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TOP 13 HORROR SUB-GENRES (Part 2 of 3)

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.


The-FlyBODY HORROR

Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde might well be the first fictional take on body horror, a sub-genre based on the concept of one’s physical person being changed or violated. It surely is the most personal and accessible form of horror, given that it stems from the loss of control that accompanies birth, adolescence, aging and death; all radical changes happening to us, over which we exert little control. Add disease and injury, and the idea that we have any individual sovereignty seems almost ridiculous.

In THE FLY, especially the Cronenberg remake, we see bodily changes that might be regarded as improvements — until we realize that these come at the price of humanity. Also true of many film versions of the werewolf legend, which more closely resemble Stevenson’s aforementioned classic than their original folklore — except that poor Larry Talbot and cousins had no choice in undergoing their transformations.

Citing Cronenberg again, eXistenZ puts the viewer inside a game that is more organic than technological. To play, one has to merge with the game itself. VR seems relatively obsolete doesn’t it? In an industry that values immersive experience, might it be possible to be changed beyond return?

Other examples include Body Melt, Cabin Fever, Clown, Horns, and Thinner.


54d40836cd193_-_godzilla-classicCREATURE FEATURE

Pretty well self explanatory, though there are a couple of crucial parameters. It’s all about the monsters, and best left at that. Character development is not the main attraction in a creature feature, and given SyFy’s long list of formulaic CGI monster-of-the-week Saturday slot-fillers, not even particularly welcome Don’t get me wrong; there are great creature features with wonderfully-drawn principals. It’s just not the current norm. Most Japanese kaiju and 50s-era radioactive mutant movies qualify — “mutant” being a key word. Jaws, Anaconda, being real-life horrors of nature, fall into our next category.


44_d__0_Swarm

NATURE RUN AMUCK

When the giant ants and lizards of the 50s shrunk back down to their God-ordered proportions in the 70s, the Nature Run Amuck subgenre was born. Instead of just doing what they do, only as giants, post-hippie era critters are usually more intelligent, populous, and/or aggressive, made unmanageable by an unprepared but generally deserving mankind. Phase IV pits a crew of scientists against a colony of ants. Swarm plays on the 70s fear of “killer bees” migrating from Brazil. “Link” sees research apes turning the tables on their human keepers. In “Frogs,” it’s a lot more than the titular amphibians who upset the balance, and of course, every natural disaster is made worse by combining it with sharks or spiders.


scream-1996-brrip-650mb_tinymoviez1HORROR COMEDY

Call me a curmudgeon. I just don’t see the point. Do you want to scream or do you want to laugh? Some of the best horror flicks contain moments of brilliant black humor that serve to break tension at crucial points. A horror comedy takes the thing that you focus your fears on and makes it a joke. Everything deserves to be parodied at some point — but is it asking too much for a little subtlety. SCREAM for instance, or POPCORN. But the SCARY MOVIE treatment is unnecessarily heavyhanded.


Brain-DeadMINDFUCK

In the Charles Beaumont-scripted BRAINDEAD from 1990, Bill Paxton is leaving work, carrying a long a brain in a jar, hoping to catch up on his research at home. There’s a tussle with a hobo, and the jar, brain and all, shatters on the sidewalk. It’s a good metaphor for what this subcategory aims for. (As an aside, it’s also a damn sight more hilarious than any of the SCARY MOVIE films, near as I can estimate.) The plot often involves following a protagonist as he or she seemingly descends into madness — or is led to believe they are. It lends itself to creative special effects sequences, as well as unexpected story twists, as it is not necessarily constrained by conventional plot structure. It’s also a fairly loose designation that could encompass films as different from each other as ALTERED STATES, VANILLA SKY, TOTAL RECALL, TETSUO: THE IRON MAN, and PHANTASM.


Come back next week for FOLK HORROR and more.

READ TOP 13 HORROR SUB-GENRES (Part 1 of 3)

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TOP 13 HORROR SUB-GENRES (Part 1 of 3)

If there’s anything the internet has taught us to do, it’s to pointlessly compartmentalize pop-culture trivia to the point it almost seems to matter. You can find lists of everything from Top 10 Worst CGI Effects to 7 Best Songs About Drugs.

Because horror is so diverse in scope, most fans tend to find one or two particular sub-genres they favor; or more often, they go through phases of certain directors, eras, scenarios, or in the case of fiction, authors or publishers.

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.


haunted mansion

GOTHIC

Influenced by the success of Hammer Films’ 50s era reimaginings of classic literary monsters like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Mummy, one Mister Roger Corman produced a series of Poe-inspired films set in gloomy, cob-webbed castles and fog carpeted landscapes, setting the stage for Italian filmmakers to do the same. These films, like the contemporary sub-culture of overly-eyelinered teens which shares the term, relied on gloomy mood rather than startling sudden jumps, leaving an overall impression of oppressive nihilism rather than the roller coaster feeling wrought by less subtle types of horror. Perhaps due to its more deliberate pacing, gothic horror is not one of the more popular sub-genres of recent years, but certainly has its fair share of classics. THE PIT AND THE PENDULUM, THE RAVEN, BLACK SUNDAY, BLACK SABBATH, HOUSE OF USHER

And of course: GOTHIC

Some more contemporary examples: SWEENEY TODD, SLEEPY HOLLOW, THE OTHERS


evil-dead-ii-1987-04-g

SPLATTER

A splatter film need not necessarily be a horror film, but by nature, it would certainly be horrific. George Romero is credited with the first use of the term, so it’s clearly not meant as dismissive, given that his “Dead” series is heavy on social relevance. However, there is more bad splatter than good, as gore was a notoriously easy sell in the grindhouse -and later- DTV markets, hooking the least compromising of screen thrill seekers.

Hammer once again gets much of the credit for bringing (what was once considered) excessive bloodshed to the cinemas, and again it was the Italians who took it and ran with it. 80s Italian horror films went far beyond the level of their British or American counterparts, with lingering, often close up depictions of eyeballs pierced, breasts chewed off, brains eaten and much much worse, all before the advent of CGI allowed filmmakers to create such mayhem in a sanitary editing room. Yes sir, FX technicians had to live the nightmare, and get down and dirty to simulate brutal slaughter back in the old days.

It’s worth noting that splatter has a good many sub-sub-genres and crossovers, such as blood-spurting-yet-somehow artistic samurai films, and the nearly unwatchable collection of cannibal flicks that stained drive-in screens during their heyday. This subgenre is presently thriving at the mainstream level even on television via popular fare like THE WALKING DEAD and AMERICAN HORROR STORY. DAWN OF THE DEAD, DAY OF THE DEAD, ZOMBI, THE EVIL DEAD, JIGOKU, CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, BRAIN DEAD, SIN CITY, LONE WOLF AND CUB, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN, HELLRAISER

sigourney-weaver-aliens-1

SCI FI

ALIEN is probably the first film that comes to mind when one thinks of a sci-fi/horror hybrid, but it’s far from a watermark. Thomas Edison himself created what was likely the very first sci-fi and/or horror film when he made a loose adaptation of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” way back in nineteen-and-ten. The 30s Universal effort could also be called sci fi, along with it’s sequels and crossovers featuring other, folkloric based beasts. But the mix of sci-fi and horror truly come into its own in the 50s, when fears of the new and seemingly limitless powers of atomic energy and space travel gave rise to fears that scientists had gone too far in tampering with nature. Film producers took up where the long-dated warnings of Mary Shelley, H.G Wells and Jules Verne left off by imagining ever more gigantic and unstoppable mutations and manifestations from just beyond these new scientific horizons.

ALIEN was beaten to the punch during this era, coming across in retrospect as an uncredited remake of IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE and Mario Bava’s PLANET OF VAMPIRES.

Some of the best horror is wed with sci fi, as is some of the worst. Getting right down to it, sci-fi horror presents us with some extra-terrestrial threat but genetic mutation is a big seller as well. THE THING, VIRUS, THEM!, TARANTULA, GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS, THE DEADLY MANTIS, THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN, THE FLY, PANDORUM, GALAXY OF TERROR, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL

halloween_0

SLASHER

I don’t think there are any blurred lines in regard to what a slasher film is. Though PSYCHO and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE appeared a few years before the great slasher boom that came in the aftermath of HALLOWEEN, they’re still largely considered part of the subset. But it was actually Bob Clark’s unsettling BLACK CHRISTMAS that set the blueprint. Assuming the set up for a slasher film (with little variation) is agreed to be a set of teens or young adults targeted by a demented stalker on or near a holiday in an isolated setting, it seems to be a pretty limited formula. However, close examination reveals that some of the most highly regarded horror films, such as THE SHINING and ALIEN, are essentially slasher films.

Many, especially from the 80s, also double as whodunits in the best Agatha Christie tradition. Once the initial wave of holiday-themed cash-ins settled and other flavors took over the public palate, slasher films became nostalgia, and soon after, fresh again, via Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson with the SCREAM series. Everything that made the sub-genre overtly formulaic was turned on its ear and used against the audience in brilliant fashion. Ironically, this ushered in a whole new age of cookie cutter slashers in the 90s.

These days, the slasher film is surviving, if not thriving, via mostly superior, amped up or intentionally retro variations like LAID TO REST, MALEVOLENCE, HATCHET, and the surprisingly clever BEHIND THE MASK: THE RISE OF LESLIE VERNON.

With 1984’s A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, the addition of supernatural elements mutated the sub-genre and squeezed some more life from it, giving us an undead Jason in FRIDAY THE 13TH 6 and other defining entries like: BAD DREAMS, CANDYMAN, VENOM, KILLER PARTY

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Italy’s giallo movement, but it deserves a more extended treatment and might even be considered its own sub-genre.


That’s it for this week. Come back next week when we explore more horror sub-genres including Creature Features, Comedy Horror and more.


LATEST QUIRKY QUEUE CRAZINESS

pcg promo1Thoughts on recent viewings:

Mischief-NightMISCHIEF NIGHT- I’m usually up on all the latest horror releases, and had a good heads up on this decent slasher. However it turns out there are TWO films called MISCHIEF NIGHT that were released within a year of each other. I’d seen the trailer for the other one, which made for an unsettling experience based on unmet expectations. In this one, a blind teen gets the See No Evil treatment when ax-wielding masked men target her on the night before Halloween.

allhallowsALL HALLOWS EVE- Anthology flicks are the in thing right now, probably thanks to the V/H/S films, and TRICK R TREAT before them. This one makes up for its low budget and simple script with sheer gory audacity.

May2-horror-movies-7486857-1024-768MAY- Angela Bettis is one of horror’s beloved beauties, thanks in large part to this bleak, funny and often sweet character study from Lucky McKee. Some script elements seem out of place at times, but this only adds the its unsettling overall feel.

SHADOW PEOPLE- Yet another film that shares its title. This is a 2008, no budget DTV offering with a cast of unknowns. I have to admit, I did not get past the first few minutes. I try not to be a budget snob, but the problem here is not the lack of funds, but apparently, a lack of talent. The “shadow people” phenomenon is one that interests me to no end, but I saw nothing here that could hold a suspension of disbelief for me.

midnightTHE MIDNIGHT MEAT TRAIN- Ryuhei Kitamura brings his manic visual style to one of Clive Barker’s most grisly short stories, expanding and realizing the story quite fittingly. A great balance of gore, atmosphere and suspense.

StayAliveSTAY ALIVE- We’ve all seen horror and sci-fi films that rely overly on CGI effects to the point you feel you’re being asked to make a great leap of imagination to accept their veracity. This underrated studio effort turns that problem around nicely by making the antagonist an entity which realizes its manifestation in the “real” world through a cursed videogame. Okay, so the teens are a bit stereotypical–but teens sort of are, so….

THIS IS BLACK METAL- After the fascinating UNTIL THE LIGHT TAKES US, I’ve been on the search for more great docs about black metal, but unfortunately this is not one. Mostly just interviews with bands and fans interspersed with some live performance footage but not presented in any sort of groundbreaking or even entertaining manner. It’s the usual questions about touring that receive the same general answers. Come to think of it, most of these bands don’t really qualify as black metal, so there’s that.

Fun_Size_posterFUN SIZE- One of my internet haters recently referred to me as a “manchild,” and when I found myself smiling at this cookie cutter Nickelodeon vehicle for one of its TV stars, I realized it was a hard point to argue. It’s a good one for the fam, the only racy moments presented as the common rites of passage that they are. Also, Supernatural fans will be glad to see The Prophet Kevin himself, Osric Chau, in a fun supporting role.

prophecyTHE PROPHECY- This 90s anomaly, starring Virginia Madsen, Elias Koteas, and Chris Walken at his most eccentric as the pissed-off angel Gabriel, held up pretty well when I re-visited it recently, and apparently scored well enough at the box office to spawn three sequels, which I have yet to see. Watch this space.

DON’T LOOK IN THE CELLAR- The keywords “abandoned asylum” drew me in, even as the one star rating shouted its warning. The luxury of streaming affords us the ability to simply move on to something else if the first few minutes of a film don’t at least try to meet our expectations, such as when two girls dressed like slutty nurses can walk into an asylum and simply enter padded (with crumpled paper, BTW) rooms at will. I don’t think I need to elaborate.

RITUAL- Not to be confused with the more recent film by the same name (apparently a common theme lately) this 2002 effort boasts the Tales From The Crypt umbrella, though it offers no appearance by the Crypt Keeper, nor is it based on any of that beloved comic’s stories. Despite some gore and nudity it feels kind of like a Lifetime version of Wes Craven’s The Serpent and The Rainbow.

BarrioTales-1BARRIO TALES- Another low budget anthology offering twisty tales of terror as told by a wisecracking Mexican chap to a pair of entitled white boys. All the gringos get what they deserve and if you accept the small scope of the production you’ll have a good time.

SCARY OR DIE- Still another anthology of short horror tales, wrapped by a nowhere segment featuring an unseen ghoul clicking around on the titular website. If you think the trope of evil clowns has been overdone, you might be pleasantly surprised by the central tale. The story of a Korean businessman attempting to be a good samaritan to a damsel in distress does its job as well, but the others seem mostly like filler to make this feature length.