A lot of our favorite genre films are categorized explicitly as horror. Films like Halloween or Friday the 13th fit pretty neatly under the horror heading. However, there are a lot of quality horror titles that are more readily classified as science fiction or thriller than horror. There are myriad reasons why films with obvious horror overtones are marketed and classified as something other than horror: horror pictures often do lower box office number than sci-fi and thriller films; also, horror titles generally appeal to more of a niche audience, so studios appear to favor leveraging the thriller or science fiction elements of a film in order to attempt to interest a larger audience.
In the name of appropriate classification and equitable marketing practices we are spotlighting five films that aren’t always explicitly categorized as horror but we fondly regard as such.
One of the greatest films of its kind, Alien is near perfect in every aspect: the pacing is brilliant; the performances are top notch; the script is air tight; the cast is brilliant and the atmosphere is about as intense as it gets. Alien is often recognized as a science fiction film but viewers seem less likely to attach the horror label to the film. It’s curious that Alien isn’t more commonly classified as horror, seeing as how it takes the guise of a conventional haunted house film and relocates it to space, with the supernatural entities being replaced by the titular alien character. Our hats are off to this 1979 Ridley Scott classic for deftly blending horror, science fiction, and suspense to create a pitch perfect film.
This often overlooked Dennis Quaid 1980s horror/science fiction hybrid is almost always lumped in to the sci-fi category, rather than labeled a horror film. The surprising thing about Dreamscape being so closely associated with science fiction is that it could be a second cousin to A Nightmare on Elm Street. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Dreamscape features a killer that stalks his prey in their dreams and also explores the idea of people being killed by way of dying in a dream. However, Dreamscape came out just a few months before A Nightmare on Elm Street, so the films were likely in production at the same time and any similarities are almost certainly due only to happenstance.
This low-budget ‘90s flick follows the horror template much closer than one might realize upon initial inspection. While Cube is set to a science fiction backdrop, it explores familiar territory by pitting its characters against a violent adversary that picks them off until only one of them remains. The deaths are brutal and considering the film’s limited budget are quite well done. Cube does veer from standard horror conventions in as much as the adversary is a series of traps as opposed to a person or entity wielding a weapon. This tactic was later made popular by the Saw series and has often made me wonder if Cube was a loose inspiration to the Saw franchise. The Internet Movie Database categorizes Cube as a Mystery/Suspense/Thriller; however, it’s impossible to ignore the film’s adherence to horror film tropes.
The Hitcher (1986)
The Hitcher is another title that doesn’t brand itself as a horror film, but anyone that’s seen the picture knows that it defies the parameters of a run-of-the-mill thriller by upping the ante; The Hitcher veers in to horror territory with both the infamous French fry scene and the highly imaginative semi truck scene. The Hitcher expertly blends taut atmosphere with strong horror overtones and a highly effective cat and mouse style dynamic between Rutger Hauer and C. Thomas Howell. The Hitcher made drivers think twice before picking up hitchhikers, much in the same way that Jaws served to curb coastal tourism in the months after its release.
Funny Games (1997 and 2007)
In an almost unheard of turn of events, Michael Haneke was tapped to direct the U.S. remake of his own film. The end result was a surprisingly well crafted – albeit unnecessary - reboot. Funny Games, regardless of which incarnation you watch, is absolutely relentless and unapologetically brutal. The films up the ante significantly when compared to conventional home invasion thriller fare. I was absolutely horrified by both films’ sadistic tone and the sheer evil that inspired the actions of the perpetrators in both films. The ‘games’ that the captors force their victims to play are difficult to watch at best and neither film shies away from explicitly depicting the violent and heinous acts carried out by the lead characters. Funny Games goes far beyond what we are used to seeing in a home invasion film, it liberally intersperses strong horror overtones and all brands of torture.
What are some of your favorite films that aren’t always recognized as horror but should be? Let us know in the comments below.