Author Topic: Horror vs. Suspense / Psychological Thriller  (Read 13813 times)

Planish

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on: November 28, 2007, 10:38:37 AM
I've been wondering about what makes a horror story "horror" per se, aside from pointing at it when we say it.
There are so many overlapping genres and subgenres, and many of them share very few elements in common with others. Even more nebulous than "science fiction".

- Slasher/gore (but not "The Wild Bunch")
- Supernatural monsters (demons, werewolves, and vampires, but not "Dragonheart" or "Jason and the Golden Fleece")
- Science-fictiony monsters (a la "Aliens", but probably not "Godzilla")
- Post-apoc craziness (some with mutants and/or zombies, without which they might be merely SF thrillers)
- Paranormal phenomena ("Poltergeist", but not "Ghostbusters")

Certainly "fearing for the protagonist" has to be a major ingredient, but you can have that without it necessarily being labeled "horror", as in most of Hitchcock's movies. I'd call them "suspense" or "psychological thriller". Any decent (IMHO) horror story must have the psychological thriller element, but not vice-versa (apparently).

One of the most memorable movies I saw as a kid was Kubrick's "Fail Safe". It came out when the End Of The World By Nuclear Holocaust was a very real issue. It had many of the features of a horror story, yet I doubt it would be labeled such, possibly because it was so plausible.

One of the best "monsters" I've seen is Dennis Hopper's psycho character in "Blue Velvet". Everybody tenses up when he enters the room, yet there is very little actual gore or physical violence throughout the movie. Blue Velvet is not considered a horror movie though. On the other hand, "Silence of the Lambs", with only a bit of gore and much "euwww" factor, is. I think.

My favourite (okay, maybe only) horror author is Steven King, yet I find that his most effective bits of horror involve fairly mundane villains and situations - the neighbourhood bullies, vicious dogs, dark basements, obsessive loners, etc.

Oops. Workplace duty calls, more later. I just wanted to get this going.
« Last Edit: November 28, 2007, 10:49:59 AM by Planish »

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DarkKnightJRK

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Reply #1 on: November 29, 2007, 07:24:09 AM
I think the mundane and the annoyances of normal life spun into something gruesome and life-threatening is a good incrediant for horror.

For example, The Stand. It's practically one of the only books that actually legitamately scared me, and that was because of the superflu. What made it even worse was that I was reading it during flu season.

However, there's nothing wrong with pure evil. Again, in The Stand, Randall Flagg is quite horrifying in his completely amoral manner. I mean, he's the bloody Anti-Christ, how can he NOT be scary?



Planish

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Reply #2 on: December 15, 2007, 02:27:02 AM
I think the mundane and the annoyances of normal life spun into something gruesome and life-threatening is a good incrediant for horror.
[snip]
However, there's nothing wrong with pure evil. Again, in The Stand, Randall Flagg is quite horrifying in his completely amoral manner. I mean, he's the bloody Anti-Christ, how can he NOT be scary?
I thought Flagg was one of the marginal characters. Too much of an "stuntman in a rubber suit" villain. For me it was the "normal" local thugs and nasties that people ran up against, like "The Kid", that put me on the edge of my seat, so I totally agree with your first remark.

Quote
For example, The Stand. It's practically one of the only books that actually legitamately scared me, and that was because of the superflu. What made it even worse was that I was reading it during flu season.

It didn't really scare me, but I first read it on a long airplane flight, and me with a bad head cold. That did add to my enjoyment of it, in a perverse way.

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wakela

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Reply #3 on: December 16, 2007, 11:36:13 PM
I don't think this is going to help us reach any conclusions, but this thread reminded me of something. When I was in high school I worked in a video rental shop.  They kept putting new horror releases like "Lost Boys" in the Suspense/Thriller section, because if they put it in horror no one would rent it. 

Does a movie need something monstrous to be horror?  The killers in Hitchchock movies usually act on motives we can understand even if we don't empathize.  Cary Grant knows too much, so the bad guys are after him.  I feel fear, but at the same time I can understand where the bad guys are coming from.  Jack Nicholson in "The Shining" is just nuts.  He and I are not playing with the same deck.  I would consider Hitchchock's "Psycho" to be horror.   Maybe Stephen King's use of the mundane works because it puts the monstrous in everyday life.  Most of us do not find ourselves trapped in a giant hotel all winter, but we do have basements.

I wouldn't classify "Silence of the Lambs" as horror.  I think it's because the focus of the story is on how they are chasing the killer, but not what he is doing.  But if the focus were on Buffalo Bill and his victims it would be horror.

Horror stories that annoy me are the ones with vampires and/or werewolves, but aren't trying to be scary.  But the classic monsters are so connected with the horror genre I don't know how else to classify these stories.



DarkKnightJRK

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Reply #4 on: December 26, 2007, 10:45:45 PM
I thought Flagg was one of the marginal characters. Too much of an "stuntman in a rubber suit" villain. For me it was the "normal" local thugs and nasties that people ran up against, like "The Kid", that put me on the edge of my seat, so I totally agree with your first remark.

The only time where he wasn't scary was in the made-for-TV miniseries. But, anyone wearing a mullet is no longer frightening--only annoying. The crappy rubber mask transformations didn't help either.

Hell, the whole thing sucked. I would pratically pee a little if they made a professional mini-series or TV show based on The Stand, one with at least a bit of budget so it looks marginally real.



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Reply #5 on: December 27, 2007, 08:27:08 AM
Hell, the whole thing sucked. I would pratically pee a little if they made a professional mini-series or TV show based on The Stand, one with at least a bit of budget so it looks marginally real.

So you don't like the version of The Stand they already made?



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Reply #6 on: January 10, 2008, 10:01:39 PM
Now that "The Intrusion" has appeared on PP, and it's a story which contains both "horror" and "psychological thriller" elements (the former being the ghost that buds off the MC, the latter being the MC getting robbed at gunpoint while being naked), I think I can state (at least for me) that the psychological thriller part is scarier.  Sure, the idea of a ghost trying to kill my wife is distressing, but it's more likely that I'll be robbed at gunpoint while naked than have a ghost try to kill my wife.

YMMV, naturally.

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Ben Phillips

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Reply #7 on: February 26, 2008, 06:57:46 AM
As with any medium, I maintain that genre headings are not strict categories; they are only adjectives used to describe things.  So, when people get into heated debates (speaking hypothetically here, since this thread has been perfectly intelligent and I intend no disrespect) about what is or is not "horror" (or "punk" or "sci fi" or...), it's directly analogous to poking each other's eyes out about whether the sky is light blue or dark blue.  My understanding is that with horror fiction in particular, more so than other fiction genres, various terms have been invented and interchanged in a kind of marketing shell game.

I highly recommend reading Douglas Winter's "The Pathos of Genre", which is, as far as I've yet seen, the last word on this topic:  http://www.darkecho.com/darkecho/darkthot/pathos.html



wakela

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Reply #8 on: February 27, 2008, 12:54:21 AM
As with any medium, I maintain that genre headings are not strict categories; they are only adjectives used to describe things.  So, when people get into heated debates (speaking hypothetically here, since this thread has been perfectly intelligent and I intend no disrespect) about what is or is not "horror" (or "punk" or "sci fi" or...), it's directly analogous to poking each other's eyes out about whether the sky is light blue or dark blue.  My understanding is that with horror fiction in particular, more so than other fiction genres, various terms have been invented and interchanged in a kind of marketing shell game.

I highly recommend reading Douglas Winter's "The Pathos of Genre", which is, as far as I've yet seen, the last word on this topic:  http://www.darkecho.com/darkecho/darkthot/pathos.html
I think it's more like poking each other's eyes out over whether or not those are rain clouds.  I would take my mother to see Panic Room.  I would not take her to see Saw.  Obviously, there are shades of gray, but these are useful distinctions. 



DarkKnightJRK

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Reply #9 on: June 12, 2008, 02:25:28 AM
Hell, the whole thing sucked. I would pratically pee a little if they made a professional mini-series or TV show based on The Stand, one with at least a bit of budget so it looks marginally real.

So you don't like the version of The Stand they already made?

It gets bonus points for having Gary Sinise as Stu. That's about it.

I think it might have been the budget and the times that they tried to make it in. I think if, say, HBO made a bigger-budget version with better CGI and (frankly) better actors, ala John Adams, it would work a lot better.