What IS a horror film? The genre is often ghettoized, associated with the lowest common denominator of films and filmmakers. The popular critical perception of horror is one of mindless gore, of endless shots of nubile, nude women being cut to screaming pieces, of stilted acting and cheap cameras, and of audiences who seek only fresh carnage in lieu of actual stories and themes. This is a load of crap. In fact, horror is perhaps the single most elastic genre in film, or any medium. There is no limit to the things that scare us, and endless ways to represent those fears in a visual medium. Horror can explore our deep-rooted fears of both the internal and external worlds with an immediacy and intimacy that other genres simply cant. What follows is a list of films that explore the darkest aspects of humanity and the human experience; films that discomfort and horrify, and with nary an ax-murderer or hockey mask in sight.
After Hours (1985) - Martin Scorsese
If hell is other people, than New York City is the ninth circle. No one better understands this than Martin Scorsese, and he never dramatized that better then in After Hours, a black comic masterpiece of Schadenfreude. Griffin Dunnes Paul Hackett is quickly established as a sort-of prickly yuppie who regards the outside world largely with disinterest. That is until one night hes approached by a pretty girl in a diner and they strike up a conversation. She gives him her number, which he soon calls, and before too long hes heading out on what he thinks should be a quick hook-up. From there, Scorsese unleashes the full wrath of NYC on Pauls head, sending a small army of freaks, weirdos and psychopaths to stalk, harass and very possibly murder the guy. The greatness of After Hours is that it would take only the slightest of tweaks to the script to shift the whole thing into a full-blown nightmare. Scorseses enthusiastic production and the vaguely unlikable nature of Dunnes persona combine to make sure that we are always laughing at Paul instead of wincing for him, but its a near thing. There does come a tipping point. After a while, the onslaught of mania becomes too much for any one person to deserve, and thats when Scorsese really cranks it up. Everyone has had one of those nights where the next morning you cant really believe what happened to you, or fully recall the circumstances that put you there. Pauls night is the worst possible version of that, and as it drags on and on, you cant help but feel bad for the guy. The more he tries to pull himself out of the craziness, the more he gets dragged down, and who hasnt been in that situation? After Hours is a very funny movie, but its built around fear and paranoia. Scorsese turns NYC into a rain-slicked funhouse mirror, populated entirely with lunatics who all exist on a system of logic that makes no sense to outsiders. Paul may escape by the skin of his teeth, but whos to say that you will? (A special shout-out to my Twitter buddy Doug Tilley (@Doug_Tilley) for suggesting this one.) MOST HORROR MOMENT: Catherine OHaras ice cream truck driver goes from friendly to murderous in the span of three seconds.
Brendan Foley is a pop-culture omnivore which is a nice way of saying he has no taste. He has a passion for genre movies, TV shows, books and any and all media built around short people with hairy feet and magic rings. He has a Bachelor's degree in Journalism and Writing, which is a very nice way of saying that he's broke. You can follow/talk to/yell at him on Twitter at @TheTrueBrendanF.