Genre Films vs. Cinema: What’s a Horror Lover to Do?
My life as a film fan has been in a lot of ways like Forrest Gump. It started slow due to my small town setting, and I went through some spells where it seemed I’d never think straight (I saw Bird on A Wire on the big screen, and I’m pretty sure I enjoyed it). I also was thrown into the serious stuff while still young and naive (It’s cool that I compare seeing Terminator 2 as a 10-11 year old as Unforgiven is to the Vietnam War, right?), and often couldn’t understand the nuances of many “normal” things (What’s the appeal of Hook again?). Like Forrest, I worked hard to get past my restraints: I guarantee that I’ve seen more foreign films than the rest of my hometown combined. But when I’d accomplished what I wanted to, I went back to my Jenny.
That Jenny is, and always will be, my love for genre cinema. I’ve specialized in horror films, but have also found far too much joy in science-fiction, action, and even western films. While this is more than enough to make my potentially simple mind happy, it does occasionally make things difficult for the part of me that’s a student of cinema.
Can I really say that I prefer watching something like 1981’s slasher Happy Birthday to Me to something like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind? Of course I can. But do I really want that to be how I list the movies in order of preference? What about when someone offers me a choice between The X-Files’ first movie (which I’ve often called “The North by Northwest of Sci-Fi Flicks”) and a critically acclaimed favorite like Rain Man? Is the gut feeling that leads me toward Mulder and Scully wrong?
As a genre fan, I’m guilty of looking at matchups like these and making the choices that few average filmgoers would make. I’m not sure how I’m “guilty” per se, but that’s the common perception those of us who love genre flicks face on a day-to-day basis. While action flicks make a ton of money, and sci-fi cinema offers a release from our reality, each get a pass from time to time. One could argue that the top contenders at last year’s Oscars – The Hurt Locker and Avatar – fit those genres. The horror genre is especially scowled upon by the average fellow at the cinema. To them, it’s the ugly duckling of the movie family – producing torture films and disgusting zombies while promoting sex, drugs, and violence. They discount visceral and mature horror films from The Exorcist, to Candyman, to The House of the Devil as things that belong in a separate world from the works of Spielberg or Scorsese, while disregarding that each of those directors have delved into “uncommon” genres repeatedly.
I’ve taken film classes, I’ve read multiple critical assessments and essays on film regularly, and I’ve learned over time that I do care for what is generally perceived as “good” cinema. This creates a problem at times, specifically when the examples are like the Happy Birthday vs. Eternal Sunshine one above. Does it make me wrong when I choose horror, particularly in the face of technical merits or great screenwriting or powerful actors? Maybe, but I made peace with that kind of thing long ago.
I can proudly say that I feel none of that assigned “guilt” due to my proclivities, and I think I can speak for the throngs of horror fans I’ve come to know by saying that the majority of us don’t feel that guilt either. Most of us are people you see in every day life – possibly even social workers, teachers, or beauty queens. We aren’t the kids from The Return of the Living Dead or Village of the Damned… well, at least most of us aren’t. (And if we are, we’re still people too.)
Still, I feel the perception of horror and genre fans as some sort of misinformed cancer on the film world to be as persistent as ever. Part of this is simply based on the volume of horror produced – for every John Carpenter’s Halloween there are 8 sequels, 2 remakes, and a 12 film spin-off series called Friday the 13th that exist as low quality knock-offs of a single intelligent horror film. But people need to remember the reason horror and genre cinema do offer up that many titles – because there’s a demand for them.
The next time you’re debating what to watch, or looking at Flickchart in search of inspiration, remember that we’re out there. You may find us silly for our choices, and often you’d be right. I can’t explain a good reason why I’d click on Carpenter’s The Thing over Coppola’s The Godfather, but I’d do it nine times out of ten. But to me, it’s a blessing and not a curse, because my love of genre films allows me to break free from the traditional expectations of a movie lover and find my own path through the darker sides of fictional universes. On behalf of all of us, I welcome you to join in the search. You just might find that some decisions involving Evil Dead films or modern independent horrors might not be as one-sided as you thought.
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find The Mike as TheMike31 on Flickchart and at his blog, From Midnight With Love. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.
I’m definitely a genre fan. Pretty much everything in my Top 20 is either sci-fi, fantasy, or animated. I don’t have any real “highbrow” films there because I don’t really like those films nearly as much. My list is ranked by enjoyment first, quality of film-making second. Not that both qualities aren’t important in my decision making process, but how much I enjoy a film will always sway my opinion over what I think is a technically superior film.
Enjoyed your post! Look forward to more of them!
I completely agree with you The Mike! I’ve run into many pairings where I’ll choose the horror, scifi, or similar film rather than the “technically” superior film, just because, while I like many of those films that typical critics dub “the best of the best”, personally I’d rather watch something like Halloween (1978), or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, rather than Schindler’s List or Citizen Kane. I often have to ask myself- “..but which would I rather watch…which is more enjoyable.” I long ago rid myself of any potential guilt in my preference for genre films as well. Everything is a matter of personal taste and my tastes just tend to lean toward horror, scifi, and action adventures.
I grew up in the 80s watching late night cable, so the foundation for my taste in movies is horror and sleaze flicks. I was schooled by Joe Bob Briggs and Showtime After Dark. Like you, I have ventured into more “cultured” territory, but my heart never strays too far from the movies that got me interested in cinema in the first place.
If Schindler’s List comes up against Pieces, Zombie or even Elvira, Mistress of the Dark in a matchup, I feel no hesitation.