Horror films 101

What makes a film a horror?
31 October 2016

Interview with 

Dr Simon Brown, Kingston University


According to Movieweb.com, there are over 250 horror films coming out this year. Including smaller independent movies - that number could be as high as 1000. And while horror films often get critically panned, their popularity is enduring. So when did our hunkering for horror begin? Georgia Mills spoke to Simon Brown, associate professor of film, TV and media at Kingston University about the genre...

Simon - I think human beings have been telling cautionary tales, campfire stories, folkloric tales for hundreds, possibly even thousands of years.

Georgia - That's Simon Brown - he's associate professor of film, tv and media at Kingston University, and the author of  Screening Stephen King. We got together for a chat about the genre.

Simon - It's a broad catch or category and because genres evolve over time, because they're different. You know the type of horror films that may be emerging in cinemas now are dealing with different types of iconography, different types of themes than ones that may have been emerging in the genre in the early nineteen eighties. Because, fundamentally, what the horror genre is asking us to consider the things that frighten us, and the things that frighten us change.

Georgia - So what are the different types of horror film?

Simon - There are lots and lots of different types of horror films and they are aligned with, but not exclusively, different ways of trying to scare the audience. So, if you look at an early vampire film called "Vampyre" everything about that film is uncanny and strange and surreal. It draws on surrealism so everything is off kilter, everything is strange, everything is a little bit weird, everything is not the way it should be. So you have shadows that move independently of the characters. That's one way of doing it - that's surrealism, that's doing everything off balance.

At the other extreme you can simply go for the gross out. You can have films that are excessively violent, excessively gory. And that image of abjection, that image of the body in disarray, that image of bodies being dismembered, and the crunching noises of limbs being hacked off or whatever it may be, is another tool in the armory of the horror film maker.

And there are many, many things in between. There's suggestion - one of the finest horror films ever made is "The Haunting" which was directed by Rod Weissman, I think 1962, here, fundamentally, nothing happens. They're in a room and they hearing banging and the banging gets louder and louder, and you never know what's making the banging, but it's the not knowing that makes it scary.

A horror film is a genre in which you have almost unlimited freedom to do all manner of different things in order to get the reaction you want out of the audience. So there's gore, there's suspense, there's surrealism, there's the uncanny, and that's just a few of the things that you could use.

Georgia - BOO! Let's not forget jump scares!


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