I'll just come out and say it. I told him to write it as a "Prove me wrong...I dare ya. I double-dog dare ya" gesture.
I remember sitting and watching the answer-print of Babysitter Wanted (2008) at PhotoKem in L.A. with its makers present. I was listening to them talk about how excited they were about the horror fan-base's enthusiasm for the not-yet-released project while witnessing a young woman get disemboweled by Medieval cattle-slaughtering gadgets up on the screen. In my perception, there is an increasingly unsettling need for elaborate blood-letting and gore within the strange cabal of horror fans, and this is far-reaching when you consider the essence of the genre itself. This answer-print screening might have permanently affected my thinking about horror. It was a window for me into the motives concerning how and why such works get produced.
My philosophy is that the best horror films morph into other kinds of genre films and can no longer be strictly classified as horror films by the time of the final fade-out. Both thriller and horror film seek to unsettle and to scare. How can you distinguish between the two, then? The means. In my eyes, horror is a genre built upon the foundation of wretched excess, with very few exceptions. Its fundamental functionality is to show...sometimes way too much. The thriller, on the other hand, needs not show, but is more often than not build around often profound levels of suggestion. Hitchcock was, after all, the Master of Suspense -- not the Master of Horror. This is all admittedly a simplified and general assertion, so allow me to elaborate.
Modern-day horror films take all this to often absurd extremes, and could be indicted as being most guilty of these charges of wretched excess. The dubiously "out-of-the-box" horror flick Cabin in the Woods (2011), which I saw involuntary while among a group of friends, does not "transcend" a damn thing within its limiting genre. Rather, it exploits it. The newest works at which horror fans make claims of enterprise and vision are, the grand majority of the time, just more inarticulate bloodletting laced with fashionable hipster irony and pseudo-Brechtian skullduggery. Cabin in the Woods is a meta-film that attempts to lampoon itself while still retaining the identity of that which it is lampooning. In every other genre, the concept of meta is something that ceased being considered clever when post-modern sensibilities were long considered passé. One must then ask why horror fans in this age seem to be behind the times in this sense. As far as I am concerned, I'm just calling a spade a spade. We have come a long way since John Landis' brilliant An American Werewolf in London (1981), which cleverly turns the form on its head in fun and diverting ways.
It seems rare to me that general genres have a fan-base. Okay, perhaps you have "action fans" and "musical fans," who assume the label in a mostly loosy-goosey way, but most fandoms appear to be reserved for subgenres that are more specified. Think "sports film" and "spy film". Perhaps the most rabid general genre fan-base is that of the horror genre. To use an earlier term, the horror fan-base is technically a cabal. What does this cabal want the most? Well, these days, it wants "splatter porn" the most. I can tell you on no uncertain terms that subtle and classy execution does not get a self-proclaimed horror fan into the theater.
Rosemary's Baby, a film that hints and suggests more than it shows, is largely classified as a horror film. However, with a director like Polanski behind the camera, the film becomes something wholly other by the time it is complete. Our imagination becomes our worst enemy as we weigh the possibility of a conspiracy against Rosemary and her unborn child. Hence, I would classify a "horror film" like Rosemary's Baby as more of a suspense thriller. My point again is that the best horror films cannot solely be classified as horror by the time a given "good" horror film ends. This is because horror is a genre that pigeonholes its product...and the films worth anything cannot be pigeonholed in such a way. I reiterate: both thriller and horror film seek to unsettle and to scare. The only thing different? The means. It also takes someone like David Cronenberg to co-opt gore into a slightly more thoughtful pedigree which he patented, the more diplomatically named "body horror".
show and that flip the switches effectively without resorting to empty and perfunctory revelation.
I have a suspicion that the horror fan-base is turned on by the cutting-edge in gore make-up and bloody effects more than the actual horror stories and narrative models, which are generally standard-operation-fare. That ain't my bag, to say the least, but it has its place, I suppose.
I have saddled Aaron with the task of proving me wrong with his article. In the meanwhile, I have briefly profiled a few horror films that I feel are unjustly neglected and made from the elemental stuff (the guts, if you will) that horror films should be made of. This is not a best-of-horror list, mind you. Just a list of buried treasures, some of which are buried deeper than others.