Ginger Nuts of Horror
Later this summer, The Purge: Anarchy will make its way to the cinema, and many are already expecting the sequel to the popular 2013 original to be the best new horror film of the year. For my part, however, I was never entirely sure the original was a horror film. It certainly had scares, but conceptually it was almost more of a dark political thriller... I mean, really, it could almost have been tweaked into some kind of twisted sequel to V For Vendetta.
This got me thinking, however, about popular films over the years that have found themselves tossed into the "thriller/horror" or "action/horror" categories, and really there are dozens of examples. Here's my attempt to sort through 10 such examples and separate the true horror films from the genre blends.
1. The Cabin In The Woods (2012)
Let's set this one straight right off the bat: The Cabin In The Woods is more a film about horror films than a horror film itself. Yes, it has its scares (and its laughs), and it was billed as a horror, but it's a sort of meta-satire more than anything else.
2. You're Next (2011)
You're Next was met with mediocre reception. Rotten Tomatoes shows that just 59% of viewers liked the film, and Time Out magazine's review used the phrase "fairly routine brunette-fighting-for-survival stuff" to describe it.
Fair enough, but it's important to remember horror isn't meant to be ground-breaking. It's meant primarily to scare, and often to amuse in appropriate doses. To that end, You're Next accomplishes both feats. Many forget that there's usually a cheeky side to the best horror films—the humour lowers your guard, and the horror attacks—and You're Next respects this process. It's a genuine horror film.
3. The Hills Have Eyes (2006)
I actually count this as an underrated horror film from the past decade. It got decent reviews, but it seems already forgotten. This one is pure scare, pure adrenaline, and pure ghastliness. There's no thriller or mystery aspect; it's just raw horror.
4. Hannibal (2001)
It's been over a decade since Hannibal, and many remember only Anthony Hopkins' brilliantly chilling famous lines. It's easy to remember this film as a horror, but in truth it's more of a psychological thriller. It's designed to puzzle, to intrigue, rather than scare. At Picturebox's movie blog, the site recently covered the film while hosting it for streaming, and the writer focused on the "grace and menace" of the film. The grace is important in categorizing Hannibal, because it's almost too intelligent to be true horror.
5. Shutter Island (2010)
Shutter Island flirts with horror pretty seriously. In the end, it's more of a crime/thriller/drama type, but lengthy dream sequences featuring drowned children and bloodied spouses turning to ash are pretty chilling.
6. The Ring (2002)
Call me crazy, but The Ring is one of the best horror films of a generation. It's one of those films you're scared to admit scared you. There's a cheesiness to it, sure, but its brilliance is in getting you to scoff at it—much in the same way characters in the film scoff at the sinister videotape that seems to lead to everyone's death. A horror film that doesn't flat out demand your respect with roaring chainsaws can often earn it in more subtle ways.
7. Paranormal Activity (2007)
This is more an exploration in "found-footage" filmmaking than anything else, and in the first film, nothing happens for the first hour. It's actually pretty annoying, but because the film is designed only to scare, it has to be classified as horror.
8. Resident Evil (2002)
I'm listing Resident Evil for a very important reason. An IGN review of a Resident Evil game used the headline "Survival Horror vs. Action," and it's important to address the film in a similar context: horror, or action Resident Evil is a combat film, designed for a fast pace and action sequences. Zombies and mutated beings do not automatically equal genuine horror, and in this case it's simply a dark action flick.
9. Saw (2004)
Saw is viewed by many as one of the best horror films of the millennium, though it's also possible to argue that it's more of a psychological thriller. The two can coexist, but I'd lean toward this being a particularly intelligent horror film. Its only purpose is to terrify.
10. World War Z (2013)
I can't believe people are calling this a horror film. As with Resident Evil, zombies and fantasy beings do not automatically equal horror. This is sort of an action film, vaguely a comedy at times, and more than anything an excuse to watch Brad Pitt travel the world for a couple of hours. It's nowhere near horrifying.