Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Defining Horror For The Willie List

Ed Hardy is hosting 31 Flicks That Give You The Willies next month. He has stated some more specific rules for the list here. A couple of things of note. First, Ed has eliminated any TV from the list so that sucks because I can't include Salem's Lot which I would argue is among one of the best horror movies ever created. And then there's Trilogy Of Terror and if you don't know how I feel about that, well then you're just not paying attention. Second, I have begun to compile my own list and have discovered that coming up with 31 of the greatest horror films that I feel are truly great is hard stuff. I am having to go back and review a few movies that I have in the back of my head as being scary but want to make sure they still hold up. The upside is that it has helped me define the word horror and how it relates to certain films. On The Bleeding Tree, I commented that horror is any film that gives me the willies. Willies is a very technical term.

Anything that gives you the willies sounds simple enough, but in looking at the list it really isn't simple at all. So in an effort to make the simple much more complicated, I have tried to define what kind of films give me the willies. There are three categories. First, there are the films that are just plain scary. These are films like Halloween, The Fog and Hell Night. Nothing against these films because I love them desperately, but they are scary on a very basic level. They set a mood, create suspense and something jumps out at you. Fear is on the surface and it creates a visceral reaction.

Then there are horror films that more psychologically frightening. I put the Dead films in this category as well as most of Cronenberg's work. I don't consider Dawn Of The Dead a frightening film because I am jumping out of my seat, but because it explores the idea of the apocalypse and that one day I could wake up and all hell could break loose. The remake went for more of a visceral response by making the zombies faster and while I like the remake I think it missed the mark in that respect.

Finally, there are films that are frightening to me because of who I am. Horror, like comedy, can be very broad or it can be very specific to the person. For example, one might not describe Assault On Precinct 13 as a horror movie, but to me the idea of being trapped in a remote building surrounded by people who have no value for life is the stuff great nightmares are made of. This has to do more with how I am as a person and no this is not based on some personal experience of being trapped in a remote building when I was a kid. This is an interesting category for me because it's this category that is going to make the list more interesting. It's this category that will stray from the more traditional Psycho and The Exorcist and give us something completely different.

In telling you what I do consider horror, let me also tell you what I don't. If you don't know how I feel about Eli Roth, well then again you're not just paying attention. In looking at other lists, I stumbled upon a few movies that also don't fall into my "willie giving" category. And those are horror films that are considered cool because they update the genre in new and unique ways. Near Dark is a fantastic movie because it crosses genres and makes vampires relevant but I don't find it scary in the least. And while I am a huge Raimi fan and love all the Evil Dead films, no lump forms in my throat and not a single hair raises on my neck when I watch them. They just don't give me the willies. And as I said before, if it doesn't give me the willies, it doesn't make the list.


Anonymous said...

I agree with you, Piper. This is a hard list to compile.

"Salem's Lot" probably deserves to be included simply for that one shot of the kid floating outside the upstairs window. YEESH.

You mnetioned some great visceral horror films like Halloween, etc. I also agree with you about Cronenberg's early work ... "The Fly" and "Dead Ringers" are freaky and unnerving. I think the ending to "The Fly" is one of the truly jarring finales to any film, period.

And somewhere on my list I will find a spot for "Jacob's Ladder." Woooo ... that is one freaky flick.

This list has been mucho hard, though.

Anonymous said...

So do you have Horror Nipples to go with your Comedy Penis?

Eddie Hardy said...

Fascinating stuff, Piper.

One of the reasons I decided to do this list was as an investigation into what it is about horror films that so captures the imagination of our culture--and why so many different types of films get lumped into this category we call "horror."

I think Neil at Bleeding Tree had a lot of interesting things to say about this, and I'm glad for his erudite, historical perspective. However, I think matters of genre and classification are fluid and it is futile to attempt to fix a definition in place. Ultimately, the habits of the filmgoing community--rather than the needs of the studio marketing depts. or the beliefs of critics or academia-- have the final say on these matters.

Which is why, presently, I'm interested in what individual members of our--smaller, more circumscribed--community consider "horror," and what our community as a WHOLE comes up with as 31 high-quality representatives of it.

The specific rules and specifications of a genre are always stretched by its individual films. For instance: film noir always involves crime going on in the city, lit darkly in black and white. But then what about THE LOST WEEKEND, DETOUR and THE LAST SEDUCTION?

Anywho, I've rambled enough in your comments section, and I've got plenty more to say. Perhaps I should've just posted something about this on my own blog...

PIPER said...


Jacob's Ladder is going to be on the list. And yes, the kid floating outside the window is the stuff willies are made of.


You are right to leave the rules open like they are. It will create a much more interesting list.