Why Don’t We Take Horror Films Seriously?

In case you’ve been stuck in a La-Z-Boy, Jordan Peele of the comedy duo Key & Peele won Best Original Screenplay for GET OUT at this year’s Academy Awards: an upset victory in a category that very well could have gone to award-winning playwright, Malcolm McDonagh. Now, I saw GET OUT, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It scared me without having too many obvious jump scares, and the story was a beautifully done satire of race relations in the United States. As I was watching the Oscars, being the horror movie snob that I am, I thought that I witnessed a breakthrough for horror films. However, as I am about to demonstrate, I was so very wrong. Horror films DO receive critical acclaim from the Oscars and other outlets, but for some reason, are still an afterthought in the public’s mind.

Contrary to popular belief, horror movies do actually take home awards. Steven Spielberg’s JAWS nabbed the awards for Best Sound, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Score. THE EXORCIST won Best Sound and Best Adapted Screenplay. Finally, the granddaddy of award-winning horror films, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, received Best Original Screenplay, Best Directing (Jonathan Demme), Best Actress in a Leading Role (Jodie Foster), Best Actor in a Leading Role (Anthony Hopkins), and even Best Picture. Clearly, horror movies aren’t something to sneeze at, not even at the Oscars. So why did I assume the opposite? Why don’t audiences traditionally take horror films as seriously as other films?

horror Silence

Look at that framing! Deserved every award it won if you ask me!

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I have friends that refuse to sit through anything scary, resulting in countless movie nights spent on my lonesome, but it’s fine, I’m not mad, whatever. Anyway, while there are some who adamantly avoid horror flicks, the box office reports show that people actively spend money to be scared. I love to be scared, and clearly I’m not the only one out there. In the news business, the saying goes, “if it bleeds, it leads.” Morbid, I know, but there is a truth to it. Humans slow down to observe accidents on the side of the road all the time. It’s human nature to be attracted to blood, gore, tragedy, and fear. There are enough people in the world to display that phenomenon through horror films, so I don’t think “too scary” is a reason either.

Typically, filmmakers want the audience to be engrossed in a horror movie and believe it’s actually happening, or could happen. You’re not watching a movie, but a scary story that could happen to YOU. That adds another layer of spooky. This effect is kind of difficult when there are actors that you recognize and drool over. I’m pretty sure my mother has no idea what happened in WORLD WAR Z because she was staring at Brad Pitt the whole time. All we can see is the same smoldering man from OCEAN’S ELEVEN. The zombie flick wasn’t nominated for anything, and neither was I AM LEGEND, starring Will Smith. It’s hard to be scared when you’re envisioning the fresh prince of Bel-Air running around New York killing monsters. However, THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, if we remember, stars Sir Anthony Hopkins, a well-known name and face within the industry. Of course, he created an entire character separate from his own persona while only having about 16 minutes of screen time, whereas Brad Pitt was basically just Brad Pitt, but I believe the point still stands.

horror Brad Pitt

Honestly, I really can’t blame my mom . . .

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I have to be real, horror films cater to a certain group of people who like to be scared, are interested in the subject matter, etc., and aren’t necessarily those on a judge’s panel. Films like THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and SAW have a rather large and terrifyingly dedicated cult following predicated on the slasher and gore-porn genres that, surprisingly, don’t receive much critical acclaim. The fans are there, so it can’t be them. It is possible, thank the lord almighty, that critics give praise to horror movies, from THE BABADOOK and ROSEMARY’S BABY to THE WITCH. I swear, if giving critical acclaim to horror films wasn’t a thing, I would have to go into a new line of work. It’s a possibility that judges prefer films that can deliver to a larger, more willing audience. LADY BIRD is a film that most viewers can relate to, myself included. Everyone went through high school, and LADY BIRD takes you back there, no matter the experience you had. Not everyone, in fact very few, can exactly relate to running from a murderous psychopath draped in human leather.

This image of said psychopath comes largely from B-movie slashers such as THE EVIL DEAD, A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET, and DAWN OF THE DEAD. The fantasy-like gore and DIY production value in these movies would make many people question the horror genre itself. Yes, these films are pretty campy, and even a little gross for my sensitive stomach. That doesn’t mean these movies are any less entertaining. Just like how some people can’t sit through scares, others can’t sit through viscera on a budget. However, that doesn’t mean I or someone else can’t attempt to sit through something new. The worst that can happen is I don’t like it. I personally believe B-movies and the previously mentioned judge’s panel are the reasons behind horror films’ bad reputation. That being said, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if the reason really matters.

horror Freddy

My personal favorite horror movie villain, Freddy Kruger. I don’t know if I would panic or fangirl if he showed up in one of my dreams

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Like I said before, since I’m a horror film connoisseur, I might be biased. Considering this, no matter the reason, at least in my eyes, the horror genre has done more than prove itself to be worthy of critical acclaim. GET OUT proves that you can scare audiences while being completely satirical and making a comment on something political. THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS shows that you can send shivers down someone’s spine without throwing a jump scare in their face. THE DESCENT demonstrates that character arcs and a full-blown, well-thought-out plot is absolutely possible in a genre often too dedicated to reactions. Finally, if all you’re thinking about are those ‘50s sci-fi flicks, maybe you should watch one. So go ahead, keep an open mind and try something new. I only suggest watching it with someone else; you’ll need that overnight bathroom buddy system, trust me.

Emma Wine is a film studies major at Chapman University with a particular interest in horror and drama films. She can usually be found on her laptop, shopping for makeup, and drinking a chai latte.

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