Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Ed here: I thought this was an interesting take on movie  genres especially  at Halloween time.

Natural or Supernatural? Name Your Poison

Movie genres are notoriously malleable things.  We all know what a western is until someone mentions that Star Wars is a horse opera in space or Outland is a remake of High Noon in a futuristic setting, and suddenly it doesn’t seem as clear anymore.  Genres also cross streams constantly.  A crime film can be a noir (Out of the Past), an epic drama (Once Upon a Time in America), a gangster film (Public Enemy), a comedy (Some Like it Hot, which also manages to work in rom-com while it’s at it) or any other number of multiple genre mash-ups with “crime” as the umbrella covering all the different subsets.  In the end, horror is no different but no matter how many subgenres of horror there are (and there are plenty), horror can be efficiently broken down into two categories: Natural and Supernatural.  Which side are you on?

What do I mean by natural and supernatural?  Simple.  Psycho, Jaws, Silence of the Lambs – Natural.  Dracula, The Cat People, The Shining – Supernatural.  The nebulous middle-zone comes in the science-fiction/horror combos.  Frankenstein, The Thing from Another World and Cloverfield don’t deal in the supernatural (junk science and alien encounters, yes, but not the supernatural) yet they are fanciful and don’t deal in strict realism by any means.  So where do they fall?  For the sake of this discussion, I’m going to throw anything not normally encountered in the real world, i.e. attacking aliens and monsters and reconstructed people, into the supernatural category.  That doesn’t mean those things couldn’t happen in the real world, just that, so far, a massive monster from outer space hasn’t attacked New York City while countless sharks have attacked people swimming in the ocean throughout history.

As to where I fall, it’s not so much a matter of which I like better but which I think defines horror for me personally, and that’s the supernatural.   As far as quality goes, both sides have superb entries with both the supernatural The Shining and the natural Psycho occupying not just high positions in the horror canon but high positions in the general film canon as well with both making their way into the most recent Sight and Sound poll’s top 250 films.   And I like both films equally well so it’s not an apple to orange match game of which side gets more votes.  It’s just a general feeling that, frankly, I like my horror completely unreal and unrelated to my experiences here on the planet.   We’ve all read stories, or watched news reports, of psycho killers cutting up some poor, unfortunate victim but not many of us (certainly not me) have come across a hotel that possesses its caretaker and visits the horrible visages of the dead upon the living.   Supernatural horror takes me to a place of which I have literally no real-life experience, not even vicariously, and to me, that makes it all the more appealing.
So while I can certainly appreciate that a movie like Jaws has many horrific elements, I get a little annoyed when I see it listed as horror.  Sure, gruesome things happen in it to several people but it’s not a horror movie by my math, rather, it’s an adventure/thriller.  By the same token, I would consider The Birds a horror film and that makes no sense at all by the logic I just applied to Jaws, i.e., animals, including birds, do occasionally attack people.  But The Birds has a supernatural element to it, a feel that something’s not right and the world is at stake.  Jaws, on the other hand, has no supernatural feel because the characters describing the shark’s behavior plant it firmly in the soil of realism.

1 comment:

Todd Mason said...

Well, I agree...there's horror (supernatural) and there's suspense (naturalistic)...and there's sf that is similar (FRANKENSTEIN, "Who Goes There?").

Also interesting how many of his film citations are adaptations of literature.