‘Genres’ are the categorisation of different films depending on their type. Generally, there are several core genres such as horror, comedy, western, sci-fi, and so on. ‘Sub-genres’ are developments of the main genres, often combining more than one, for example a romantic comedy combines the genres of romance and comedy. It is increasingly difficult for filmmakers to define an original genre nowadays, and to create their own unique cinematic style.
Most filmmakers conform to using existing themes and formulas, which is essentially what defines a genre. An example of this is within the horror genre, where we often see knives, a psychopathic killer, and dark, mysterious environments. The film Halloween (John Carpenter, 1978) utilises all of these elements, with “Michael Myers” the knife-wielding psychopath in a mask killing people in an isolated street on Halloween.
The main reason why genres stay alive and popular is because they are essentially a relationship between the audience and producers, which minimises the risk of financial failure. When the industry finds a formula that works, they meet the audience’s expectations by simply recreating films with the same iconography, narrative, mise-en-scene, themes etc. When Scream (Wes Craven, 1996) was released, it was met with acclaim as it was a form of parody on typical Hollywood conventions of the horrorteen slasher genre. Inside the film itself, characters refer to the typical occurrences in a horror film, such as never say “be right back”, never drink, do drugs or have sex, and so on.
However, modern day horrors have been known to break the mould and almost redefine the genre, as these rules often do not apply anymore. Audiences do however get bored with the same kind of films however, as seen with the many Halloween rip-offs that got absolutely nowhere at the box office because they simply did not introduce anything new to the genre. Nightmare On Elm Street introduced gore into the films and it became new and exciting for the audience, and it wasn’t until Scream that the horror genre was revived once again with this new teen slasher that played on typical Hollywood conventions.
This shows us how the horror genre has evolved over the years. Initially horror films where about mythical monsters, or adaptations of gothic literature. The Classic Hollywood Narrative of the equilibrium, disruption, and status quo is still in existence today, but it is certainly not as predominant. Modern day films such as “Jeepers Creepers” have deterred away from typical Hollywood endings where the good ultimately wins at the end. Both Scream and Halloween, though 18 years apart, both conform to typical Hollywood expectations. Stylistically, not much has changed over time. POV shots are used quite often, normally to show the vulnerability of a victim, or the uncertainty of an environment.
This can be seen in the opening of Halloween, where we see through the eyes of the killer child. Low angle shots are used to connote dominance and intimidation to the monster. This can also be seen in Halloween when the protagonist is on the floor in the closet and the killer is trying to attack her – he is in the dominating position. While these are typical elements of the horror genre, they are also commonly used film techniques and do not necessarily define the genre. Contrasts of slow to fast paced editing to build suspense then heighten the action is also used, combined with low key lighting. We can see this in Scream, in the opening sequence with the dark outside and the house thought of as being the safe place.
The classic settings of woods, an isolated house, and an alone teenager are all evident in this film, showing that there are some themes that are essential to a horrorteen-slasher film. Typical conventions are of course more typical in Halloween, a film which defined the teen slasher sub-genre and led the way for a wave of similar films. Scream reveals the codes and conventions to the audience then subverts many of them, for example, we rarely know where the killer is before he jumps out at somebody. We can see this when the killer attacks the principle at the school, or when the killer jumps through the window during the opening sequence.
While the horror genre has obviously moved on since its origins in German expressionism, it still maintains to be a very visual style. As a director wants to build suspense, it is often that dialogue is limited and we are left with what we see and a low pitch tension-building score. Fractured lighting, static camerawork with characters moving in slow and uncertain motion, and distinguishable make up or costumes, are all noticeable in modern day horror, and also during the 1920’s in the German Expressionism movement. Elements from these old films were carried on after the Studio System, in movies such as Frankenstein or Dracula.
Evidence of costumes could be those of the killers in many horrors such as Scream or Halloween. Fractured and high contrast lighting can be seen in Halloween, in the closet scene where the light appears to be coming from a single source, with shadows being cast on the walls. These are very definitive of the horror movie genre, and show its development over time. The repetition of elements in the horror genre is essential to creating some kind of identity for an audience. It is obvious that the visual aspect (setting, lighting, cinematography) has always been an integral part in horror films, and probably always will be until another film comes along in the future and innovates or develops the genre.