Starting up a blog focused on horror and focusing on building horror props has made me think about what constitutes “horror” and what doesn’t. Technically I would concede that to truly fit under the label of “horror” the object would have to be at least scary and to be truly horrifying would require a few steps beyond that. But in thinking about and revisiting many of my favorite horror movies, I can’t say that many of them are truly horrifying. Many are simply scary and some are even more comedy than really scary.
For instance, The Exorcist or the original Halloween are horror movies by my definition. The concept of a demon possessing an innocent teenager or a malevolence so deep that an 6 year old child would wordlessly murder his sister is truly horrific to most (and even my) sensibilities.
Image from moviepilot.com, originally credited to 20th Century Fox
Next, consider Scream from 1996, a phenomenon no one saw coming. That’s a great scary movie, but it’s based more on scaring rather than true horror. But it was beautifully scary. The killers’ motivations are arguably horrifying, but the basis of that movie is that it just keeps scaring you.
And then there are horror movies that make you laugh as much as they make you jump. Shaun of the Dead and Tucker and Dale vs Evil are the best examples of this out there. These have some of the most quotable, funniest scenes on celluloid and yet they won’t be found outside the horror section of Netflix.
Photo from horrorfreaknews.com
So, is it fair that movies based on jump scenes or comedic situations are called Horror movies? I say it is. Partly because there is no benefit to be had in slicing up one movie genre into 10 sub-genres, but partly because of what horror does at its core. Horror excites us at a uniquely basic level. It ignites basic survival instincts in us that don’t get exercised any more. Humans used to have to worry about SURVIVING. Hunger, plagues, predators – all these things used to motivate us at the lowest levels imaginable. But (thankfully) most of us don’t have to worry about these things any more. But it’s written in our DNA to watch out and respond to threats – deadly threats.
It’s my (completely unresearched) belief that is what draws us to horror. One of the basic functions of our DNA is lying unused – the survival instinct. Horror lets us awaken & exercise this dormant portion of our basic programming. Of course, rather than setting up camp in the middle of a cholera epidemic or challenging a pack of wolves for their kill, we take our horror in safe, bite-sized chunks. A horror movie, a haunted house, ghost stories around the campfire.
As we dream up our projects, it’s very exciting to come up with new and terrifying ways to poke the survival instinct that lies in all of us. To find out what is really effective at eliciting that “fight or flight” response buried within us. And of course to imagine how all of these individual designs could be sewn together in the ever evolving haunted house that lives in my mind. Because what fun would it be to build a haunted house that you never got to scare, I mean share, with others?