As the Halloween and Halloween season descended this past week, David Sims offered an article containing a list (it’s not a “listicle” if it’s in The Atlantic) titled “10 ‘Scary’ Movies for People Who Don’t Like Horror”. The list contains some titles like The Novice and Paprika that are great and intense though can only be considered horror by the broadest of definitions, and titles that are great like The Fits and Picnic at Hanging Rock that do fit the definition of horror while challenging the limitations of a genre that can sometimes feels backed into a corner.
All genre arguments boil down to semantics, so if horror to you means chases and bloodied instruments, this might leave out more psychological or abstract fare like Eraserhead or Freaks. Many great horror films get dubbed a “thriller” when they reach a level of prestige. Silence of the Lambs is perhaps the biggest name in this regard, its award-garnering classic status designating it out as something higher minded than a movie about a serial killer who wears the skin of his victims would suggest. So when somebody wants to avoid “horror,” it can be useful to know how far the definition of horror goes.
And in any case it’s tricky to think of recommendations that steer away a key component of the thing being recommended. Imagine trying to recommend a comedy that isn’t too funny (I’d say Jacques Tati, come and get me). But a horror movie that isn’t scary, at least not in the way that makes hands fly over eyes and throats scream involuntarily, isn’t necessarily a failure. Rosemary’s Baby is a movie that has a bit of blood and a glimpse of a monster, but for the most part doesn’t rely on startling tricks or a feeling of literal pursuit to create its chilling atmosphere. Yet in it’s dealing with minions of the devil and deliverance of untimely death, it’s unmistakably a horror movie.
Your Turn, Soluters: What are your recommendations for movies that are scary but not too scary? Do you classify movies with scary scenes differently from ones with sustained suspense? Do you avoid any (or all) types of horror?