The 13th Floor

5 Common Misconceptions About Horror Films

No matter how profitable horror films are, how huge the fan base is, or how widespread the movies become, people still make blanket statements criticizing the horror genre. I constantly find myself defending horror films, the filmmakers, and fans. Over the years, horror films have battled censorship, discrimination, and backlash from critics and religious groups alike. This list aims to clarify common misconceptions about horror movies, setting the record straight about this controversial genre of film and its loyal fans.

1. Many people are not fans of horror films.

Often people don’t realize that some of their favorite movies fall under the category of “horror”. I encounter numerous movie fans who say they don’t like horror movies and almost instantly retract the statement after talking about the films they love. The conversation almost always goes something like this:

Them: “I don’t like horror movies.”

Me: “You don’t like JAWS?”

Them: “JAWS isn’t a horror film.”

Me: “Then what is it?”

Them: “It’s an adventure movie”

Me: “Well, the last 20 minutes of it is an adventure film, but the first 110 minutes are about a shark eating people.”

Then they start to backtrack.

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There are often movie fans that will say, “Thats a thriller. Not a horror movie.”

Here’s an interesting fact. Horror wasn’t always called “horror”. In the 1930’s through 40’s, they were called “mystery films”. That’s right. DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN were referred to as “mysteries” and “thrillers”. “Horror” is simply the current blanket term for a massive grouping of movies with dark subjects and endless sub-genres, kind of like “rock music”.

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2. Horror films are always meant to give the viewer a negative reaction.

Are horror films supposed to be scary?

Not all of them. Most horror films are not even mean-spirited.

There is EVIL DEAD 2 where the horror is so absurd and over-the-top that it gets a laugh. There is AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON which blends satire with highly effective scares and artful make-up effects.

Lots of horror films are meant to be comedic, romantic, thoughtful, socially conscious, or provoke endless other positive reactions. This has been the case for years, from classics like ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN to post-millennium zom-coms like SHAUN OF THE DEAD. Some horror films are scary, but the genre includes much more than just fear.

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3. Horror fans are sick and demented people

Most horror fans are wonderful, well-rounded individuals. And the bulk of the horror industry is intelligent and kind.

Vincent Price, Boris Karloff and countless other people who made their living scaring the hell out of audiences were notoriously sweet and gentle. Many fans will tell you that Robert Englund is one of the nicest people they have ever met, despite the fact that Freddy Krueger has given so many of us nightmares.

There is an act of catharsis happening when we allow ourselves to explore our darker sides. We do not fear the monster under our beds if we can make friends with it. We take this monster out into the light, examine it, dance it around, and introduce it to Aunt Edna. And we sleep well at night because of this.

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4. Horror movies are not for kids.

Like many children, I was always fascinated with monsters. Any kid playing with little plastic army men may sometimes grab their dinosaur toys too and begin creating make-believe carnage. This is very normal. Conflict is a crucial part of storytelling. The responsibility falls to the parent to teach their child the difference between real-life violence and imaginary peril.

There are many non-violent horror films, even kid-friendly ones like THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS,  PARANORMAN, or HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA.

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JURASSIC PARK is a film that has been regularly shown to younger generations. It has even had several toy lines. In the movie, Sam Jackson has his arm ripped off, and a man is eaten by a T-rex while on the toilet. Yet this is not something that concerns most parents, as JURRASIC PARK is usually labeled as “action/adventure”. If you promoted JURRASIC PARK as a horror film, this would limit its audience appeal, and the studio knows this. Despite the violence in JURASSIC PARK, it never caused any children to chop arms off or go on a mass killing spree. The violent situations that occur are used to create a fantastic, dynamic story. But, label aside, it is at its core a fun monster movie that families all over the world have enjoyed together.

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5. Horror is dead.

Horror comes and goes in waves. We’ve all seen it happen. One horror film will kick-start a trend, and then endless similar films follow, beating the concept like a dead horse until something new comes along. And something new will come. We will always be afraid of something.

I feel that horror director, Dario Argento said it best:

“Horror is the future. And you cannot be afraid. You must push everything to the absolute limit, or else life will be boring. People will be boring. Horror is like a serpent: always shedding its skin, always changing. And it will always come back. It can’t be hidden away like the guilty secrets we try to keep in our subconscious.”

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