The Reel Talk Editorial Team’s Favourite Horror Subgenres – Part 1

Edited by Harry Russell

The spookiest day of the year is fast approaching once again, and this year a change-up was in order, so we reached out to our editorial team to ask them their favourite types of scary movies to watch this time of year.

Ben Barnett on Comedy Horror

From Scary Movie (2000) to Zombieland (2009), we’ve all heard of the comedy-horror genre. It’s there when you need to laugh, and it bleeds into every other subgenre of horror, making it almost impossible to break down into its own tropes. Still, there are some shining examples I always refer to for different aspects of the genre.

The first film is the classic Ghostbusters (1984). This is likely one of the most well-known comedy horror movies, encompassing generations with its quotable lines (“Ray, when someone asks you if you’re a God, you say yes!”) and rewatchability. The whole family can enjoy it. The song that comes with it is integral to the Halloween season, and the film is a staple Halloween watch for many households. It’s witty, it’s engaging, and it’s iconic. No wonder there will be a new instalment in the franchise almost forty years later with Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021).

Next, there are films that take classic gothic horror tropes and utilise them for both aesthetic and comedic effects. A great example of this is The Addams Family (1991). The film takes much aesthetic inspiration from the gothic genre and classic horror movies and novels such as Dracula and Frankenstein. The Addams themselves exist peacefully in their community, living in a huge gothic mansion, again playing with the tropes of classic horror and subverting expectations. The film utilises dark, morbid humour and likeable characters to keep the audience engaged and not only amused but invested in the story.

Other great examples of comedy horror include: mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows (2014), exploring the lives of modern vampires as they attempt to overcome flatmate conflicts, among other things, while being followed by a film crew; Anna and the Apocalypse (2018), which follows a group of high-schoolers in High School Musical meets Dawn of the Dead; and Little Monsters (2019), following a washed-up musician volunteering for a kindergarten field trip which turns into a zombie apocalypse.

As a final note, the main things which makes an enjoyable film for me are emotional beats and character dynamics. It’s strange to say, but my favourite comedy horror films make me cry as well as laugh. This is done brilliantly in Shaun of the Dead (2004), which balances comedy and emotion in a very human, relatable way. This is perhaps the ultimate goal I would set for any comedy movie. If comedy horror isn’t scary, that’s fine, but if I don’t care about the characters, it will never get onto my favourites list.

Luke Brown on Found Footage

When it comes to making a low-budget horror movie, no subgenre is as effective as found footage. The main strength of the found footage film is the sense of immersion created simply by framing the film as something filmed within the world of the film itself. The sense of being safe behind the lens of a movie camera falls away almost entirely within found footage, replaced by the often shaky, POV shots of a handheld recording device.

Most people attribute the creation of the subgenre to The Blair Witch Project (1999), however, it is believed to have truly begun almost twenty years earlier with Ruggero Deodato’s controversial film Cannibal Holocaust (1980). There are a huge number of found footage films that have been produced in the wake of The Blair Witch Project’s success, some more effective than others, yet all adding to what is possible to capture using the popular, commercially available video recording equipment of their time.

Most will be familiar with the immensely popular Paranormal Activity (2007), however, released in the same year was REC (2007). While the films couldn’t be more different, each branching off into different subgenres (supernatural and zombie horror, respectfully) both pushed the limit of what could be achieved with the equipment they had, and have both since garnered cult followings. An example of found footage that plays more with a documentary style is Lake Mungo (2008), showing just how much variety there is within the subgenre.

From Antrum (2018) to the pandemic-era film Host (2020), each and every found footage film carves out its own, unique identity within not only the found footage subgenre but the horror genre as a whole.

Hannah Boast on Meta-Horror

After a series of sequels, reboots and crossovers that plagued the horror landscape in the 1980s, it appeared as though horror as a genre was dying. Horror series became bloated, evidenced by five Halloween sequels, eight Friday the 13th sequels and six Nightmare on Elm Street sequels all before 1995. This overinflation, particularly within slasher films, dampened the audience’s desire for more horror movies. The genre was in desperate need of something new.

This something new came in 1996 with Wes Craven’s revisionist horror film Scream (1996). A familiar director to the horror genre, arguably best known for A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), Wes Craven’s take on the classic teen slasher revived the dying genre with a clever and witty commentary on the conventions of the genre, subverting tropes and clichés to create a twist ending completely unique and surprising to both horror and audiences. Its self-referential style led to the film becoming one of the highest-grossing horror franchises, clearly demonstrating that, with smart writing, sharp comedy and a passion for the genre, audiences could once again be drawn back to horror.

Looking back over the genre as a whole, it’s clear to see that the audience’s love of meta-horror follows an established pattern, most commonly arriving at a time when the genre demanded a much-needed revitalization. This is evident through cult classics such as The Blair Witch Project, Shaun of the Dead, and The Cabin in the Woods (2012) to name a few. Their self-referential style, blend of horror and comedy and breakdown of familiar cliches provides the audience with a clever subversion of a genre all too well known to them, highlighting how this subgenre ultimately acts as both a rescuer and reanimator of an otherwise dying genre.

Ross Harrison on Political Horror

Horror as a genre has taken many forms over the last century. But ultimately, horror has always found its basis in the social and political climates in which we live. Often, horror flicks rooted in politics and conflicts of morale are the most surreal and disturbing of all. In the last decade, the genre has seen a peak in blockbusters that pack an often subtle, but nonetheless powerful, punch through social commentary.

Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out (2017), became the first horror movie depicting racism to receive a ‘Best Picture’ Oscar nomination back in 2017 (and only the sixth horror movie in history to be nominated). The film, which follows an African American man’s visit to his Caucasian girlfriend’s family, has sealed its place in horror movie history for its startling and disconcerting depiction of racism and white supremacy through the lens of horror.

Emerald Fennell’s political thriller, Promising Young Woman (2020), functions in a similar way, attacking rape culture through the tale of a revenge-driven friend. While its conformity to conventions of the horror genre is somewhat questionable, the film’s unsettling soundtrack and striking cinematography create an unforgettably haunting cinematic experience.

Finally, Roman Polanski’s 1968 satanic horror drama, Rosemary’s Baby (1968), is one of the earliest examples of how gender roles and marriage can fall into the sphere of horror. Its thematic elements of domestic life and cult behaviour, combined with the sinister depictions of sexual violence, make for a truly spine-chilling horror adaptation of a classic literary text.

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