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The Main Concepts of Horror Films

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It is noted that horror films is foresee the most poised genre of all genres due to its “long dynamic history”, creating a sine curve in the history of successful horror films. The idea of fear changes throughout as certain films discover its popularity in a particular timeline where the popularity decreases, then another film’s popularity increases. Well established works of horror film is successful at the time of its making, then in the future it can appear somewhat humorous.

As in agreement with “The Genre of Horror” (2012) it discusses the fact horror is a wide genre to be defined. They found more accuracy in one that defines horror through its “categories and its sub-genres ”. The sub-genres includes; rural, cosmic, apocalyptic, crime, erotic, occult and psychological. Tzvetan Todorov foresees horror as a genre in three forms: uncanny, marvelous and fantastic, with regards to Altmen’s theoretical method of distinguishing genre in the formalities of semantics and syntactic ways, his method will still be considered. On the other hand, Todorov’s idea is much more suitable for this particular genre therefore, the three forms is seen as a higher priority and supports a solid overview of horror. The uncanny involves qualities of the supernatural, fictional, absurd or impossible events towards the end of the story. Or follows the reality where events are to be found “incredible, disturbing, unusual, shocking, unexpected or unique”. However, if the film does follow the laws of reality with a provoking ending, it is possible others may be mistaken it as a thriller. The examples given under the uncanny category are “ Psycho (1960), or films that overlap with the genre of science fiction. Extraterrestrials can be inhuman but not unnatural”. For marvelous horror, it is to accept “the second layer of reality” and “the new laws of nature” while the narrative last, even though the viewer is aware of its irrational, mystifying phenomena. Films containing characters for instance “vampires, werewolves, living dead…” displays the marvelous horror. Lastly, the third category being the fantastic horror. The fantastic horror delivers unclear explanation of the strange irrational phenomena therefore, leaves the view to deciphers themselves the reasoning behind the situation usually the explanation of “paranormal or as a hallucination of the main protagonist.”. In the fantastic, it brings hesitation between the real and the unreal, the audience may or may not share this experience with the character. The Shining (1980),” is an example of the fantastic horror.

In his study White (1971) discusses even typical horror conventions associated with the syntactic point of view may not necessarily produce fear and dread. Examples such as “Shots of Gothic manors lit by lighting, shadows glimpsed under doors, or of a hand gliding along a banister”, yet they have been used so often, many have familiarize themselves with these conventions to define the genre of horror. White (1971) uses film examples to apply the same idea for the semantics in terms of common characters in horror films or under the “uncanny horror”. Characters such as vampires, werewolves, zombies and so forth are very much “cliché” of horror, yet sometimes these “clichés” in fact provokes an opposite effect to the viewer therefore only creates laughter. However, films without theses common iconographic traits produce more fear than the ones just mentioned above, as he said, “…while a film such as Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate that had a none of the traditional surface characteristics and gimmicks of the horror film, or Hitchcock’s Pycho with it’s obvious elements of humor, become something profoundly hideous and shocking.” The structure of the plot is not just a sequence of certain events, White (1971) discusses this sense of “unity” but a “…unity of a certain kind of action. It must be more than just the unity of a life”. What is meant by this is not necessarily the character or the objects themselves that evoke horror however, the very importance on the natural development and causation of the character actions in their environment (White 1971),“such as that of a mad doctor, of an act such as his crimes or experiments; of a place such as the castle where he conducts his experiments; or of a period defined by the prejudices of his colleagues or of the society that drives the doctor to misuse his discovery”.

In order to communicate a sense of suspense and suspicion in a syntactic way White(1971) talks about certain techniques with the camera to emphasizing distinct actions which would usually be the norm. Such as moving the camera in a single shot, “shifting lighting, moving actors, or changing sound or content of some kind…”. This is clearly demonstrated in Psycho where there is a scene of the main woman wrapping up the money in newspaper which is left on the bedside table; the camera continues to focus on the object as oppose to the actress. This delivers a more subtle ways of unfold the plot yet it arouses emotions in the viewer instead of just displaying a dead body or gore in every shot.

The films that are best criticized as works of horror not only has causation but element of an uncontrollable causation. The idea where there is not a moment of rest and constant fighting for survive everywhere the character may turn. “The Ring” (2002) demonstrates this effectively, the basic plot is about an urban legend where a video tape, if seen by anyone the person will die in 7 days. A reporter quite herself in this situation not only trying to find ways to prevent her death but found her son watching the tape too. Placing these characters in an inevitable position of death, causing a domino effect of constant danger. White (1971) best describes this “Like pawns people move from one insecure situation to another. Very soon we, too feel isolated and defenseless….because of the continual revelation of random but at the same time inevitable forces asserting themselves within their events and characterization. Their lack of comprehensible causation in clearly intentional”.

Observing these devices in a psychological manner is important as the intend goal in the works of a horror film is to provoke a horrific emotional response from the audience. As horror films are interested in the subject of death but in order to achieve horror with the association of the fear of death it “requires a certain kind of manipulation of that fear.” In many cases in works of horror film, murder tends to be involved. However, murder itself is not enough but the type of death where there is “no protection, no warning and no escape”. The type of death is not only to be considered but the way death is presented with the use of cinematography which help dictates what sort of genre it is, genres like detective murder or war films include death yet does not show death in the same way horror does. As death is a popular subject among all films alongside love. Other ways of triggering fear from a psychological perspective, is not only to fear for the type of death which cannot be controlled but encountering the unknown can be more frightening than the known. White said “our fear of being unable to deal with the our environment”, this portrays a sense of vulnerability in the character because we are unable to identify the unknown; whether that “it” is some form of being or the surrounding environment therefore, the unpredictability produces the tension and suspension in the character which embodies horror in the recipients even though there is no justification to share their fear. Once faced with an unpredictable form it creates another type of uncontrollable causation, as the character cannot gain control or unable to prepare themselves against death to the unknown. Usually, when the unknown is revealed it is mostly associated with “monsters and nightmarish situations beyond our comprehension and control”. The notion of fear is capable of being evoked with injecting thoughts of powerlessness. This powerlessness can be represented by withdrawing physical and mental control of one’s own body. The impression of losing our control in both of these qualities; particularly our mentality, it is an experience we all have seen and/ or experience such as stress, pain, sadness and so forth. Films such as (The Exorcist, Paranormal Activity, Psycho and zombie films) present this “powerlessness” element, whether that be a plausible to an irrational reason behind these causes of possessions. The difference between this uncontrollable causation from the previous one is that fact once insanity is at a stage which cannot be returned to its normal state, the goal to reach any form of safety or hope is completely taken away. Whereas before, the subject matter may cannot have the ability to control the strange events but still remains her sanity to continue their aim of escaping despite the circumstances. “These are possibilities express everyman’s concern for his physical and psychological safety and individuality. When we see this integrity violated it is a threat to our ego’s ability to protect itself because it dramatizes the failure of another ego to preserve itself.”

Iconic characters in horror films are usually associated with monster or some form of evil being. “Monster in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film” by Harry Benshoff and White, both discuss the “sexuality” of these creatures and how it is portrayed under this genre. Benshoff studied about anti-homosexual attitudes in 1984. The “heterosexuals’ fears of gay and lesbian sexuality”, the society saw homosexuality as a threat due to breaking traditional family, genders and “homosexuals have been frequently linked in the media to child molestation, rape and violence”. As an example from Frankenstein, villagers seem fear him not as a murderer but as a child molester. Followed by White, he discusses about the “animalization” and the general sexualization, the concept of werewolves, people turning into something more primitive than man and animals becoming more than animals. He distinguishes the beast from perverted being from our own species in two ways; one which a normal human is revolved into a monster through spells, a drug or a disease. The other is the emphases of the beast’s sexuality. The common format is usually a human woman under the danger of a “animalistic male” , female monster would use the power of seduction, same applies to vampires in Dracula. After analyzing code and conventions of the horror, which will be applied to the chosen short animated film, “Who’s Hungry” (based on Hansel and Gretel) to support the reasons why this animation should belong in this genre. The general story is about two children encountering an ice cream van, where a man kidnaps them by grabbing their attention with ice cream. He returns to his home, once placing the kids in their place he continue his day by watching television whilst consuming a previous child he abducted in a liquid form. In the process of the kids escaping, it led to the ice cream man to trip and fall into the blender. Which the girl took the opportunity to kill the man by turning on the blender.

From the overall story, it would be placed under the “uncanny” category set by Todorov, this would sit in the reality with provoking and disturbing assets to the story. As the situation consists of kidnapping, cannibalism, child abuse is achievable in the reality with the possible hints of the villain being a child molester. Ochs followed the devices used in horror where the camera focuses on normal actions to unfold the plot in a subtle manner. The first scene drawing our attention once the ice cream van arrived, the camera emphasized on the children holding hands. This particular action of hands is shown throughout the animation, it communicates various emotions towards the recipient. First, the girl expresses a sense of insecurity and desire for protection for her friend and herself as the ice cream van approached them. Next is showing the moment the naive boy let’s go to receive the offering from the man, allowing the audience to anticipate the possible troubles ahead. Right through the end, where the girl is caught by the man after she turned on the switch, the boy grabs her hand to save her from being killed. In addition, this scene supports the horror genre where characters are part of the uncontrollable causation and to fight against the inevitable situations.

With the researched provided majority of the challenged animated film had more qualities of horror and would easily belong to the Todorov’s category of the “uncanny horror”. To define a horror genre itself is as challenging, as it does not only to consider the semantics and syntactics. But in this particular genre it is definitely more than meets the eye for the reasons horror uses qualities in a psychological manner and the interesting variations of the uncontrollable causation.

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The Main Concepts of Horror Films. (2019, September 13). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 21, 2021, from
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