Crossfader’s Super Spooky Listicles: Horror Films That Aren’t Horror Films
If you actively read our publication, you know we’re not the most forgiving of people when it comes to pop culture. That isn’t to say that we don’t know how to have a good time; after all, we love little group get-togethers and nights filled with B-rate horror films. But when the dialogue about great horror films begins, a whole new can of worms is opened. It’s usually an innocent, “I mean, yeah, _____ is great, but that’s not REALLY a horror film.” Next thing you know, Crossfader HQ is on fire. So strap in and listen to the vitriol: Here are 10 horror films that aren’t actually horror films, ya dingus. For anybody decent reading this list, interpret this as a great list of tense thrillers, dramas, and mysteries that we recommend to you.
THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
Every single time horror film history is discussed, this film’s omission during Academy season becomes a hot-button issue. And without fail, some smart ass insists that THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is indeed among the few horror films to ever garner serious Academy attention. But here’s the rub, dingus: THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is a milestone thriller. It is one of the greatest mystery films ever committed to celluloid. But it is not a horror film. Not in the way that THE OMEN and THE EXORCIST are, at least. And I admit that this might sound harsh, because this seminal Hopkins vehicle is occasionally quite scary, but that isn’t the point. When we try to dissect why horror films don’t receive award recognition, it’s unfair to point at a film that’s primarily an investigative thriller. As disturbing as the crime might be, we horror fans crave to see a film rooted in horror to sweep at the Oscars. After all, nobody describes TRUE DETECTIVE as horror television.
The only person worse than the dingus who says “you can’t compare ALIEN and ALIENS because one is a horror film and one is an action film” is the self-proclaimed film buff that refers to David Lynch as a horror director. Lynch’s style is willfully abstract, and categorizing him as a genre filmmaker feels odd in the first place. His nightmarish aesthetics certainly influenced a large bulk of horror films that followed in his footsteps, but to put an auteur of his stature under any umbrella feels woefully misguided. MULHOLLAND DRIVE is a fantastically rare experience — a film that jumps in style and tone like few modern milestones. It’s no surprise that this 2001 outing is widely regarded as Lynch’s magnum opus, but it’s just as much a drama, a romance, and a mystery as it is a horror film. Frankly, the same applies to the rest of Lynch’s filmography. At the end of the day, there’s nothing wrong with loving MULHOLLAND DRIVE, or calling it a horror film, but limiting that categorization to nothing but one genre ignores a fundamental quirk in Lynch’s magical filmmaking.
THE WICKER MAN
The Nicolas Cage film is a comedy at this point, this much we know. But even the 1973 film starring Christopher Lee is more of a bizarre, twisted detective tale than a traditional horror film. To tell the truth, it hurts me to write this, because I often am the first dingus to list THE WICKER MAN as my all-time favorite horror film. But I must surrender to the truth: Director Robin Hardy’s bleak pagan carnival is exciting and ultimately gutting, but it’s only in the finale that THE WICKER MAN really takes its dark turn towards horror. Until then, it’s more of an eerie, off-kilter mystery, a thriller in which people act just a little peculiar. THE WICKER MAN ultimately rests as a seminal film that ought to have received awards recognition akin to THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. But even though it may have mastered unease, it never actually amounts to being much of a horror film in the first place.
Face it, it’s a fantasy film. The odd quirk about PAN’S LABYRINTH is that most dingees (plural for dingus) don’t seem to bring it up in discussion regarding horror films, but boy does it seem to top horror film charts year in and year out. As of writing this list, Guillermo Del Toro’s critically-acclaimed tale holds the #15 spot in RottenTomatoes’s Top 100 Horror Films list, beating out EVIL DEAD 2, THE BIRDS, and NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD. But what matters isn’t its spot on the list, but the fact that it’s somehow ranked as a horror film in the first place. Okay, I admit that this feels like nit-picking, but the entire nature of this list is trivial, so clearly you have some vested interest in this frustration as well. I hate to refer to Merriam Webster’s definition of “horror,” but PAN’S LABYRINTH doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of fear, shock, and dread, instead using those tones to induce a sense of wonder.
UNDER THE SKIN
It’s not a horror film, but seeing a naked man deflate in a dark abyss of water will get under your skin. Following an alien in disguise (Scarlet Johansson) navigating through Scotland to seduce lonely men is not a very frightening affair. However, the detached camerawork and storytelling does make this purposefully stale story feel extraordinarily alien, therefore inspiring a somewhat horrifying experience for the audience as they descend into a distinctly non-immersive cinematic experience. So yes, I suppose a dingus can qualify UNDER THE SKIN as a horror film, but its formalist qualities make for an experience that is distinctly more complex than something that can be summed up by the conventions of a single genre.
When I started writing this article, KILL LIST was exactly the type of film I had in mind. Third act notwithstanding, nothing about KILL LIST implies “horror film.” Granted, its finale is quite terrifying, but director Ben Wheatley plays with discomfort and unease in ways that is rather uncommon for horror fare. In a tale that follows a contract killer and his partner, KILL LIST could just as much be billed a dramatic-thriller as it is a horror film. Similar to THE WICKER MAN, this is a film that only reveals its horror twists near the films finale, relegating much of the runtime to something far more internal, abstract, and experimental. It’s a great build to a shocking conclusion, and though the greater experience might leave viewers polarized, KILL LIST is a tense film that every dingusy (the adjective for dingus) horror-snob will certainly lay claim to, when frankly, they shouldn’t.
Park Chan-Wook’s 2013 foray into English-speaking cinema is certainly intimidating, though it ultimately functions more like a Shakespearian, domestic tragedy than an all-out horror film. The nods to serial killer thrillers and dark corridors allude to horror tropes, but STOKER is ultimately a mystery-thriller that clothes itself in the trappings of horror for heightened effect. Park Chan-Wook is a master of suspense, but STOKER is among his least stylized, most character-driven outings. This is a unique breed of horror film. At the end of the day, Park owes more to Hitchcock than he does to horror films, and it shows. STOKER is a thrilling experience, but if you enter a drunken conversation about how scary STOKER is, you’ll probably find yourself on your own, dingus.
THE NEON DEMON
Nicolas Wending Refn spent much of THE NEON DEMON’s marketing campaign [and Q&A] cementing its status as a modern, feminist horror film. And although a case can surely be made in his defense, THE NEON DEMON is such a surreal, abstract experience that it’s absurd to make such a blanket statement about its genre. THE NEON DEMON is an homage to Kubrick, a sweeping reprimand of fashion, beauty, and the culture that milks the objectification of women. And while all of these facts, especially the latter, are scary in their own right, THE NEON DEMON is built much like a Lynch film. Structurally, this is not a haunting film, but rather one where a surreal series of events tragically affect the life of a woman who grows progressively more narcissistic, you dingus.
THE SKIN I LIVE IN
Pedro Almodovar has always had a knack for the obscene. With BAD EDUCATION, he played with falsified identities and lies to sexually compromise his leads, and with TIE ME UP! TIE ME DOWN! he dissected the perverse nature of Stockholm Syndrome. But THE SKIN I LIVE IN is Almodovar’s most audacious outing. In a gorgeous tribute to Georges Franju, Almodovar presents a parallel narrative thriller that relies on flashbacks to inform the viewer’s understanding of character motivations. It’s distinctly perverse, arguably transphobic, and most definitely controversial, but it’s less of a horror film than it is a Greek tragedy. Almodovar’s narrative is presented akin to OEDIPUS REX, and as such it owes a great deal to drama, making you a dingus if you call it a horror film.
The fact that Del Toro is the only director that’s on this list twice is very telling, dingees. CRIMSON PEAK was met with mixed reviews, but when the Crossfader editing staff finally sat down to catch up on this film, they were surprised to find that Del Toro’s film is really not much of a horror film at all. That’s saying a lot, because unlike all the other films on this list, CRIMSON PEAK is pure horror in conceit and presentation. It’s got a spooky hilltop manor, ghosts, and incestous murderers. But Del Toro’s film is a romantic tragedy at its core, a film that uses its gothic aesthetic as a means of delivering a fun spin on a ghost story. Spirits are not malicious in Del Toro’s film, and horror tropes are presented as visual storytelling, not needless jump scares. While CRIMSON PEAK could have benefitted from a more assured screenplay, it’s a twist on the haunted-house trope that merits further examination.
If you love horror films, you’ll want to get your hands on some horror socks to show off your love for the genre! My friend has some and loves them!