Random Thoughts: What’s in a Name?

My friend sent me an interesting email last week:

I had a long discussion with my co-workers about horror movies today at lunch. I guess it started b/c I was talking about how [the friend we watched The Exorcist with] says he’s never seen a horror movie…. and that turned into a discussion of what IS a horror movie. [the same friend] has seen Alien (I think?), but said he thought of it as sci-fi, not horror. So, that got us to talking…. [My co-worker], fascinatingly enough, thinks horror MUST include an element of the supernatural. Anything else — like Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Cujo – is just a thriller. Whereas I’m more of the thought that it depends on a movie’s INTENTION — if the intention is to scare you (or, in some cases, just to gross you out), then I’d say it’s a horror movie. Whereas suspense/thrillers don’t scare so much as just keep you at the edge of your seat b/c you don’t know what’s going to happen.

Personally, I think her co-worker’s definition is a bit narrow, and I’ll use an example to demonstrate my reasoning. In Friday the 13th parts two through four, Jason, the killer, is a normal human being… when he comes back in parts three and four it is implied that the heroin in these movies never struck a killing blow… yes, he was gravely injured, but not fatally so. In part six (I skipped over part five (and this may be a spoiler, but I’m actually saving you some time here, so don’t worry about it) Jason is actually not the killer… it is just someone dressing up like him) he comes back to life when his corpse is struck by lightning (long story, don’t ask)… at this point Jason becomes a supernatural entity. Therefore, by my friend’s co-worker’s definition, Friday the 13th parts two through five are suspense/thriller movies while from part six on (not counting the 2009 reboot) the movies switch to the horror genre. It’s not totally unheard of for a movie series to switch genres. For example, I think Alien is a fairly clear horror film, while Aliens feels more like a sci-fi/action movie (and if you treat The Hangover Part III as a thriller instead of a comedy it makes much more sense… it’s not any better, it just doesn’t seem as disjointed). The difference I see here, though, is that the tone Friday the 13th doesn’t change from one movie to the next. Therefore, to argue that the genre changes simply because Jason goes from a psychotic human to a psychotic zombie seems a bit like splitting hairs.

Here’s the thing though, I am not claiming to be an expert orator on horror movies. My opinion is simply based on working in a video store and watching hundreds of horror movies. In the end, I’m not sure if my or my friend’s definition is any better than her co-workers.

What are your thoughts?


One thought on “Random Thoughts: What’s in a Name?

  1. Is there a requirement for evil and violence of some sort in a horror? I think this might go alongside the intent thing – I’m thinking of Phone Booth as a thriller despite the presence (it could be argued) of evil and violence as the audience never fears for themselves watching that – it’s very much someone else’s experience, whereas watching The Grudge 2 in the cinema I was checking corners for any sign of that terrifying girl with her evil hair… I don’t know, but it’s an interesting question!


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