Horror: More Than Just a Genre

Carved pumpkin lantern

Autumn is my favourite season, all the vivid colours, the darkening days and of course one of my favourite holidays of the year – All Hallows Eve. Few other holidays provide us with the opportunity to pull out our finest fancy dress and vaguely threaten other people for sugary treats. Of course, Hallowe’en is also the perfect time to revisit all your favourite horror films or if you are feeling daring risk something new at the cinema.

Now, I don’t know about your reaction but when somebody asks me about the horror genre, my thoughts immediately flash to the supernatural; capes, fangs, fur and pointy hats. My favourite horror films tend to focus on vampires, werewolves and zombies. Yet, ask another person what their favourite horror film is and you might get a completely different response. Films such as Nosferatu (1922), The Shining (1980) and Hostel (2005) illustrate how widely diverse the horror genre has become. Horror is no longer exclusively focused on the supernatural, it encompasses a considerable range of ideas and characters that intended to not only frighten us but repulse us, provoke us and sometimes even make a political point about certain fears in our society.

Much like any genre, horror has to adapt to the changes occurring in society so that it remains relevant and entertaining for its audience. Indeed one of the finest examples of this type of adaption is provided by one of the horror classics of literature – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Shelley’s work is very much linked to the context of the era in which she was living. An era of scientific discovery where doctors and scientists were experimenting with exciting new ideas and techniques. Some of these scientific experiments, including the application of electricity to the human body, raised questions, which some people found disturbing, about issues of life and death. Shelley’s work masterfully played upon those fears of scientific knowledge and its consequences. I would argue that horror as a genre has continued to respond to particular fears in society. Films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) can be linked to growing concerns about space exploration at a time when the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union were entering into the Space Race. You could also argue that films such as Psycho (1960) and Rosemary’s Baby (1968) reflect an increasing preoccupation with the effects of parenting upon the individual.  Perhaps, most famously George Romero’s zombie films have been critically interpreted as commenting upon particular issues in society including racism (Night of the Living Dead), consumerism (Dawn of the Living Dead) and class conflict (Land of the Living Dead).

Another way in which horror continues to evolve relates to censorship and its interrelationships with other genres such as romance and comedy. Apparently, Alfred Hitchcock decided to film Psycho (1960) in black and white so that the infamous shower scene would escape the scissors of the censors. He was supposedly concerned that vivid red liquid splattering against the shower tiles would make the scene appear considerably more violent. Things have certainly changed since the 1960s! Over the decades, gore, blood and guts have come to play an increasingly important role in the production of some horror films such as the Saw franchise (2004-2010) and Hostel (2005). Some horror fans may approve of these changes but others may find themselves turning to a different subgenre of horror that focuses more on suspense and psychological fear such as The Sixth Sense (1999).

At the same time, horror and comedy have been mixed together with varying degrees of success in films as such as Shaun of the Dead (2004) and the Scary Movie franchise (2000-2006). Personally speaking, I’ve still never forgiven the friend who persuaded me that Shaun of the Dead was more comedy than horror – I still can’t watch that film on my own! Whilst some may appreciate the black humour of these adaptations, others may prefer their horror to take itself a bit more seriously. The Others (2001) is an excellent example of the tragic ghost story that still has a role to play in modern horror films. Proving its adaptability, horror has also been successfully produced for younger audiences with films such as Disney’s fabulous Hocus Pocus (1993) providing Hallowe’en entertainment for all of the family. More recently, the brilliant television series Young Dracula (2005-2012) has continued to blend supernatural creatures with adventure in a manner which proves horror doesn’t always require an 18 certificate.

It’s all very well for me to argue that the horror genre acts as a mirror reflecting societal fears (basically, a fancy way of saying we are all scared of different things!) or that it is one of the most adaptable and enduring genres but the real question is what does all of this mean as we approach our annual celebrations of ghosts and ghouls? Well, I guess if someone invites you to watch the latest film or television show that the horror genre has to offer then it might be cautious to check out exactly what type of horror you may end up watching!  If you were expecting something tragic and romantic like The Phantom of The Opera (2004) you may be slightly disconcerted by the events of A Clockwork Orange (1971)…

As a traditionalist, I prefer to stick to films where the villain can be easily conquered with some sharpened pieces of wood or an expensive silver bullet, so this Hallowe’en I’ll be settling down with some Van Helsing (2004), Dark Shadows (2012) and the new series of Young Dracula (2012). Why don’t you get in touch and tell us what you are going to be watching (or reading!) this Hallowe’en?

Red Hamilton (is packing a crossbow just in case of fangy visitors…) 

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One Response to Horror: More Than Just a Genre

  1. Pingback: A good old “HORROR!” | ★☆ Asfa Aftab | Journalist

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