I recently read a piece about how certain sub-genres of horror seem to correlate with similar strata of metal music; death metal matching splatter horror, power metal comparing to action horror, etc.
As a fan, such classifications help me find the kind of horror film for which I’m in the mood, while as a writer, it helps to have some point of reference with which to promote my work — though, in the interests of being all “punk rock” and whatnot, I pay lip service to the notion of defying pigeonholery, and to seeking films and books that do the same.
Thus, I’ve attempted to compile an overview of horror’s various niches, with some illustrative examples. Almost every horror film is a crossover to some degree, of course, which is why the horror universe keeps expanding.
Italy comes to mind again, as it was a grimy fistful of mostly bad shockers that came to characterize this subgenre, using the terrifying urban legend of undiscovered cannibal tribes as a springboard for high exploitation and supreme bloodletting. In fact, long before The Blair Witch Project, Cannibal Holocaust employed an advertising campaign that implied the film contained actual footage of South American natives chowing down on hapless city folk — though an obviously staged narrative sets it up. The disgusting animal cruelty IS real however, undermining any sense of wonder that should accompany scenes meant to be accomplished through special effects craftsmanship. Hence, few films from the cycle are actually worth mentioning -or seeing. However, Eli Roth’s more recent GREEN INFERNO, meant as an “homage” to the notoriety of the 70s efforts, if not to their actual content, is both an intense upgrade of the subgenre and a razor-sharp satire.
TRIAL BY TORMENT
Given that a mainstream critic once offhandedly, and rather pompously, dismissed this genre by associating it with pornography, it’s been difficult to come up with the right term for this category; I feel this venture forces me to coin one. That said, there are entries that are entirely bereft of art, substance or grace, as my friend Paul puts it. They offer no value other than that “I watched that crazy shit!” cred. The earliest TBTs are probably the seventies-era post-Vietnam exploitation flicks that often blurred action and horror to gritty effect. Wes Craven and Steve Miner’s protest sign to the war was LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, which is hard to watch even today, along with Meir Zarchi’s I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE a.k.a. DAY OF THE WOMAN. Both depicted rape and torture murder so unflinchingly that they were impossible to ignore.
These films are characterized by lower body counts in favor of extended scenes of abuse and dismemberment.
More recent entries include HOSTEL, CAPTIVITY, MARTYRS, FRONTIER(S), arguably the SAW films, countless remakes of the aforementioned seventies clas-sicks, and of course the TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE franchise.
We’re getting into fuzzy territory here, as found footage could be said to be more a style of filming than a subgenre. Fact remains, though, that a good 99% of FF flicks ARE horror films, and abide by their own rules and conventions — to their detriment. That said, there are great FF films, as well as great mixes of the medium with more more traditional film narrative, such as RESOLUTION, THE LAST BROADCAST and SINISTER. The biggest problem is that found footage usually can’t sustain themselves for feature-length, so you wind up with lots of padding and repetition, already a problem in such a limited structure. Hence, it’s not surprising that yet another horror-centric device; the anthology/omnibus structure, is best suited for found footage. The V/H/S series largely nails it, minus a segment or two.
1973’s THE WICKER MAN, with its paganesque trappings, is the first film that comes to mind here. Elements include but are not limited to: an ancient religion whose god(s) demand sacrifice; nature settings, and apparently, gatherings of pale folk. In THE VVITCH, the ancient religion itself is not specifically Christianity, but a more general post-Christian Abrahamism, including devil worship (as opposed to Satanism.) Weird processions, a magnetic leader, a hidden deity/devil (or at least belief in same,) the feeling of an apocalyptic End of Innocence, and heavy doses of symbolism characterize this category. CHILDREN OF THE CORN, LAIR OF THE WHITE WORM, the underrated WAKE WOOD, and I’m gonna go ahead and toss in RACE WITH THE DEVIL just because of its delicious 70s spiciness!
For you more literate-minded fear freakos, here’s an excellent piece on horror subgenres in fiction from DARK ECHO