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When is a horror movie not a horror movie?

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Posted 18th March 2011 at 05:04 PM by keirarts

Answer: When its a psychological thriller.
When its a meditation on faith.
When its a spiritual detective story.

Plainly and simply its when your a director whose made a horror film and your a little embarressed about the fact!

If like me, you spent your formative years in the late eighties and nineties, as the italian film industry wheezed its last and Horror all but dissappered you may have noticed how the genre was ometimes 're-defined. This was a subtle trick used by some companies to make damned sure the cinema going crowd were made aware the film they were about to see WAS IN NO WAY A HORROR MOVIE, no siree! So Seven became a psychological thriller (still hate that term) in spite of the fact it was at least dipping its toes into horror terratory as was silence of the lambs, another 'psychological thriller' which fooled me by making me think i'd just sat through a horror movie. Worst was scream, and ok I know theres some ardent horror fans who dont think that movie deserves the label horror, but it was a breath of fresh air as the nineties drew to a close with the promise that horror was not permenantly exiled to home video... but check out any promo material for the movie and brace yourself, yes thats right... IT WAS A PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER!! wey hey!!, so that means all those years spent watching freddy jason et al carving up teens I wasn't watching Horror at all but Psychological Thrillers, phew! thats my moral well being taken care of.
I've never understood why hollywood has such a downer on horror, in fact it's not something that occured to me in the last few years, what with hollywood churning out splatterfests like saw and hostel its easy to forget that actually the hollywood establishment doesent really care for horror.


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"oh no, i'm in a HORROR movie, call my agent!"



The whole thing came back to me not long ago, I'd just bought the Exorcist on Blu-ray (great transfer by the way, plus you get the FULL mark kermode documenatary Fear of god, not the cut down dvd version, back in the days before Mr kermode discoverd the culture show and a love for twighlight movies...but i digress) in the new documentary, we get more talking head stuff with William peter blatty, Linda blair and William friedkin discussing the movie,pretty much standard for this sorts of thing. Everything is going fine until all three of them decide to make it clear that the Exorcist IS NOT A HORROR MOVIE!
All those dumb categories I used at the top were not a joke, they actually USE all three in an attempt to distance the exorcist as far away as possible from even the merest hint that it is in any way part of the genre. Blatty complains that he's been unable to work in comedy because of everyones assumption that the film was a horror film, (and even though he made exorcist 3, which really is a much less classy, but still fun, horror movie.) and Linda blair, star of such tasteful and high quality cinematic outings as Savage streets, Bedroom eyes 2 and chained heat. Turns to the camera with a serious look and says "anyone who says The exorcist is a horror movie is Just WRONG".
Ok linda thats me told! You should know, you were in the PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER scream.

The thing is, in hollywood these kind of attuitudes actually seem quite common. I've watched my fair share of audi commentaries wher the director makes sure we all know "i don't like horror movies but...." and proceeds to tell us how he was attracted to the 'human element' or it was 'just a job' while he was planning his great american epic about the cripple who overcomes his disadvantage and nazis and escapes the holocaust to win the olympics for some orphans or something. Then when he's claiming his golden statue for generic oscar bait no147291 the world can see he's a legitimate creative talent and not some foaming sociopath that films murders for cash and career advancement. Check his film out, its already on youtube!



I think that this says a lot about hollywood, and a lot about the creative talent involved. Basically the assumption is that horror is dumb, violent and morally repugnant and debases all those who watch it, yet it makes cash so lets keep making em' we'll just rebrand the whole thing as a PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER and then nobody will think were evil!
This is limited thinking. unorigional, unimaginative and narrow minded and probably explains why 90% of hollywoods output today is mindless generic garbage.
Why can't a horror film be smart? Why cant a horror have something to say inbetween (or even during) the scares. Why can't horror involve deep human stories? If anything the exorcist proved you can, as have other great pictures including most of dario argento's early output, The entity, martin, Dawn of the dead... the list could go on. Hell even alejandro jodorowsky, the art house and counter culture darling is a major fan of the genre and turned out the astonishing Santa sangre as a homage to the genre.

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Santa Sangre (1989) - IMDb

So theres enough evidence out there to dismiss any notion that horror is a genre that is in some way beneath other genres.
As for the violence issue, well it never stopped them turning out action movies did it? And hollywood made its action stars huge, threw lots of money at them and were proud to let them be seen. Meanwhile studios like paramount were raking in the cash off films like friday the 13th while dismissing the genre out of hand if not trying to destroy it alltogether, and fox tried to bury argentos classic inferno, one of his most artistic pictures because its new executive decided that they wern't in the business of making horror.

Horror has been good to cinema and to studio's, universal established themselves with it's monsters franchise, and even the british film industry has never been stronger internationally than when hammer were busy showing the rest of the world what real horror was. Yet all to soon, like an ugly child horror is set aside or tolerated on the fringes of the mainstreams eyes where it can't get too unsightly, while it focuses its attentions on the prettier children.

I suppose its worth noting that not every hollywood player feels this way about the genre. While I doubt the Burning will be making any miramax highlights collections anytime soon, At least the weinsteins set up dimension to keep putting out horror, even if it has a habit of interfering with its creative talent. Ridley scott is loud and proud about alien being a horror movie, citing Texas chainsaw as a major influence, and MGM actually put out a decent edition of the burning not to mention its midnite movies label (which is fantastic!) though the studio is now sadly defunt. Finally worth mentioning is New line (also sadly defunct) who are more than happy to credit Freddy kruger as the man who built new line!

Today, horror is as alive as ever, and hopefully it will stay this way. Horror is to poular to ever die whatever hollywood tries, and thanks to digital filmaking theres lots of talented people making their own horror movies. Hollywood on the other hand is in crises, and its films are losing money so perhaps another major sea change is on the way? one can but hope.
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