"What's your favorite scary movie?"
An easy question for some folk, but also very interestingly phrased, as a slight change to the wording can open up another kettle of fish entirely. Had the stab-happy ghost-face killer asked "What's your favorite horror movie?", would you answer be the same?
If you were to answer with the likes of Halloween, The Silence Of The Lambs, Psycho, The Birds, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Misery, The Wicker Man or even Scream, then there's a chance that you've made a boo-boo by the very definition of horror movies themselves. Depending of course of which definition of "horror movie" you decide to go by.
So since Halloween is coming up, and we can all probably expect a few prank calls from caramel voiced faux-killers inquiring which films we love to jump and scream to, we've decided to clear this up once and for all. There are three basic ways in which Horror Movies are defined, and they are as follows:
1 – The Inclusion Of The Supernatural
The biggest cause of confusion as to what is and isn't a horror movie is caused by its very close cousin, the thriller movie. But to some, the easiest way to tell them apart is by whether or not there is some sort of supernatural element at play. So the likes of Scream or The Silence Of The Lambs or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre would fall under thriller, as their just people killing other people. Which means that any movie with a ghost or zombie or witch or possession is a horror movie.
2 – Definition
To break it down to its most simplistic levels, horror movies are those that "horrify the viewer", whereas thrillers are those that "thrill the audience". In that regard, we'd have action-thrillers or sci-fi thrillers, with guns and explosions and stuff like that, thrillers cause excitement. But horrors cause dread, which would encompass all of the movies mentioned above, whether they possess a supernatural element or not. Anyone who wasn't horrified by The Silence Of The Lambs or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre needs to have an eye kept on them by government officials.
3 – Subgenres
To make things even more complicated, there are myriad of subgenres that fill the gap between Thrillers and Horrors, which simultaneously helps clear some things up, but also just brings up further questions. Scream and Psycho fall under "slasher", Hostel and Saw would be "splatterpunk", The Silence Of The Lambs would be a "psychological thriller"… and on and on it goes. While it makes sense to try to categorize them all this way, it's not like you can wander into your local DVD store and check out the "Gothic Lovecraftian Horror" section.
So where does that live us? Well, if you google search "100 Best Horror Movies", the lists that come up feature a mix of both horrors (as we now know they're defined) and thrillers (which still possess the power to horrify), so it's fair to assume that if you watched a movie, and it scared the bejeezus out of you, then you can call it a horror. And if some pedantic derp starts up with an argument of "Well, actually, horror is defined by…", just point them in the direction of this article. Then sit them down and make them watch the acting in Showgirls. Supernatural or not, that shit is TERRIFYING!