What Defines a Movie as Horror?

What Defines a Movie as Horror?

Just like any other high level genre, horror can be difficult to pin down, especially when set against others genres such as science fiction, thrillers, Fantasy and Suspense. Like most genres, horror is ultimately defined on the conceptual level. “Is this movie meant to scare people?” Unfortunately this also creates an issue because thrillers and suspense movies are also, probably, meant to scare people.

In the beginning, film genres were easier to define. They seemed to be based on mainly concept alone. This is why silent films and Universal horror films of the 30’s were considered to be so scary, when, by today’s standards, they tend to be considered quite the opposite. One thing that has seemed to stay consistent throughout the history of the horror film genre is imagery.


Imagery is Key to Horror Films

Whether to display a concept or to convey tension, horror films have relied mainly on imagery to share their message, second only to fantasy. Unlike fantasy, horror imagery has been pretty successful throughout the life span of the genre, mainly due to the slow paced imagery as opposed to the fast paced imagery of many fantasy films.

Is it more than Imagery and the Intent to Scare?

Suspense films and thriller films both rely on the use of imagery as well and have the intent to scare their audiences. The difference between suspense and thriller films and horror movies mainly lie in imagination. Of course, all fictional movies take imagination from the creators as well as the viewers but, in the case of horror we tend to see the filmmaker trying to draw the viewer far outside the realm of reality. Suspense films and thriller films tend to try to scare people within the realm of reality. Basically it is the supernatural as opposed to the possible.

There are many of horror movies, such as arachnophobia and kingdom of spiders, that playoff our primal possible fears and put them into situations verging on the possible.

The horror genre is mainly defined by the filmmakers desire to scare the audience and the expectation of the audience to imagine beyond the realm of possibility.

Horror is Like Comedy and Fear is Like Humor.

We all have a different idea of what it takes to scare us and what it takes to make us laugh.


How many times have you been an argument over whether or not a movie it scary? In my case many times. Normally people define a scary movie or horror film as something that will startle you or something that will generally disturb you for potentially days at a time. I don’t think this is realistic description of a horror film. A well cultivated feeling of unease is more than enough to create a quality horror film.

Take Stanley Kubrick’s version off the shining. Startling? No. Scary? I think so. Outside of the realm of reality? Yes.

Now, now now. I know. What about Texas Chainsaw Massacre? Ok. Some things are just put in boxes because we believe that they belong there. I’m okay with that. But, if I had to truly classify the film I might put it into Exploitation/Thriller. But, who really cares what I think?