October 23, 2023
WRITTEN BY: AMARÚ
Horror fans, I’m sorry, but be prepared to hate me in 5…4…3…
Horror is a stupid-ass genre. It’s stupid-ass movies with stupid-ass characters doing stupid-ass things for stupid-ass reasons. It’s the one genre I didn’t watch growing up because my father (for multiple reasons that I won’t put him on blast about) didn’t like it either. And I don’t blame him. Being scared about uninteresting things that don’t make any sense is not a form of entertainment I find enjoyable. However, occasionally, a director, writer, or group of actors do something that is legitimately smart to “elevate” what could have easily been schlock and gore just for the sake of it (funnily enough, I don’t really like the phrase “elevated [insert genre],” but here we are).
I think 1996’s Scream is the first instance in which I recognized that horror can be more than just jump scares and stupidity. As the years have gone by, I have given horror movies more of a chance, and I have identified the four main reasons (let’s call them… saving graces) that would drive me to watch these spooky films.
So, for any of you who are like me, I have listed those four reasons below, from least to greatest importance, as a guide to see if maybe…just maybe…you might start giving them a chance too.
SAVING GRACE 1: GREAT VILLAINS & ANTAGONISTS
If the main bad guy, ghost, otherworldly being, or whatever is killing everyone can make me like them (or love to hate them), then you can at least get me to watch your trailer. I might even go back and revisit your film. That’s why this grace heavily applies to horror films that I missed when I was younger. Freddy Kreuger is absolutely hilarious, Michael Myers is utterly brutal, and Pennywise is devilishly mischievous. If the film is not delivering on its story, or the characters aren’t all that intriguing, this would at least allow me to laugh or stare in awe as the killings take place.
It also is one of the best ways a director can show off their craft, utilizing creative ways to feature the antagonists in their element. Think of the one-shot in David Gordon Green’s Halloween that intensified Michael’s mere presence, or how Wes Craven created larger-than-life scenarios to enhance Freddy’s showmanship. A great antagonist alone doesn’t make for a good movie, but at least it gives you a reason to push through a bad one.
- Movies I liked containing this grace: Halloween (1978 and 2018), Saw, Split
- Movies I watched due to this grace: Friday the 13th (1980), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Child’s Play, It (2017), Candyman (1992)
SAVING GRACE 2: GREAT CASTING & PERFORMANCES
If you take a great antagonist and pit them against people I can root for, now I have an even bigger reason to watch the fight of good vs. evil unfold. That, or if the lead actors give an utterly undeniable performance, I can’t justify not at least giving the movie a try. It took me a couple of years, but I finally witnessed Toni Collette’s greatness in Hereditary, and I immediately understood why people thought she was snubbed for an Oscar nomination. I also went back to check out multiple performances I was too young to care for at the time, including Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman (American Psycho), Anthony Hopkins’ Hannibal Lecter (The Silence of the Lambs), and the three-headed powerhouse of the Orca’s Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss (Jaws).
Without an ensemble you can connect to, a great villain can only take you so far, and that is often why many horror sequels are far inferior to their predecessors. While you may want to keep returning to some of your favorite horror villains, fighting through multiple bad performances may be too much of a burden for those charismatic characters to carry.
- Movies I liked containing this grace: Scream 4, The Faculty, Us, The Devil’s Advocate
- Movies I watched due to this grace: Hereditary, American Psycho, It Chapter Two
- Franchises ruined because of this grace: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Saw, Child’s Play, Final Destination 4 (and ONLY Final Destination 4)
SAVING GRACE 3: AN INTERESTING PREMISE/GREAT STORY
You don’t need a star-studded cast to carry a horror film to greatness. Oftentimes, these films want the story and tone to be their major selling point, and when filmmakers can create something interesting out of their unbelievable premise, it doesn’t matter if you have a household name or newcomer in the top billing. Writer-directors Jordan Peele and (at times) M. Night Shyamalan have proven that a well-written, intelligent script with suspenseful pacing, intense scare sequences, and unpredictable yet challenging twists can make for movies that will have you thinking about them for months after you leave the theater. When I watched Get Out for the first time, I was speechless for the rest of the night. It definitely helped that its story connected to many core tenets of my culture, but that same speechlessness stayed with me after two hours of utter silence when leaving A Quiet Place.
Horror films’ ridiculous plot points are probably the major reason I tend to stay away from the genre because it can make or break a film, even if you have the greatest performances in the world. To this day, I can’t stand The Sixth Sense because of how utterly BORING the film is up until that major twist. And yes, I just mentioned how great Toni Collette’s performance in Hereditary is, but when the reasons for everything that is happening are unveiled, I literally paused the credits, stared at it for five straight seconds, threw up my hands and yelled “what…. DAFUQ WAS THAT?!” It’s these “but why??” experiences that remind me why I don’t like this genre.
- Movies I liked containing this grace: Knock at the Cabin, Brightburn, The Menu, Unbreakable
- Movies I watched due to this grace: Happy Death Day, Escape Room
- Movies ruined because of this grace: Hereditary, American Psycho, The Sixth Sense
SAVING GRACE 4: MORE THAN JUST A HORROR FILM If you can combine the previous three graces seamlessly, then you have a horror film that’s going to capture my attention. For me, it just happens to be that more times than not, these horror films heavily dip into another genre to bring in aspects of movies I enjoy way more. Horror-comedies, mystery-thrillers, action-horror films are usually movies I thoroughly enjoy because the horror of it all is either in the background or is blended perfectly with the superior genre.
As I mentioned in the opening, Scream, with the meta-ness of it all, introduced me to movies that can usurp its horror labels to become more than what its genre has pigeonholed them to be. Tucker and Dale vs. Evil is a film I never would have considered watching if not for having to study it for a trivia match, but the entertaining mix of comedy, satire, and Alan Tudyk is another great example of horror making me a believer again. The Mummy (1999) is one of my all-time favorite movies, and you may be rolling your eyes at me right now, but there’s no denying that horror elements play a big role in that action film’s success. Whether it’s the comedy that makes Shaun of the Dead one of the best use of zombies in film, the whodunit-like thrills that Ready or Not brings along with its great cast, or the action that makes Aliens a superior sequel, if the horror film can be more than just a horror film, you have completely won me over. - Movies I like containing this grace: Zombieland, Bodies Bodies Bodies, The Cabin in the Woods, Psycho Goreman - Movies I LOVE which have all four graces: Shaun of the Dead, A Quiet Place, Get Out, Us, Nope, Final Destination, The Silence of the Lambs, Sleepy Hollow, Scream (1996), Jaws, Army of Darkness, The Mummy (1999), Ready or Not, Aliens
Photo Credits: Photo 1 - New Line Cinema; Photo 2 - A24; Photo 3, 4 - Universal Pictures