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An essay on the difference between Horror and Suspense

Chris Rose Report by
Christopher Hennesey-DeRose
Copyright 2000 by E.C.McMullen Jr. for feoamante.com

Lines between genres often blur, as such things are wont to do, and, in this instance, we have Hannibal ‘The Cannibal’ Lecter in one corner, squaring off against Michael ‘Smile When You Say That’ Myers, trying to get his mouthpiece under his mask in the other.

Both monsters, you say. Both do horrifying things with such terrible precision and determination that makes folks like the Shocker or the surprise killer(s) in SCREAM drool in unabashed envy. Both monsters, yes, but their respective genres set them apart. Case in point; Hannibal and his trainer, Norman Bates, are lacing up the gloves in settings that usually find wily investigators on their trail as they leave an ever-increasing number of bodies in their disturbing wake.

Cut to: Mikey and his cheering section of, among others, Jason Voorhees and Leatherface. They, too, chop and hack their way through their 90 or so minutes, usually not being pursued, but pursuing Felicity Neve Love-Hewitt. The cops never show up in time to do much of anything, and the difference between the Mighty Cannibal and his Wild Bunch and the less subtle cast of characters in the not-so-subtle fact that this latter group simply won’t die.

There’s the terminating line between the two genres known as Suspense and Horror. There are few, but certain differences between the two: Suspense mainly deals with the real-life bad guys - the ones who look like us, and the cop hunting them down is usually believable enough because we know a bullet to the brain will take Norman out. He’s flesh and blood, and as films become more and more like wafer-thin eye candy, the good stories aren’t driven by ‘Will the law catch up in time,’ but from the tension in that they HAVE TO.

Good scripts are key to this.

Then we have Michael, Jason, and the ghosts of POLTERGEIST, THE ENTITY, and the CHANGELING, causing all sorts of problems for our hero or heroine, much like the antagonists of THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS and SEVEN, but these folks bring with them the undeniable dynamic of the supernatural. A gun won’t stop the baddie, because the dead can’t be killed twice, no matter how hard we try. The misunderstanding of the fundamental differences starts when those things are forgotten, giving over to whether or not it was scary. But fright is often subjective, and while being in a car crash is scary, so is Hannibal on the loose, or finding a spirit that can’t rest lurking about in your house

. . . and we go back to that same line, regardless of what Blockbuster says; the element of paranormality.

It is so a word.

While some arguments - some good-natured, others not so - go back and forth about what makes the better, or more ‘Legitimate’ film between Horror and Suspense, sometimes including their bastard son, the Thriller, the elements that compose them become lost, or at best, obscured. Each genre has its unfortunate niches and formulas -- i.e.; Suspense has ‘A cop on the edge,’ whilst Horror has come to be counted on to have something equally cliché. However, each do have their shining efforts, and occasionally, the lines that exist between the two genres do vibrate and blur, creating new forms of expression to convey, experience, and store to think about. So, maybe certain video stores have the right idea after all by blurring the edges even further in general, blanket categories that change with the seasons and their shrink issue policies, therefore improving the chances of someone who would normally ignore a particular section in lieu of the familiar.

If only it didn’t make some titles so damn hard to find . . .

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