Is It Actually a Horror Movie?: Analyzing if Some Popular Movies Need a Label Shift

A few times on The Movie Breakdown, Scott and I have argued that some non-horror fans have plucked movies out of the horror genre and then labelled them thrillers or action movies, because they love that movie and don't want it associated with a genre they disdain. The most vocal against horror are those that never have indulged in it, so they usually don't really know what defines those type of stories outside of it being scary. 

I've often found the need to declare that indeed The Silence of the Lambs and Jaws are horror movies. Or that the term 'elevated horror' is unfair, because it demeans so many great movies or books that have come out over the decades. 

The recent Collider article by William Watson II, 'The Batman to Jurassic Park: Movies With Horror Elements That Aren't Considered Horror' grasped my interest, because I was curious how many of these movies actually were horror, but certain groups of movie fans didn't want them to have that label. 

Here is the list of supposed non-horror with some horror elements, and I will look at if I agree with the non-horror label or if they actually should be considered horror movies.

The Terminator (1984): Here the whole motivation for responding to this list, because I've always considered The Terminator to be a horror movie. Sure, it is stuffed with sci-fi elements and has many big action set pieces, but it checks even more of the horror boxes. Arnold Schwarzenegger's T-800 stalks around like a 1980s slasher villain, and most of the movie is about survival rather than victory, which is a major element in most horror pictures. There are several major aspects of the picture that are designed to unsettle and unnerve like most good horrors such as the mysterious cold-blooded hulking villain, a pounding yet eery score, cinematography that delves into darkness, and kills that disturb rather that excite. While I won't deny there are some thrilling action moments, the final act cements it as a horror with Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor embodying the final girl with a showdown that feels like a classic horror finale rather than an action showdown as it keeps up the cat and mouse games of survival rather than a battle. The Terminator is a great horror with action elements, so if you love it, then you love a horror movie. 

The Guest (2014): One of the strongest arguments for this as an actual horror movie is how much it is influenced and feels like a different take on The Terminator, which those with great memories will remember I declared a horror movie. As well, director Adam Wingard has deep ties in the horror genre by helming segments inn horror anthologies like V/H/S and The ABCs of Death, and as well as directing horror movies in You're Next, Blair Witch and Death Note. The main villain also executes his kills and stalks his victims like a classic 1980s slasher, even if he is far more vocal and full of personality that the typical one. The final act is also heavily influenced by the final girl (this time Maika Monroe) going up against the big bag (Dan Stevens).

The Batman (2022): This is the first one that I'll concede is not a horror movie, but it is closer to being a comic book version of one than the dreadful Morbius. Many critics and viewers compared this picture to being closer to movies like Seven and Silence of the Lambs than previous superhero movies, and those mentioned picture are most definitely horror movies. It already captures the vibe, atmosphere, and aesthetic of classics from the genre, and the tone throughout has the darkness and bleakness of many great horror movies. The movie captures a modern take on the classic crime noir stories, and back during the popularity of the pulp magazines of the 1920s to 1940s, crime noir stories were often paired up with classic horror stories. Many of the writers of the crime noir also wrote extensively in horror. They were mystery stories often infused with horror. This may not be horror, but its influences are heavily in that genre.

Doctor Stranger in the Multiverse of Madness (2022): When Scott Derrickson was originally attached to direct this sequel, he had stated that he was seeking out to make one of the first superhero horror movies with the intent of this one being bizarre and scary. He left over creative differences, and many assumed it was due to his ambition to make a horror movie in the MCU. Then Sam Raimi was signed on, and considering some of his most well-known work is the Evil Dead, it left many wondering if it would still have a shot being a horror movie. Even if readers push back on me suggesting this is a horror movie, it is probably even closer to the genre than The Batman. The wronged Scarlet Witch is pure nightmare fuel, and several of the kills are constructed in a classic horror style. There are several legitimate jump scare moments, and the entire tone is very disturbing and unsettling. The set pieces are fantastical, but also often feel constructed from classic gothic horror stories. The story is steeped in loss, regret, and tragedy, which are also common themes in the best horror movies. I'd argue there is lots of proof for this to be considered one of the first superhero horror movies, even if it has many elements from other genres as well.

Jurassic Park (1993): This 1990s classic is the closest movie to director Stephen Spielberg revisiting Jaws. And as established, Jaws is without a doubt a horror picture. The novel that the movie is based on often was reviewed and discussed as if it was in the horror genre. Also, major portions of the movie has the characters running from the threat, and the scenes are dripping with tension. The picture has moments totally set-up to make you jump or clutch the arm of your watching partner. The biggest argument against the movie comes down to how you perceive an audience for horror. Can a horror movie be for families, or is it a strictly adult movie genre? I'd argue there is a scale for horror since movies like Coraline, The House with the Clock in the Walls, Goosebumps, and Monster House are kid movies, but most definitely are in the horror genre. Jurassic Park should be considered a horror movie that appeals to all different demographics, including those that don't typically watch horror. Yes, it is also an adventure, sci-fi, and action movie, but most great movies can be attached to multiple genres. This is horror.

The Shape of Water (2017): It is without a doubt a love story. A love story about the quiet Eliza (Sally Hawkins) falling in mutual love with a fishman (Doug Jones). But it is also director Guillermo del Toro's love letter to the classic creature features of the 1930s and 1940s. A subgenre of horror that has inspired almost all of his works, but this movie seems the most steeped in the aesthetic and style. Del Toro didn't seek out to make a horror movie here, but its influences and legacy seep out from every pore of the movie. Though I'd agree this isn't horror, a love story can definitely be in the horror genre, and this reminds of me classics like The Fly and Bride of Frankenstein. It is about as horror as a non-horror movie can get, and definitely a tribute to the genre.

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016): Wait?!? There are people who don't consider this a horror movie? Michelle (Marry Elizabeth Winstead) finds herself chained in the basement of Howard's (John Goodman) fortified home. The movie unfolds to reveal darker mysteries and sees Howard unravel to become unhinged. She needs to find a way to escape him while he does several creepy and unsettling things. Goodman puts on a marvelous performance where he shifts away from his usually likable characters to a human monster. Then there is an actual giant monsters that our hero must battle. This is horror folks, and I can't ever understand the argument against it.

Hot Fuzz (2007): If one were asked the genre most associated with director Edgar Wright, my guess is it would be comedy. After looking at his filmography, there is a clear love for the horror genre as several major elements find their way in most of his movies including Shaun of the Dead, The World's End, and Last Night in Soho. He has dabbled in the mood, tone, style, and structure of the horror genre for a long time, and you could argue that at least two of his movies are horror, and Soho definitely is one. While even a horror defender like me won't even dare try to call Hot Fuzz a horror movie, its influences heavily come from classic horror movies like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Shining, and The Wicker Man. The greater mystery of the town is pure horror material with several of the kills executed in the classic style of the genre. This is more buddy cop action picture, but with some heavy influences from the horror genre.

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988): Definitely not a horror movie, but remember what I said about crime noir ties to the horror genre? Both genres not only were written by authors who dabbled in both, but they embrace the same darkness, style, and vibe with a goal to unsettle and disturb. They both delve into the dark recesses of our mind and force us to confront our fears. The Robert Zemeckis family picture is much lighter and optimistic than most movies on this list, but it has a dark edge with countless characters we don't know if we can trust. It also is very much a family version of crime noir. The main plot is a murder mystery, so a much heavier theme than your typical family picture, and it never shies away from disturbing its audience. Plus, the final reveal of Christopher Lloyd's Judge Doom gave me a few sleepless nights as a kid, and was one of the scariest moments in my 1980s movie viewing journey. Not horror, but it isn't afraid to embrace the genre in a few key moments.

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006): Confession time, this is a blindspot movie for me. But from the little I've read about it. it looks to lean heavy into the horror genre, since it is about a serial killer. So, if you consider Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, American Psycho, and The Snowtown Murders to be horror pictures, then it seems like you need to label this one as horror as well. I do consider all three to be horror movies, so that is where my sight unseen thoughts land on this one. I definitely need to correct my ignorance and see this movie.

What is a movie that some claim is not horror that you feel deserves the label?