Oh – The Horror…

September 1, 2012 at 12:19 am (horror, writing) (, , , , , , )

I was a little offended by a recent headline regarding the movie “The Possession” in one of our local papers. It read: “Scary Stuff but Don’t Call It Horror – Jeffrey Dean Morgan Says The Possession Is a Film about Character not Gore.”


Since when has the definition of horror been “gore, without character?” I looked up the definition of horror according to Merriam-Webster and this is what it said:

1) a : painful and intense fear, dread, or dismay <astonishment giving place to horror on the faces of the people about me — H. G. Wells> b : intense aversion or repugnance

2) a : the quality of inspiring horror : repulsive, horrible, or dismal quality or character <contemplating the horror of their lives — Liam O’Flaherty> b : something that inspires horror

3) plural : a state of extreme depression or apprehension

No mention of gore there whatsoever – but they do mention character.

If people out there are convinced that horror is all about gore, nothing about character, it is no wonder the genre has a bad rep. Funny, considering that the reason I love the genre so much is because it is cathartic, focussing in on the human condition, on people struggling in the face of fear and malevolence, sometimes successfully but more than likely not. It’s rarely pretty, but it can be very realistic, and sometimes quite deep. Some of the best characterizations I’ve read have been in horror stories and plenty of my favourite horror tales haven’t involved any gore whatsoever. It is not a defining feature. Fear is. The darker side of humanity is, or in some cases monsters created to embody some of our worst traits, but I think whoever wrote that headline, as well as the actor he was quoting, were terribly misinformed and could use some education on the topic. That, or they are purposefully choosing to define an entire genre by what they consider its worst elements – hardly fair, and I doubt they define their preferred genres in the same way.

Horror lacking character? Go read some character-driven Lovecraft, or some of my favourite King works like “It” or “Misery”, for some classic examples of horror with oodles of character. Those stories would never have existed without it. There are also plenty examples of newer horror novels, large press and small, that are teeming with character.

Mr. Morgan goes on to say other disparaging things about horror before discussing the movie with the journalist interviewing him. I have a feeling that Sam Raimi, director of this movie, would object to Mr. Morgan denigrating the genre. Sam Raimi has a significant horror-loving fan base, people who consider his name synonymous with horror. These fans are the very people Mr. Morgan was dismissing as lovers of a lesser thing. If you don’t want to be associated with horror, why accept a role in this kind of movie, directed by a horror legend? Watching the ads for this movie on TV, I can say without a doubt that the marketing is being geared towards those who are looking for the next great horror movie. But Mr. Morgan would have you think this is the equivalent of a spooky Shakespearean play brought to film. It’s not.

So please, Mr. Morgan, take some time to learn about the genre you are rejecting before displaying such prejudice. Horror is definitely not without character. But people who speak or act on prejudice, and with a sense of elitism, are.


  1. Rod Naugler said,

    OK, this one I have to comment on. I whole-heartedly agree that what passes for ‘horror’ in many theatrical releases is actually not but would more accurately be called thriller or gore flicks. If you want to see what true horrow films are like, try the old ones like Them! or Rear Window. My kids started to watch Them the other week and were too scared to finish it, and there wasn’t even a death or a monster on the screen yet. Missing persons, destroyed scenery and odd sounds were enough.
    However, horror is what the industry and the fans allow it to be defined as. If the fans continue to call the gore flicks around now horror, then that is what the term will come to mean. One need only look at the history of the words nice and fix to see how word meanings can drift over time. If you don’t like where the term is going, change it!
    Lastly, the term prejudice, used in the last sentence, is also experiencing the same kind of drift. Prejudice merely means to prejudge and I argue that prejudice is not only unavoidable but necessary. Before you sit in your chair, you prejudge it as safe. You avoid walking down that dark alley because you prejudge it as dangerous. Prejudice is unavoidable. However, prejudice based on racism or sexism, is wrong. Its not the prejudice that is wrong but the racism or sexism that fuels it. If you judge someone as less intelligent because of the color of their skin, or because of their gender, its not the prejudice that is wrong, but the racism/sexism. If the author of the newsarticle is using the term horror, as presently defined by the general public, how can you fault them? It is rather an education issue. Educate the public on what the proper terms are and maybe you can reclaim the term. Otherwise, enjoy the price of progress. 🙂

    • chantellyb said,

      This is where you and I certainly disagree. If I said science fiction is defined as people flying around in space ships and aliens with weird ears, noses and eyebrows because I have little exposure to the genre and Star Trek is popular, I’d be both prejudiced in my opinion and wrong. If I said fantasy is defined as elves, dwarves and hobbits going on a quest involving magic rings because I have little exposure to the genre and Lord of the Rings is popular, I’d also be prejudiced and wrong. So equally, if someone who has little exposure to horror decides to define the entire genre based on currently popular gore films like the Saw series, they are also wrong. It is one aspect of the genre, and far from the best one.

      Prejudice does not apply only to judgements made regarding race, gender or sexual orientation. It is a word meaning, as you said, to prejudge based on limited knowledge. Mr. Morgan is doing exactly that – saying negative things about something without knowing much about the topic in the first place.

  2. What is horror? | horroraddicts.net said,

    […] is about a lot more than gore. Chantal wrote her own blog post on what horror is which you can read here. Most of the other responses on what horror is, said that it’s a broad topic that can  be a […]

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