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Cat's Cradle: The criticism of horror

Antlers is the new Scott Cooper film with producer Guillermo Del Toro. Though the film hasn’t come out yet, early reviews have been mixed. Gore flourishes while characters dwindle in one-dimensional roles. Critics have said there is a possibility it’ll find cult fame. 

When it comes to horror, titans of the genre are buried in low review scores. In the history of cinema, great horror is often overlooked. Critics focus on what a film lacks and forget about what the film is offering. 

Take Event Horizon, one of the more disturbing horror films. Set in a derelict spaceship, the crew of the Lewis & Clark vessel climb aboard the titular ship to see where the crew has gone. What ensues is a haunted house film involving black hole drives and violent imagery. 

Currently, the film sits at 28% on Rotten Tomatoes, though Event Horizon has been embraced by the horror community, flaws and all, as an on-screen example of cosmic horror

Other lambasted films included The Thing, which was found to be too violent, as well as Friday the 13th and The Shining, which were seen as lacking direction. So, how can an audience sift through these reviews without having to subject themselves to horrors of actually terrible films? Avoid aggregators, and find critics who get scared like you. 

Roger Ebert once wrote about the film Anaconda as being “an example of one of the hardest kinds of films to make well: a superior mass-audience entertainment.” Giving the film three-and-a-half stars out of four, Ebert praised the film for its creature effects, setting, adherence to genre tropes and the fun he had. Sitting at 37% and an even lower audience score, Ebert is an outlier, but this doesn’t make him wrong. 

Films are a subjective experience. Their value is weighed against how they make you feel, what they bring to the table and what you take away. Though Voight's performance was Razzie-worthy, it added an element to the film that bordered on the B-movie. In the end, it provides some good shocks.

Comparatively, a film like Malignant relies on a premise straight out of a giallo. Its visuals and gore border on the ridiculous, but it’s appreciated, earning a positive score of 76%. 

Meanwhile, elements of another horror film are targeted and criticized. For example, John Carpenter’s The Thing was maligned for a nihilistic and violent portrayal of first contact. Critical reviews overlooked the creature effects, cinematography and sound design. 

So, the question becomes how do we form a standardized measure for horror? The simple answer is you can’t. It is not possible for review aggregators to subjectively portray the nuances of some reviews. Horror is often personal. Killer Klowns from Space is seen as a B-list schlock, but not to a person who has a fear of clowns. Horror is a subjective experience, and in this way, we have to experience films. 

A film is a sum of its parts. A Field in England is barely a horror film, but it’s well-made. The cinematography captures color across the black and white spectrum. The Guest is nothing without its soundtrack. What is Alien without its creature?

How we should review horror movies is personal taste. Horror is a subjective genre, and each person has their own fears. As viewers and critics, we should recognize a spectrum of horror and respond in kind. You don’t think it’s scary, then think about its sound, sets, costumes or cinematography. Often, what scares us does not exist at the surface but in the layers beneath it. 

Benjamin Ervin is a senior studying English literature and writing at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Benjamin know by emailing him be425014@ohio.edu.

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