Trojan Horses at the Gates of Horror

Creepy Barn

Author’s note: 
The views of this blog and its corresponding podcast segment are strictly the views of Jay of the Dead. The sentiments contained herein do not necessarily (or probably don’t) reflect the feelings of Wolfman Josh, Dr. Shock, Dr. Walking Dead or Horror Movie Podcast and its community. 
 
But if you love the Horror genre, I hope you will read this article, or at least, listen to its accompanying audio podcast segment here in Episode 121, starting at
[ 00:57:14 ].
 
By Jay of the Dead  |  Horror Movie Podcast
 
You’re not going to read this entire article, so you might as well stop now, unless you’re Dead Serious About Horror Movies. Otherwise, settle in and prove your allegiance to the genre here and now. Below are three topics tackled within one article, because they are all related.
 
I. Yes, We Keep Fighting but for Good Reason
 
In classic Horror movie siege-narrative fashion, there are monsters at the gates, trying to get in to reach the Horror genre and its fans. That may sound dramatic, but “guard duty,” as with any regular duty, can be equally as tedious as it is important.
 
Recently, my friend Jeff Hammer, in essence, said that Horror film critics and podcasters do their audiences a disservice by constantly rehashing the arguments over whether a film is Horror or not. 
 
Alas, this article technically isn’t about judging whether a film is horror. It is, in part, about the crucial importance of always trying to make such assessments. We Horror fans tend to instinctively make these value judgments for the genre, and like any other inherent survival trait, our tendency to revisit this same old discussion, again and again, is for a good purpose: We are merely being Guardians At The Gate.
 
Please permit an odd but parallel illustration of this phenomenon from recent history: It was in April 1985 that The Coca-Cola Company made some drastic changes to its flagship product, Coca-Cola, and introduced “New Coke,” or as it was later renamed, “Coke II.”
 
The Coca-Cola Company’s intentions seemed innocent enough. They were simply trying fend off their competitors in a crowded marketplace by presumptuously “improving” their product and discontinuing the original version. Having lived through this marketing misstep in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I remember the critical outcry from consumers.
 
In fact, my memory of these events can vouch for the accuracy of Wikipedia’s entry that reads, “The American public’s reaction to the change was negative, even hostile, and the new cola was a major failure.” 
 
Though The Coca-Cola Company kept the New Coke on the market for a remarkably long time (until 2002!), it was within three months of the New Coke’s release that the company reintroduced the original formula to the market again, rebranding it as “Coca-Cola Classic.”
 
Sales for the returned original formula improved significantly, leading to conspiracy theories that the cola giant’s miscalculation was actually a “Don’t Know What Ya Got ’Til It’s Gone” marketing ploy… But as mentioned above (and I believe this), The Coca-Cola Company has always held that it was sincerely trying to improve and replace the original product. “Nope, nothing wrong here…”
 
Naturally, art is somewhat different from soft drink sales, but I think similar principles still apply. Filmmakers in the United States enjoy a wide range of creative and artistic freedoms through our country’s Constitutional rights, so I would never suggest that the Horror community try to restrict any artist’s vision through any sort of taste-making or gate-keeping. To clarify, the objective is not to “keep out,” rather, it is to identify.
 
I’m recommending that we continue to stand watch and be aware of what’s coming through our gates. As a Coca-Cola Classic lover myself, I can’t imagine a world in which The Coca-Cola Company produced Coke Classic, Coke II, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, etc., all in the same can, without any sort of distinguishing labeling. Even though I don’t personally enjoy any other incarnation of Coca-Cola, I’m not suggesting that all the other variations be discontinued … I’m simply saying it’s important to be able to differentiate between this flavor and the next, prior to purchasing.
 
So, while I love and respect my insightful friend and fellow Horror fan, Jeff Hammer, I must disagree that rehashing this same old argument is a disservice to the Horror community. In fact, I think it’s both healthy and helpful to our beloved genre (and its fans). What you’ve read thus far is a long-winded preface to a couple of important examples of the value in assessing the Horror genre.


 
II. Horror Isn’t Over Or: Making Up New Names for Things That Have Already Had Names for Decades
 
I must take issue with a recent, well-meaning article by Steve Rose that appeared at The Guardian.com on July 6, 2017. Go ahead and read the entire article linked above for yourself, but to summarize it, in short, Steve Rose suggests that “a new breed of horror” is creeping into and taking over the cinema. He says this new horror replaces jump-scares with existential dread, and he appears to have created a term to describe this new breed that he calls “Post-Horror.”
 
Now, I don’t know Steve Rose, but he seems to be a Horror fan who loves and appreciates the genre. Clearly, he thinks a lot about it, so he’s “my kind of people.” And in fact, I respect many aspects of what he tried to say in writing his article.
 
Unfortunately, I vehemently disagree with his term “Post-Horror,” and I think that designation could actually prove harmful to the genre. I would go so far as to recommend that we Horror fans reject that term and not use it. (Sorry, Steve.) I will explain why.
 
Upon reading the entire article, Mr. Rose doesn’t elaborate on why he chose the phrase “Post-Horror,” but I have a few theories… I wondered if he means “Post-Apocalyptic Horror” and has simply shortened it. Yes, Horror cinema has naturally undergone various transformations over the decades, reflecting the sufferings of societies around the world, whether it’s been the Great Depression, the Nuclear Age, myriad wars, or our new millennium’s worldwide “War on Terror.”
 
Not just in the United States, but all over the globe, the world changed after September 11, 2001. And I believe the glut of zombie, infected and other Post-Apocalyptic Horror narratives has been a reflection of that change. But even I’m not so ethnocentric as to suggest that we should call this film movement “Post-9/11 Horror.” That’s too narrow. Post-apocalyptic fears are universal the world over, and real-life horrors have been global long before 2001. Therefore, I could accept calling some of this new millennium’s era of horror movies “Post-Apocalyptic Horror.”
 
But Mr. Rose could have meant other things… 
 
I uncomfortable with the ambiguity of his term Post-Horror. So, if he’s using the prefix “post,” which means “after, subsequent, later,” then I really have a problem with that usage. Horror isn’t over. We are not in an era that is “after Horror.” And to suggest that we are — or to try to push that forward — is not good for our genre. 
 
Perhaps Rose was trying to coin a genre-specific term that’s something akin to the phrase “postmodern,” but I’m happy to report once again: Horror isn’t over, so that doesn’t work, either. We are not in an era where Horror no longer exists. IT’S ALIVE and well.
 
If Rose is referring to Post-Horror as “the aftermath of Horror,” or the remains of what’s left after Horror has already taken place, then that’s not Horror at all; that genre is called “Drama.” At the risk of being redundant, because I want to be clear: If a film begins when the victim-survivors are picking up the pieces after the Horror has all gone down, and they’re simply trying to cope and recover after a traumatic experience, that is no longer Horror. It’s Drama.

In Episode 081 of Horror Movie Podcast, I attempted to delineate the Horror genre into a classification system that encompassed all its sub-genres into three main categories: Classic Horror, Hybrid Horror and Primal Horror. 
 
Classic Horror includes traditional monster movies with vampires, werewolves, zombies, etc.
 
Hybrid Horror includes films that blend Horror sub-genres or other non-Horror genres with traditional Horror. 
 
And Primal Horror is my category for housing realistic, universal fears such as we find in the Survival Horror sub-genre. This last category fades out into the fringes and eventually crosses over into non-Horror genres, such as Thrillers and Dramas.

It Comes at Night
 
In his article, Rose lists a few films that he would consider to be a part of this new breed of Post-Horror, and they include “It Comes at Night,” “A Ghost Story,” “The Witch,” “Personal Shopper,” et al. In my review of “It Comes at Night,” I called it a “pure” survival Horror film because it is grounded in cold, gritty reality and speaks to primal, universal fears of self-preservation. To me, “It Comes at Night” is clearly in the Primal Horror category. 
 
Some people don’t consider “It Comes at Night” to be a Horror movie. They might classify it as a Thriller or a Drama. But regardless of where you categorize “It Comes at Night,” the terms Horror, Thriller or Drama can all sufficiently describe the film and no made-up, ambiguous term such as “Post-Horror” is necessary.
 
Consider the case of “The Witch.” That’s easy! Classic Horror. It has an actual witch in it who is terrorizing a family in the woods. Simple. It’s a Horror movie. It’s a “witch movie.” We don’t need to confuse matters by calling it “Post-Horror” or “Coke II.” 
 
Is “The Witch” grim? Yes. Is it bleak? Yes. Is it about a hidden enemy who stealthily infiltrates and destroys a family from within? Yes. Is “The Witch” reflective of our modern fears of having terrorist cells within our country, trying to destroy us from within? Yes. Well, that’s just good, old-fashioned Horror, my friends. While it is representative of the times we live in, it isn’t solely applicable to our era. We had the same themes in the ‘70s with “The Exorcist” or even in the ‘50s with “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” and so on.

The Witch
 
While I will be the first to admit that it’s fun to try to coin new academic phrases to try to analyze the Horror genre, I propose that we outright reject the term “Post-Horror,” because it is ambiguous, imprecise and incorrect. I personally prefer my phrase “Organic Horror” to describe a film like “It Comes at Night,” where the events of the film are not fantastical, but instead, are ultra-realistic and authentic in their verisimilitude, imitating our own natural world and everyday life experience. But again, I don’t need to make up a phrase like “Organic Horror,” because the designations Horror, Thriller and Drama are already sufficient.
 
Let’s continue to analyze the Horror genre, its new releases and any types of film movements that we can identify, but I propose that we reject and discontinue use of the term “Post-Horror.”


 
III. Don’t Let Them In (Unless You Know What They Truly Are)
 
First, a little context… 
 
There is an ancient, Latin epic poem (that I’ve never read) called the Aeneid, written by Virgil sometime between 29 and 19 BC. Supposedly, this is the primary source for the tale of the Trojan Horse. But most people probably learned about the Trojan Horse in Humanities class while reading Homer’s Odyssey.
 
In short, the story goes, during Greek mythology’s Trojan War, the Greeks built a gigantic wooden horse and hid a small team of soldiers inside in order to breach the strong walls of the city of Troy.
 
After the Greeks feigned retreat, the Trojans saw the horse outside their gates and brought it into the city as a victory trophy. But at night, the soldiers escaped from the horse and admitted the rest of the Greek army into the city. This shady horsing around led to the fall of the city of Troy.
 
I titled this article “Trojan Horses at the Gates of Horror.” As a devout Horror fan, I am concerned that something very similar to this equestrian stratagem is being employed to gain access and exploit the faithful Horror community. This trend is something that reinforces my feeling that we need to continue making determinations about what’s Horror and what’s not — or at least, what sort of sub-genre of Horror we’re dealing with.
 
We all know that many marketing entities and distributors have blurred the lines of genre to tempt Horror fans to rent or buy films that appear to be Horror. We are often disappointed when this happens, and I’m happy to say, I think the Horror community’s debates about what’s Horror and what’s not have helped to sound the alarm on the most egregious cases. Good.
 
But now I think there’s something even more insidious happening, where films will actually feature some of the trappings of Horror cinema (which is helpful for cutting Horror-looking trailers), but in reality, the film is something else entirely.
 
I predict we will see more and more films like this, because Horror is such a profitable genre with its loyally purchasing community. But for now, let’s consider one interesting case, a Trojan Horse of a film called “The Beguiled” from 2017, directed by Sofia Coppola.
 
The first thing I should mention, before we proceed any further is that this is a remake from a 1971 film of the same name, starring Clint Eastwood. Now, I have not seen Don Siegel’s original version of “The Beguiled” from 1971, but from what I can tell through my research, this new Coppola version appears to be the same story with little variation from the original.
 
Both films, 1971 and 2017, were adapted from a Thomas Cullinan novel, though this new incarnation credits the 1971 screenwriters, as well. At any rate, observing the aforementioned influences, Sofia Coppola took her own pass at writing this new version for the big screen.

The Beguiled

Now, I’d like for you to watch the trailer for “The Beguiled” (2017) and pay attention to its tone, its lighting, its soundtrack, and its red letters on pitch-black screens. After watching its trailer, “The Beguiled” ostensibly seems like a Horror film. At least, I believe it has been marketed as such. (By contrast, compare the trailer of the 1971 version.)
 
Well, Horror fans, I’m here to tell you that “The Beguiled” (2017) is not a Horror film. It’s actually a dark, Jane Austen-flavored, period piece Drama that could also be argued as a feminist film. “The Beguiled” is set during the American Civil War, when a Confederate women’s finishing school discovers a wounded Union soldier. They take him in to nurse the soldier back to health. This awkward arrangement leads to some romantic intrigue and other unpleasantness. That’s the premise.
 
I know many Horror fans, including me, were anxious to see this film, but what we have here is a classic bait-and-switch situation. And unfortunately, “The Beguiled” even goes farther beyond a marketing bait-and-switch… “The Beguiled” actually spends some of its runtime masquerading as a Drama Horror film. We all know that Horror movies are usually dimly lit. Heavy shadows cast an uneasy feeling of impending doom that lends to the paranoia of something hiding, ready to attack.
 
Since this is a realistic period piece set in 1864, Coppola uses candles and natural lighting. Upon watching the trailer of the 1971 film, however, you can see it is also a period piece. And yet Coppola’s version more closely resembles the modern Horror cinema of our day. I believe this was a deliberate choice.
 
In “The Beguiled,” there’s darkness in the cinematography, as well as in theme. There are a couple of disturbing, tragic and violent sequences that I suppose one could cite for arguing that “The Beguiled” (2017) is at least situated on the fringes of what I might refer to as Primal Horror or Organic Horror.
 
But honestly, I think most of the Horror community would just view this as a Jane Austen drama with a little bit of morbid grit.
 
I mentioned that I could argue that “The Beguiled” is a feminist film. (And one could certainly argue that it’s not.) I won’t get into that debate here, but assuming for a moment that it is a feminist film, I have a wild conspiracy theory… It’s probably bogus speculation, but my theory feeds into my Trojan Horse analogy.
 
What if Sofia Coppola intentionally chose to adapt this story specifically for its feminist slant? And what if she wanted to target the Horror genre and its viewers because Horror, unfortunately, is infamous for its objectification and violence toward women? (Have you ever had to administer a pill to a dog by coating it in peanut butter?) Well, in similar fashion, what if Coppola dressed this feminist “antidote” up in a Horror Halloween costume, Trojan Horse-style, to sneak “medicine” through the gates and into the Horror community?
 
I’m telling you, with Paul Revere-like earnestness, Trojan Horses are at the gates of Horror.
 
While I completely support gender equality and any sort of education or advocacy against chauvinism and violence toward women, I would condemn a Trojan Horse, “pill-in-the-peanut-butter” approach to getting messages through particular gates. I think important messages should be delivered, and I think their delivery should be bold and forthright.
 
To be clear, if Coppola ever read this article, she would think I’m as loony as you do. She was probably doing no such thing and just trying to make a great film. (Side note: As Dramas go, “The Beguiled” is a fine film. I rate it a 7 out of 10 and think people who appreciate dark Dramas should rent it.) But the fact remains, some films are being disguised as Horror now, and they are exploiting our community.
 
I have just acknowledged above that in modern cinema the lines between genres are blurring and are not nearly as distinct as they once were. Fine. But don’t market a Drama to me as a Horror film. It’s false advertising.
 
Of course I support artistic expression, freedom of speech, etc. As far as I’m concerned, filmmakers have every right make whatever kind of film they want — even a cinematic stillbirth like “Unfriended” (2015). But we Horror fans also have every right to therefore “call ‘em like we see ‘em,” which in the case of “The Beguiled,” it is a Trojan Horse at the gates of Horror.
 
In conclusion, let’s come full circle and finish where we started: Yes, we’re still fighting about the Horror genre, and I hope we always will because that’s exactly how we continue fighting for it.
 
Filmmakers, if you have a message in your film that you’d like to present to Horror fans, deliver it. One non-Trojan Horse, exemplary film is Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” (2017). That important film is replete with social commentary and insightful themes, but it’s also unequivocally a Horror movie.
 
If studios have a motion picture that they want to market to the Horror community, they just need to be straightforward with us. All I’m asking of studios, distributors and marketing departments is that you make sure the marketing represents the film.
 
And all I’m asking of the Horror community is to keep debating what’s Horror and what’s not; reject genre-undercutting, made-up words like “Post-Horror”; and help me publicly identify and properly characterize what’s coming down the pipeline in the Horror genre.

8 thoughts on “Trojan Horses at the Gates of Horror

  1. Hey Jay,

    Thanks for writing this up, it is a very interesting article for sure. I do agree that having the debate of whether a film is horror is a worthwhile endeavor, if only to prevent the Trojan Horse effect mentioned in part three of your article. I have many times in my life seen movies that were intentionally marketed as something they were not, and was very disappointed (and I’m not talking about marketing like “It Comes at Night” used, where people could interpret it as a monster film- I’m talking about marketing where a film is marketed as out of genre entirely). That all said I think a lot of horror is very subjective, as what is “horror” will vary greatly from individual to individual. I know you have received some flak in the past for liking movies such as “No Escape,” which a lot of people don’t consider horror (I haven’t seen it, so I can’t give an opinion), but if to you that is a horrifying experience, then calling a horror film is fair to me.

    I’ve had the debate with myself a lot what defines a horror film, and in the end I think it is a very fluid genre, as everyone looks at something differently. I know psychological heavy films tend to flag my horror alarm (and many would disagree). A good example of a film I tend to think of as a horror film (amongst other genres), that most do not, is “Apocalypse Now,” because to me watching the slow deterioration of Martin Sheen’s character’s mind is truly frightening. That said, I can totally understand someone disagreeing with me.

    Another thing that really flags my horror alarm is consent. Or I guess more specifically, whether or not the characters are taking part in something willingly or not. From personal experience in the medical field, I’ve assisted with several bone marrow aspiration procedures that were as gruesome or more so than any torture film I’ve ever seen (essentially a physician uses what is basically a medieval torture device to remove a piece of an individuals bone marrow by screwing it into said bone and removing the piece with only local anesthesia….and often it is not that effective, and if the patient has a number of conditions or the doctor performs the procedure incorrectly that procedure may have to be repeated several times), that said, while this is very disturbing to watch, the patient has given their consent to have the procedure done in hopes of receiving treatment or knowledge on their condition, and thus I would not consider this horror. While in most horror films consent is absolutely not given to what the characters experience (that said, I really think torture horror films are lazy, and generally strongly dislike them).

    On the second part of your article, I absolutely agree. I don’t think Horror is over, and I think the “post” label is absolutely unnecessary. I think Mr. Rose is more referring to horror movies that think outside of the box (which we have had a slew of lately…..and it has been awesome), but movies that focus on existential dread have been around forever. Look at all the slow-burn horror of the 70s (like “Burnt Offerings”), all the paranoia induced horror (When Blair is performing the computer calculation in “The Thing” that is one of the most existentially dreadful moments in a movie I can recall), all the movies like “The Shining,” etc. Also Ghost Story looks like an interesting film (that I definitely want to see), but it does not look like a horror film at all from the trailer. Just because it has a ghost……does not a horror movie make….

    I agree very strongly on films trying to market themselves on horror, and how we must be vigilante to prevent people from spending their time seeing movies they would have rather not have seen. I think a lot of it has to do with financial success of horror movies as of late…..they have been making way more more than the relatively small cost of their budgets as of late. I’m hoping that this is a trend and our genre doesn’t become something used as a tool to mislead people into viewing movies they have no interest in.

    Anyways, at risk of writing an article the length of the one I’m responding to, I will cut this short (ha). Thanks for spending the time to write this, it was an insightful and enjoyable read.

  2. JOTD,

    Well-written article, my friend. I realize that many people are sick of the discussion as to what horror is and what it isn’t, but I’m not! I love it! When you consider how subjective are our individual reactions to the arts in general, these genre distinctions communicated from one person to another only serve to help people understand one another more. And hell… isn’t that the goal? Isn’t that why we join forums like this or others? Isn’t that why we listen to podcasts or start podcasts of our own?

    No one can ever truly see the world through another’s eyes. We’re bound within our own flesh-and-blood experiences of the world and the people in it… ergo… our words are our primary means of conveying our unique experiences to others. “I want to see horror how you see it.” That’s what I think when I listen to the podcasts to which I’m subscribed. That’s what I think when I hear these folks conduct their various (recorded) orations on the subject I so love. And so, for me… it’s rather sad when folks don’t want to engage in this topic of horror-conversation… or worse… they think it’s meaningless.

    Oh, well. What can ya do, right? JOTD, I just want to tell you that I’m with you on this article ALL THE WAY, except… there is one thing that I think you were too nice to say. And I’m NOT too nice to say it, so…

    I happen to believe that Steve Rose was not “well-meaning” with his article in The Guardian. In fact, I found his whole take on the horror-genre to be condescending and belittling. I don’t respect his views whatsoever. I won’t slander him. That’s no good if the goal is communicative discourse. I just won’t EVER say his snobbish “post-horror” catch-phrase aloud… EVER. I mean that. I said this on the 22 Shots of Moodz and Horror Page, and I’ll stick with it. The term “torture porn” never should have caught like wildfire as it did over ten years back. Well, we have a stronger voice as horror fans than we ever have, and so… JOTD… I’m down with a boycott of Rose’s attempt at inciting a new bit of genre terminology. I’ll never say it, nor will I likely even type it again. I mean that!

    Great article. Well done.

    • I love what you’ve written, Mister Watson. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read or listen to Jay’s thoughts, yet. As I scanned his subject headings, I already disagree with a few of his points and I really don’t want to get bogged-down in the details here because I am 100% against Steve Rose and this term he is trying to coin. The whole thing is just annoying to me to the point that I can’t think about it or I get really frustrated and I can tell this article will take some digging-in on my part, so I have to wait. I do plan to revisit this discussion in a few weeks, once the hubbub (hopefully) dies down and I will give Jay my time and his due respect.

      But a question for you, Dustin, I am someone who regularly uses the term “torture-porn” and, as any thoughtful person, I want to be educated when I find out that a term I am using is offensive to someone else (except “That Steve Rose Bullsh***, I’m sticking with that). Now, as I think about it, the term probably does not offend me because I am generally not a fan of the films being described and so it never occurred to me just how reductive that term could be. It is obvious, once you point it out, but I honestly just thought of that as a descriptor of the sub-genre. I wanted to ask you, Dustin, is there a sub-genre classification you prefer for film franchises such as Hostel or Saw? With the new Saw: Legacy film coming out this year, we who write and talk about horror cinema have an opportunity to make some headway in coin new terminology.

      • Wolfman, I don’t want to speak for Mister Watson, but since I share his sentiment about the term “torture porn,” I’ll throw in my $0.02. I think that sometimes it’s used in the way you suggest – purely as descriptive – but I think it began as a negative term that dismisses the film as nothing but a celebration of sadism. It’s still used by some people, even other horror fans who don’t like those kinds of films, in this pejorative sense.

        I’m not sure if there’s a better word not already in use. I might say “extreme” is a good adjective, if a bit vague. In literary studies, there’s the term captivity narrative which I think better describes the range of films we’re talking about. For example, the first Saw really doesn’t have a lot of torture or gore. It has some violent and disturbing scenes of physical injury, but I wouldn’t say it’s filled with scenes or torture. Same with Wolf Creek. Even though both have been described as empty celebrations of sadism (I know Roger Ebert said this about Wolf Creek). These films are typically structured around being captured and struggling to escape, which is why captivity narrative makes sense, but it’s not as catchy or attention-grabbing as “torture porn.”

        The “torture” part is less troubling than the “porn” part, which implies the film is purely objectifying and exploitative. Even if you don’t see pornography that way, that’s the connotation of the term in this case – a film that objectifies and exploits people (often women) purely to revel in scenes of mutilation and violence. The types of films in question – Hostel, Saw, Wolf Creek, etc. – are not usually my favorites, though I don’t hate them either. And I don’t think they deserve to be characterized the way they often are as hollow and sadistic. Don’t get me wrong, there are films like Guinea Pig that I DO think are purely irredeemable revelries in sadism – I watched a few minutes of Guinea Pig before I had to turn it off. But for the most part the term is inaccurate.

        Adam Lowenstein, an academic film critic who often studies horror, has a great article called “Spectacle horror and Hostel: why ‘torture porn’ does not exist” from Critical Quarterly’s April 2011 issue, which analyzes the history of the term torture porn, and looks specifically at Hostel to make his claims that the film is more than a pornographic indulgence in sadism. It’s a great piece and anyone who wants to read it and can’t access it, let me know, and I can send it to you.

        • Interesting point there AnDread, and I do agree that the term “torture porn,” is pretty dismissive of a film and has a lot of implications that may or may not be true. I’ll be honest, I don’t really like horror movies centered around someone being imprisoned and tortured for 75 minutes of the run time (often this is because the film has little development plot and character wise, and I think it doesn’t create any genuine suspense because you can easily predict what will happen next). That said, I don’t think it’s fair to classifying a ton of films as being exploitative and objectifying.

          The first Saw is a movie people often dismiss as torture porn and I actually thought it was pretty good. It was suspenseful and had some plot development, and most importantly the “torture” element was there as a narrative device rather than the focal point of the movie (the sequels I have seen of that franchise I can’t really say the same about unfortunately). I have heard good things about Wolf Creek as well (though I will say I have heard absolutely nothing good about Hostel). I think the major defining factor is whether the acts of mutilation/dismemberment are the focus of the movie, or whether they actually further the story. It does seem though, that there are always horror movies out there trying to be extreme for the point of being extreme. I can’t say I’ve seen either, but from everything I’ve read/heard The Human Centipede and We are the Flesh are prime examples (films like this are compelling to me, compelling to not see them).

          Personal opinion on the subgenre though, I do think captivity narratives that focus on people being tortured in horror are generally pretty lazy and don’t tend to be worth watching. But I have been surprised before and perhaps I will again someday.

  3. Mister Watson, I also got the vibe from Steve Rose that he was being condescending to the genre. He was basically saying, “Hey look, several critically acclaimed horror movies have come out recently, so clearly they are part of a new genre. Because horror movies aren’t supposed to be good.” I find this viewpoint very common when I read critic articles on horror films, it’s almost if some critics feel like they must dislike a film because of the genre. Maybe it’s because the instinct at the core of the genre (fear) is a very primal and often simplistic instinct, critics don’t feel that the genre can produce anything that isn’t simplistic or repetitive (which is simply not true, just because horror films are made to inspire fear it absolutely does not mean the plot, characters, or other devices of the story have to be simple in the least). I often see action and comedy films (which I’m not in general a particularly huge fan of, that’s not to discredit the genres, just personal preference) getting this same treatment from film critics.

    Anyways, I shouldn’t pretend to know how these lines of thought work in the critic circles, but I think it’s pretty apparent that there is some unwritten rule that dramas are the highest caliber of film. Just look at the number that win awards each year compared to other genres (especially big awards). Not to take anything from dramas, or say the awards are undeserved, but how often do you see a horror, comedy, or action film win an Oscar? Again this is speculation, but I believe this mindset is pretty prevalent in many critic circles, and because of it you seem them condescend movies from the “less highbrow” genres.

  4. Jay, I read your entire post and share many of your sentiments. I highly respect your obviously carefully-thought out ideas, and your Trojan Horse metaphor. That said, I have some different takes on the issues you bring up.

    I share your agitation at Steve Rose’s article on post-horror, but for a different reason. Rather than Rose meaning that post-horror is “after horror” or that “horror is over,” I think he means something more like “beyond horror” – that while “traditional” horror films will still be made, the films he mentions such as The Witch, Get Out, and It Comes at Night transcend the clichés of traditional horror so much that they deserve their own genre label.

    Rose’s article bothered me because it’s insulting to the horror community and our love for horror. His idea of post-horror refers to a horror-inspired film that a) doesn’t rely on jump scares and/or b) isn’t formulaic. The core problem is that it’s offensive and reductive to claim that horror has to rely on jump scares or has to be formulaic. The very early films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and Dracula didn’t rely on jump scares, nor did later films like Rosemary’s Baby, The Haunting, and The Innocents. And then, Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, and other classics ushered in new types of horror by creating entirely new tones and subgenres (R.I.P. George Romero). There are always innovators, and there are always imitators.

    As to the debate about classifying something as horror or not, I agree that it is important. But I think that it matters less how we classify something, or whether we come up with a universal definition, then why we classify something that way or define a genre a certain way, and what we intend to communicate by doing that. For example, there are plenty of films that straddle the horror/thriller line. Personally, I’m not really sure what most people mean by a “thriller” and how it essentially differs so much from horror. Many people enjoy both. However, a John Grisham-type legal/political “thriller” might not be of much interest to horror fans (including myself), so it does make some sense. They just aren’t dark enough, and the driving action isn’t typically interesting to me. Anyone who calls The Firm or The Pelican Brief a horror movie, or even horror/thriller, is going to lose my interest.

    But then there are cases like Seven and The Silence of the Lambs – films I respect and make sense more as horror/thrillers because they have dark tones, though for me they don’t involve quite enough sense of dread or shock to make them fall squarely within the horror camp. They rely more on intrigue and mystery than fear. I would consider them more like crime procedurals than horror, which is why they aren’t necessarily my favorites, even though they are well-made. But they deserve discussion in horror circles because they’re extreme enough that they probably appeal more to horror fans than they do fans of the typical crime procedural. I suppose Steve Rose could have written about “post-horror” when Silence came out, especially since the 90s was a rocky time for horror. Rose’s thoughts remind of Scream, too – it certainly angered enough people who not only denied that it was horror, but was in fact mocking towards the genre and harmful to it (an assessment with which I strongly disagree).

    As to your thoughts on The Beguiled, I haven’t seen either version, but I did see the trailer for the 2017 film, and I agree 100% that it looked like a horror movie to me. However, I was 99% certain that it wasn’t horror, because although I hadn’t seen the 1971 film, people who loved it and told me about it HATED horror. So unless something major had changed with the new version, I knew it probably wasn’t what it looked like. However, as a darker drama, it might be enjoyable to horror fans, unless you purely like the extreme variety (*cough*cough*Billchete*cough*cough).

    I don’t think Coppola meant to “trick” the horror audience. From what I read, she simply wanted to put a twist on the 1971 version by telling it from the female perspective, and I’m guessing that the suspense and psychologically darker tones have something to do with that – about flipping the usual situation of women being threatened by men, to the story of a man being threatened by women. Without having seen it, this is pure speculation, but I don’t think she meant to disguise her drama film as a horror film in order to fool horror fans. Just as I don’t think Jonathan Demme meant to fool horror fans into watching a crime procedural with horror elements. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the collage approach to filmmaking, taking what you like from here and what you need from there. And in many cases that process might be totally unconscious.

    I see the major culprit in the “Trojan horse” dilemma as the marketers. This is the case with The Beguiled and definitely with It Comes at Night. In trying to pander to as many audiences as possible, they manipulate the trailers to make the movie look different from what it actually is, and even make several trailers that put different spins on the film. I understand emphasizing different aspects of a film, but there is something Insidious and Sinister about fundamentally misleading viewers.

    In short, I’m in favor of trying to define horror and its subgenres, but I think these definitions are most useful if they can use examples for comparison, as an “objective” definition is impossible . So even if you use horror or horror/thriller or horror/drama a different way than someone else, if you can also say the film in question is similar to X or Y film, and explain why, you can still be on the same page, and go into the viewing in a more informed way.

  5. Wow, great comments here from everyone! I’m glad JOTD got up on his “high horse.”

    Terrible puns aside, post-horror does seem like a condescending term and I’m not going to use it.

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