BLACK SWAN IS NOT A HORROR MOVIE!!!!
(phew... glad to finally get that off my chest)
Is it scary? Yes.
Is it disturbing? Yes
Is it a horror movie? No.
Just because a film is scary, suspenseful, disturbing, even terrifying, that does NOT make it a horror movie.
Let me tell you a little secret... Are you ready? Ok, here goes...
Jaws is not a horror movie either. (uh oh, I can hear the masses grumbling)
Neither is Psycho. (ducks head, awaiting flying cookingware)
Silence of the Lambs? ...forget about it - it's a straight up thriller (hey, put that pitchfork down willya? lemme explain!)
|Stop looking at me like that, Lecter, lemme explain|
Well EFF THAT! Horror does not need justification or legitimacy. It's just fine as it is, thank you very much - in all its bloody, subversive, thought-provoking glory.
Therefore, I think a little clarification is in order. A comprehensive definition of what a horror film is, so these constant mis-classifications can stop. If a term like "horror film" is used incorrectly, eventually it loses its meaning and has no value anymore.
Once we have a solid definition we can use that as a filter to pass a bunch of movies through it and see how it stands up under scrutiny.
I'll take the first stab - here's my definition. A horror movie has to have the following elements:
- it has to have an element of the supernatural (witches, ghosts, demons, alternate realities, etc)
- it has to have a monster (some creature that does not actually exist)
- its primary aim has to be to elicit fear, horror, disgust or suspense.
This means that many of the most famous movies that you see on those best horror films lists, ARE NOT EVEN HORROR FILMS!
Ok, let's go back to the films already mentioned and pass them through my filter.
-Black Swan has nothing to do with the supernatural and has no monsters. It teases the audience with weird things going on - dopplegangers and a young woman sprouting feathers, etc. - but it is evident from the beginning of the movie that the lead character (whose point of view the film is seen) is by every piece of evidence, BATSHIT CRAZY! Let's see,we got bulemia, cutting, boundry issues with ma, a little OCD perhaps, some good ol' sexual repression and a huge whopping dose of psychosis and schizophrenia.
|Sorry Bruce, you're outta here!|
- Psycho, Silence of The Lambs and yes... even Texas Chainsaw Massacre are all based ON A REAL-LIFE PSYCHOTIC PERSON NAMED ED GEIN. These are all incredibly great, monumentally important films, but none of them are true horror films, my friends.
I think people want to classify these films as horror in order to make themselves feel safer - "Oh, those chainsaw wielding, lunatic cannibals are just monsters! Thank goodness they don't exist in real life." Well I've got news for you folks, human beings are capable of unimaginable acts of cruelty and depravity. Just ask the Jews or the Chinese what they went through during WWII. This stuff actually happens. This is no boogeyman tale to keep kids in line. Ed Gein actually existed, created a lamp shade out of a face, wore a woman's "suit" from real flesh. And he's not the only one.
Look, when I worked at a bookstore back in the 90's, I knew all about Silence of the Lambs and Red Dragon. I loved those books and recommended them to customers constantly. You wanna know under what section they were kept? Take a guess...
In the MYSTERY section, with all the other detective stories about murderers and child molesters and serial killers. Wanna know why? Because THEY AREN'T HORROR BOOKS! And neither was American Psycho for that matter - that was in the general fiction section.
|Its all your fault!|
- Last House on the Left - a disturbing thriller based on an Ingmar Bergman classic, The Virgin Spring. You wouldn't call The Virgin Spring a horror film, would you?
- Friday the 13th - a classic slasher film. This movie and all the carbon copy slashers that came after it almost killed true horror films with their lack of imagination, cliched stories and endless teenage body counts.
- Seven - a psychological thriller/detective film. One of my favorite movies of all-time.
- Scream - a self-referential slasher/thriller. Two kids, Billy and Stu are the killer. Nothing supernatural here folks.
Saw and Hostel and all their nasty offspring. NONE OF THESE ARE HORROR MOVIES EITHER! They are the bastard spawn of slasher movies. They are at best, clever psychological thrillers, and at worst, cynical, dehumanizing snuff wannabies.
Now let's take a look at some actual horror movies so we can get a clear sense of what I'm talking about:
Blair Witch Project - supernatural
Poltergeist - supernatural
Halloween - although set up like a slasher film, Halloween in my eyes blurs the line with supernatural with Michael Myers being described as "Pure evil" - he is clearly more than human.
The Entity - supernatural
Evil Dead II - supernatural/comedy, still horror in my eyes
Drag me to Hell - supernatural/comedy, still horror in my eyes
The Shining - supernatural
In the Mouth of Madness - supernatural
The Exorcist - supernatural
The Last Exorcism - supernatural
Paranormal Activity - supernatural
Hellraiser - supernatural
The Ring - supernatural
Devil's Backbone - supernatural but Pan's Labyrinth is not, it is more Fantasy/Magical Realism
Night of the Living Dead - monsters
28 Days Later - monsters
Splice - sci-fi/monster
Descent - monsters
Pumpkinhead - supernatural/monster
Sixth Sense - supernatural
Signs - sci-fi/alien monsters
Nightmare on Elm Street - monster/supernatural
Rosemary's Baby - supernatural
Angel Heart - supernatural noir/horror
Suspiria - supernatural (but Deep Red, and Argento's other Giallo films are not)
Jacob's Ladder - borderline, but ultimately, supernatural
Shivers - monsters (but Dead Ringers, NO - psychological thriller - What the heck is Videodrome ??)
The Thing - alien monster
Alien - alien monster
Aliens - well, now look what James Cameron did to one of my favorite movies ofall time. He took a classic horror movie and turned it into an action/sci-fi/combat movie. It's really not a horror movie at all. He took all the mystery and menace out of the original Alien Monster and instead gave us a bunch of scurrying cockroaches to be exterminated. Gee, thanks Cameron.
|10:30... time for my union coffee break...|
- its primary aim has to be to elicit fear, horror, disgust or suspense.
One could make the argument that Aliens has monsters in it and its primary aim is to elicit horror or at least suspense, so therefore it is a horror movie. And I agree that this is a borderline case, but for me, the setup of Aliens is a pure action/combat film. This could easily have been set in the tunnels of Iwo Jima. The emotions Cameron seems interested in are not horror, terror, or even suspense, but to elicit the catharsis of defeating an enemy.
Predator and Predators - same as Aliens
Let's take a look at some more movies that don't make the cut because although they may have monsters, or elements of the supernatural, the tone of the film is all wrong:
Ghostbusters - action/comedy
Shawn of the Dead - another great film, but this one to me is a comedy - a parody of zombie movies.
Jurassic Park - scifi/action - borderline. It feels a lot like Jaws (thanks to Spielberg) and it definitely is set up to elicit suspense and terror, and dinosaurs no longer exist... But not quite.
Altered States - Scifi/action with horror elements
Lord of the Rings - fantasy/drama/action with horror elements
Cloverfield - disaster/giant monster movie
|Grab your camera quick! There's a really stupid-looking monster coming!|
Independence Day - disaster/scifi/action film
War of the Worlds - disaster/scifi/action film
Monsters - drama/disaster/giant monster movie Yeah, the title of the film is called "Monsters", and there are actual alien giant-squid monsters in it, but the movie really isn't interested in them. It's kinda like Before Sunrise with occasional tentacles here and there.
And then, we have the movies that are right on the border:
American Werewolf in London - monster/action/comedy Is it a comedy with horror elements? Or a horror film with comedic touches? I'd say this is a horror movie first, with comedic touches, it gets in.
Let the Right One in - supernatural/drama, but is its primary aim to elicit horror or suspense? I love the movie, but its borderline. Ah heck... let it in!
Eraserhead - experimental/horror All of Lynch's movies are hard to classify. Although it really never sets up suspense or terror, it is disturbing as hell and the "baby" is monstrous enough for me, so bring it on!
Cabin Fever - no supernatural, but you could argue that the virulent plague is a "monster". Its tone however is straight horror - going for gore, and terror, so it gets in too.
The Human Centipede - Wow, this one's tough. It's got your classic psycho-doc element straight out of a thriller, but it plays like a modern-day Frankenstein. There's nothing supernatural, but does the completed human centipede represent a "monster" per se? I'd say no, this movie belongs in the slasher/torture porn genre - Get it outta here!
Now, out of all the movies I eliminated, there is really one one that falls through the cracks that I'd like to have back. I'm fine with Jaws not being a horror film, fine with Psycho and Silence of the Lambs and Black Swan being left out too.
|Welcome back, Leatherface -we missed ya big buddy!|
Now it's your turn. Prove me wrong. Explain why Black Swan is a horror movie - or not. Create a specific definition of what a horror movie is and pass a bunch of movies through it. See what is included and what is left out. Does it still have merit?
As with all things, the interesting discussions will arise at the edges. Is Gremlins a horror film? What about Shawn of the Dead? Altered States? Videodrome? Eraserhead?
Bring in on!