And I have to say, these questions are valid. How exactly does one define horror? I don't think any one person can define it. As I've said before, horror is subjective. What scares me may not necessarily scare you. That's part of the beauty of horror.
As horror films continually fight to gain and maintain legitimacy there are a lot of films that horror film fans would like to add to the genre (i.e. Black Swan, Se7en). So I thought we could take a look at two similar films, one rendered firmly in the horror genre and the other more ambiguously straddling the line between horror and drama/thriller. I thinking Saw and Silence of the Lambs is a good place to start.
Now Silence of the Lambs (according to IMDB anyway) is classified as a "Thriller". Thrillers are described as using suspense, tension and excitement to engage an audience. They rely on the "edge of your seat" feeling and building towards some kind of big, huge, life-changing climax. Thinking back on Silence of the Lambs it does all of those things... so does Saw if you think about it.
My initial thought is that Saw has more graphic violence ... but then again, so does Silence of the Lambs. When Hannibal Lecter beats the security guard to death then wears his skin... yeah, that. I guess what it comes down to is that Saw trades on its violence. Let's compare posters shall we?
|How delightfully intriguing and engaging.....|
Beyond the poster what about the actual films? I think that Silence of the Lambs is a far superior film, but let's keep in mind it was based on a best-selling novel, had the backing of a major studio and had some of the most talented people in the industry involved in it. Saw, on the other hand was made for next to nothing by an independent studio that saw a short film and thought it could be extrapolated into a full length feature. I think Saw suffers from its newness. There's a lot of ideas an promise in it but ultimately it feels strung together. It relies too much on its shocks and not enough on the inherent puzzle solving which, for my money, is the most engaging part of the movie.
Silence of the Lambs was a hit right off the bat while Saw found its audience steadily through word of mouth. It didn't help its credibility that the Saw franchise churned out a new installment every Halloween until Paranormal Activity came along but even Silence of the Lambs produced some extremely sub-par offerings (Red Dragon anyone?).
So where does this leave us? I'm going to argue that Silence of the Lambs and Saw are both horror in that they are both horrific. Seriously. Silence of the Lambs, I think, is actually more messed up and shocking than Saw. Silence of the Lambs is not perceived as horror because the film company doesn't want it to be dismissed. Fair? No. True? Probably.