I was recently asked what my favorite scary movie was. Before I could answer, I was cut off and the question was clarified in the mind of the friend who asked it – “what’s your favorite gross out scary movie?”
Linda Blair, the most famous possessed girl of them all, once stated matter-of-factly of the film that made her a legendary icon, “Anybody who thinks this is a horror film is wrong.”
Oh, well, apologies to you, Ms. Blair. I’m amused to see that she never really went out of her way to make this declaration at the block-long lines that wrapped around theatres during The Exorcist’s reign of terror at cinemas across the country. Sure, this was in a time when “horror” was still considered a taboo genre, but c’mon. If The Exorcist isn’t horror, then nothing is.
The author of the book and screenwriter of the film, William Peter Blatty, took it up a notch on the ludicrous scale by claiming that he sees The Exorcist as a “supernatural detective story”.
Per the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary, one of the definitions of horror is “a literary or film genre concerned with arousing feelings of horror”.
I struggle to think of anything more horrifying that an innocent teen girl being taken over spiritually by the Devil. Or that same girl spider-walking down a staircase with her back bent backwards in a pose that would make even the most experience contortionist cringe. Call it whatever you like, but when stripped to the core, The Exorcist is what it is- a horror film.
The definition provided by Mirriam-Webster is a pretty broad one, and it is completely fitting for a genre that covers such a vast expanse.
The horror genre is without a doubt the most eclectic and diverse collection of celluloid in the industry. With so many different avenues of terror to choose from, it should come as no surprise that the genre has begun to get compartmentalized into subgenres. Now here’s where I pull out the soap box.
I feel as if the nitpicking that is often done when trying to place a horror film in ‘the right place’ actually does a great disservice to the film itself. One of my biggest issues with subgenres in horror is that so many films transcend any one specific label. While Halloween is definitely a slasher film, what would prevent it from being classified as a supernatural film? The antagonist cannot be killed and seemingly materializes from thin air. Is John Carpenter’s The Fog a supernatural or a monster film?
I can recommend a few true-blue horror films right off the top of my head- The Exorcist, Halloween and The Fog. See what I did there? No need for subgenres. They are horror movies- no need to try to squeeze them into one particular box. All I can assure you is that they will scare the crap out of you. Which is exactly what a good horror film should do.
When busting out the imaginary label maker, let’s keep things in perspective here. It is commonly accepted that there are four main genres of horror film- killers (Halloween, Hatchet, Friday the 13th, Psycho), monsters (Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Creature From The Black Lagoon), paranormal (Poltergeist, Insidious, The Changeling) and psychological (Rosemary’s Baby, Jacob’s Ladder, The Shining). I’m completely fine with those four broad terms being used to make it a little easier to decide which scary movie you’re going to watch with your loved one on a rainy night. While a few other genres can be championed as being on the same level as these four – namely zombie and torture porn due to their massive appeal and exposure over the last several decades or years, respectively – this is where the discussion starts to get muddled.
Personally, I am not sure exactly when the subgenre craze really hit the horror world hard, but it’s almost becoming dizzying to read how many subgenres are out there (or are being forcefully crammed into the horror library).
I certainly don’t have a problem with anyone preferring to categorize their horror films into specific subgenres, but please know this- if you come to my house, you will be treated to a collection of scary movies all on the same shelves. Ginger Snaps next to Let’s Scare Jessica to Death. The classic Hammer horrors beside the Alien franchise. Because it’s all horror, any way you slice it.
So I ask of you, dear horror fans- instead of running around with an imaginary label maker and insisting on compartmentalizing every film in the best damned genre in film history, let’s simply celebrate and appreciate these film as what they truly are- horror.