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Horror Film Genre

Horror/Slasher films are films specially designed to shock, terrify and bring out the worst fears of the viewer while entertaining at the same time. The content often brings out the vulnerability, terror of the unknown, loss of identity i.e. sexuality while simultaneously attracting the viewer. Horror films have two basic genres in which viewers can draw their artistic satisfaction; these are cult film and camp films. This paper intends to thoroughly compare and contrast the two sub genres of horror paying special attention to the gender of horror.

Horror in itself is time immemorial as it jets back to the time man discovered emotions such as pain and fear. Horror along with comedy, romance and drama was put into film about 100 years ago when the cinematic industry began. Much like earlier films such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre, current horror films blatantly suggest the horror without allowing the viewer to imagine it for themselves. In these films, chaos or horror, usually need to be defeated, and often end with a return to normalcy and the protagonist’s victory over the antagonist (Adams, 2008). Horror films are often made with particular themes which include; wizardry and witchcraft, fables, myths, legends and ghost stories. Early horror films often focused on these themes and instead of creating new ones, filmmakers today often remake these early films by modernizing them and giving the characters a slight change. They usually choose to do this as it is well known horror early horror films were and still are more original than current films.

According to Adams (2008), watching a horror film gives an opening into that frightening realm without actually being in danger. In essence the earliest horror films were gothic in nature, with less special effects and more realistic scenes. They were often recorded on sets such as old, torn down houses with a variety of scary creatures such as bats and owls, castles with old witches, or dark shadowy locations with strange looking people. These films, when recorded well and with less emphasis on extreme special effects, can be extremely successful films.

Cult films as mentioned in the proposal are those which have achieved status amongst a specific group of people, and rarely outside that group, as an alternative to mainstream cinema. Whether they contain unusual music, acting technique, or excessive gore; they are notable for straying from the status quo (Jancovic, 2003). They tend to stick to the particular niche they have created for themselves in the industry. They are usually strange, quirky, eccentric or surreal, with uniquely outrageous and cartoony characters or plots on garish sets e.g. The Rocky horror picture show (1975). These films are interestingly unusual in that, film makers use limited resources and do very little commercial marketing, yet cult films are able to command such huge and life long followings.

Many cult films cut across a variety of genres while still maintaining their playful nature. Most fare poorly when first shown at the big screen, but eventually reach cult status, developing an enduring and loyal fan base over time, often through conversational recommendations i.e. Nightmare on Elm street (1984). Cult film fanatics vigorously argue about the pro’s of their film choice, with disregard for newspaper articles or reviews from film critics. A cult movie is often viewed as "in the eye of the beholder” and is often a matter of opinion. One viewer's critique of a cult movie may not be judged similarly by a different viewer. They provoke fiery and intense feelings of belonging amongst devoted fans, leading to audience contribution, club membership, and repetitive showings at a variety of cinemas. Cult films have enormous followings with certain group’s particularly young adults in college and high school.

Cult films are often considered bad movies with poor acting, however this ‘badness’ is often appreciated and seen as funny by the cultist viewers. The 1975 cult film, Attack of the killer Tomatoes is an example of a film that received bad reviews from movie critics but still continued to gunner major attention from many viewers. The movie elicited a lot of energy and was fun and it was interesting to watch. The themes were probably undisguised topics in the seventies, which is why it was so popular at the time. For many cultist groups it was probably almost a security, or even possibly an avenue to meet viewers with similar beliefs and attitudes. All in all, Attack of the killer tomatoes is popular just for its comic value thus the desire to see it over and over again. They movie can be discussed and laughed at with friends and is still labeled cult because younger viewers entering adulthood can enjoy the movie in the same way.

The Rocky horror picture show (1975) is another cult film whose content can be discussed at great length. The highly acclaimed actors, Tim Curry and Susan Sarandon bring the movie to life by ingeniously acting out a topic that was considered very taboo at the time. The film is about a couple going on a road trip when they accidentally encounter a transsexual with his friends. They find themselves in a hotel where the transsexual tries on various occasions to seduce both of them. In a series of humorous and unusual events that build the plot, the transvestite Rocky and his fellow beings Frank and Columbia are killed while the couple and the Dr. Scott are released. This film is witty and interesting in that it humorously and cleverly explores sexuality which is cringed at by many. The movie to date attracts many especially persons in the gay and lesbian community because the can easily relate to the Rocky character.

This movie is an electrifying experience, made all the more so if you are lucky enough to see it in a theater with an audience that knows all the lyrics, choreography, and proper responses to yell back at the stage. Rocky horror picture show is a very good movie in its own right and is a picture of clever remaking by Jim Sharman, the guru of midnight movies, the undisputed camp and cult classics. Roger Ebert of The Chicago Sun Times reviews it as a cheerfully silly, and kind of sweet and forgettable type of film. It is important for one to watch it with a large crowd as the audience participation and responses give it that dazzling and sparkly effect that is unmatched.

Camp films are much like Cult films but do not have that long lasting bond with its fan base. These films are simply those that have that ironic, cheesy or kitsch effect. Camp films have that theatrical exaggerated appeal that keeps viewers glued to the screen. The camp genre was popularized by films such as Jekyll and Hyde (1990) that have to date even made it to the Broadway theatres. A fundamental pillar of the success of the camp industry is drag. It usually consists of males embracing feminine traits, ranging from a little make up and a few feminine clothes to fully fledged stilettos, wigs, undergarments, and accessories such as bags, hats, jewelry, make up, wigs and gloves. In the case of female impersonators of men, popularly known as drag kings, the inverse is true with often extravagant displays of typical male sexuality.

Camp is definitely in high production in the United States, especially during the post colonial era when economic times were hard and people used comedy to briefly escape the hardships of life, but no industry beats India’s Bollywood in the production of ridiculously corny musicals with traditional Hindu attire and dialect. Bollywood productions are mostly traditional and conservative in attire unlike the typical spectacular and overwrought dressing that is encountered in most American camp films. It is therefore unbiased to say that Camp appears to be most prevalent in societies where easy income has developed at a much faster momentum than the conventional level of cultural advancement, consciousness and education. An individual who is unaware the genre of camp may wish to jump to the variety of examples of camp cited throughout this paper, before reading about the history and basic theories surrounding camp in this section.

His feminine images implore us, seduce us and perhaps deceive us. No mere verbal descriptions can clearly define him. The woman sits at a window frame, low-cut top, tight pants and high heeled shoes, glancing out of the window with expectation mingled boredom. In another picture, the masculine woman, all in black, in semi-shadow, stands next to the fireplace, beneath the portrait, cigarette in one hand and expression pensive. Yet again, the feminine man lies on his back, head inclined, arms diagonally spread across the bed, feminine colorful evening dress and pearl necklace, thoughts swimming somewhere between pleasure and exhaustion. In a final picture, the woman sits at the table, empty glass before her, clad in a black dress with leopard skin on her arms and waist, tears streaming down her heavily made-up face. Aside from his appearance in the 1984 horror film, Trilogy of terror, these are the various pictures that RuPaul the famous horror drag queen shows the world in one of her portfolios.

Examples of camp films include the 1999 film Stigmata supernatural horror film starring Patricia Arquette, playing a young hairdresser from Pittsburg who is affected with the stigmata after purchasing a rosary previously in possession of a dead Italian high priest who himself went through the phenomenon. Gabriel Byrne acting as a Vatican officer investigates her illness, and Jonathan Pryce plays a crooked Catholic Church administrator. Byrne then hears of another Stigmata occurrence in Brazil whereby the face of the Virgin Mary appears on the surface of a building. This is followed by another statuette of the Virgin Mary bleeding tears not far from the city.  Byrne known as Father Kiernan in the film, an investigator of spiritual phenomenon on behalf of the Vatican, must uncover the genuineness of hairdresser Frankie’s Stigmata, the bodily cuts that Jesus received from his crucifixion. His research is grappled with questions as he is torn between assisting Frankie and enlightening the Vatican on the unearthing of an extinct truth that would spell troubles for the hope of the Catholic Church. This film although religious, is somewhat horror in that it shows scary and unusual occurrences that are featured very epically.

There are a number of films that attempt either cult or camp but fail to find an audience. These films include Exorcist and Dracula sequels. Vampires are often overrated, and that is beyond sad. There is no more obvious plot in the film industry than that of a Vampire movie, and in the hands of the right filmmakers, a stereotypically campy adventure can emerge. But as mentioned, camp isn't exactly ‘in’ in this day and age; general viewers have drifted more in the direction of mainstream box office movies therefore the genre has mostly gone in the course of musicals.

The musical genres, however, has recently made a big comeback, thanks to movies such as High school musical. Fortunately, the highly anticipated 1979 sequel of Evil Dead: Dead by Dawn, succeeded at remaining cult. Though founded on a Disney World fantasy, Sami Raimi’s sequel succeeds at impressing big screen fans while leaving out the camp fans. Betsi Baker and Bruce Campbell may be the heartbeat of Evil Dead, but they can't be solely responsible for its Cult status. It is a typical story that draws it success from very competent producers and acclaimed actors, not its campiness. It is ingenious, when cast members plunge head first into such roles, which is why Bruce Campbell is one of the greatest mainstream actors, alive or dead. Evil Dead, is everything a typical cult horror movie should be, and more though it greatly falls short in the camp department. In general, a movie reaches cult status in line with audience’ relationship with the film

Another interesting campy horror movie is the 1943 film Phantom of the Opera. This movie is about a violinist Eric played by Claude Rains who is involved in an accident and his face becomes awfully disfigured. He opts to wear a mask to hide his disfigurement. Soon after the scary violinists begins to preoccupy his mind with thought of a young soprano singer Christine played by Susana Foster. He assists her in her singing and soon thereafter begins to fall in love with her. After a comedy of errors in the entire film, Christine kisses the Fantome’ Eric who says that he has never before been kissed by anyone. This is following his abduction of Christine’s lover and the Persian. Christine sacrifices herself and agrees to marry the Fantome’ in exchange of the two captives. Seeing Christine’s pure heart, the Fantome’ agrees to release the two hostages as well as Christine’s and gives her his blessing to marry her lover. This sad story ends with the Fantome’ killing himself knowing he has experienced that all life has to offer. Many of the crown stars of the 40s Nelson Eddy and Edgar Barrier serve to give the film its star value that is still recognized to date.

As touched on, on various locations in this essay, cult and camp movies often bring the gender and sexuality factor into question. The drag and playful nature in most of these films draw the viewer into an extremely feminine world. There are as many avenues to express femininity around the globe; an effective channel is through film, as there are people expressing it. It may seem like an odd choice for an issue on femininity to feature pictures of a man in high heels and tones of make up but it is not unusual. But the story of RuPaul, is as good a place as any to start to talk about femininity and how, maybe, just maybe, it has the power to revitalize the media and see a new kind of fusion in the making.

Ones sexual orientation is not entirely a determinant in film success or failure but it is becoming increasing apparent that femininity is vital. People of diverse orientations have acquired major success in this industry strictly due to pushing the right buttons. Dominance of feministic traits is globally apparent in many films globally and it is unusual to come across a horror films that does not use feminine wiles or sexuality to increase its sales. Film and theatrical horror productions that are dominantly masculine often do not make it to the big screen or like cult and camp create a long life fan base. Even war films incorporate the feminine factor into their films instead of largely dwelling upon the troops and the conflict. More often than not when the plot is developed, the male protagonist often has an object of affection which often makes the film diverse in both thematic content and diversity.

Gledhill and Swanson (1996) argue that men often draw examples from women. By understanding a woman as more than her sexuality and capable of traits going beyond what is globally expected of her, males can also accept their own traits in ways that extend beyond gender generalizations. And that is the hidden power of femininity in film. The film industry does not do females justice in positively presenting women and their strength; this is because of the ways in which society has underestimated women solely due to their monetary contribution to the sale of many horror films through images of bloody violence and sex. Subtle demonstrations do not and this will have to be altered in order for the depiction of women to change.

Viewing the gender aspect from another angle, men still predominantly run the film industry but there are thousands of female studio executives, writers, technicians, publicists and agents.  If women have more access to production, their movies will definitely reflect more virtuous values. In the same way, if a woman runs a car factory or she drives a tractor, her work will no doubt be more meaningful. These are jobs. The feminine factor determines all. All these points are mirrored by popular horror actresses e.g. Sarah York of Evil Dead who many at times represent themselves as ‘bad or good girls’ or both, Hollywood’s typical treatment of femininity is through excessive beauty that perpetuates both love and hate. Still, femininity is a force in itself, an outlook and approach to life that transcends gender. It is a vital aspect of the human race, whether males choose to embrace it or not. There are ways to understand femininity without bringing in the question of female roles and how men deal with their femininity. But even without blatant and direct sympathy, men must eventually deal with femininity as a creative element of life.


In conclusion, horror films in general have undergone major changes from the time of their inception to its very advanced state now. Production is not limited to only cult and camp films but a variety of productions that still humorously entertain the viewer. The horror factor should not however be determined by sexual orientation, dominance and/or submission. All should be equal active players in the field of film and should not be held back by societal assumptions and stereotypes. As mentioned, actresses such as Jamie Lee Curtis of Prom Night (1980)have adequately proved that, locking oneself in a particular type of genre of film blocks one from achieving their objectives as player in the film industry and also fuels animosity and anger within the society. It is important that no one discriminates the other regardless of sexuality or genre. 

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