies are a means of expressing emotions that may be too unpleasant to feel in everyday life,” Turvey said. “They can provide a safe space to feel these feelings in a controlled environment without having any real-life consequences.”

It is difficult to define what constitutes a horror movie, but there are certain features that all horror films must possess: a frightening or disturbing subject matter; an element of mystery; and the use of shock or fear to elicit a reaction from the audience. A horror film can be a thriller, a drama or a comedy, and it can be made for both adult and juvenile audiences.

During the Depression, Americans were looking for something to lift their spirits and the horror genre provided them with just that. Films such as It and The Wizard of Oz became instant classics by using their ability to scare viewers with monsters, ghouls and ghosts while offering hope for a better future.

The ’90s brought with them a new sub-genre of horror — found footage films. A famous example is The Blair Witch Project, which used a first-person point of view to create an immersive experience for the viewer and allowed them to see the world through the eyes of the monster. Science-fiction horror is another popular sub-genre, with such films as Alien and The Thing focusing on beings beyond our understanding of the universe.

Today, horror continues to fascinate audiences, with new films challenging what we think we know about our fears and frighten us in different ways. For instance, Ari Aster’s grueling fright-fest The Babadook tackles grief and depression while providing the audience with plenty of bloody thrills. And, Jordan Peele’s Sunken Place, which incorporates Biblical references, metaphorical rabbits and Daniel Kaluuya’s tearful wide-eyed look of disbelief as his character battles white doppelgangers, has become an instant classic.

With the right cast and director, even the most seemingly familiar horror film can be a fresh, thought-provoking treat. It’s no wonder that movies such as Stephen King’s It continue to rock the box office and that we can’t get enough of Bill Skarsgard’s creepy Pennywise in Andres Muschietti’s awe-inspiring adaptation.


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