Horror at The Oscars!

Exactly twenty years ago (give or take a month- March 30, 1992) a horror film called SILENCE OF THE LAMBS made mincemeat of the Academy Awards. It devoured all of the major categories, a feat achieved only twice before (by IT HAPPENED ONE NIGHT and ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST.) Some folks are a little hesitant about slapping the horror label on SILENCE, so let me do it for them and without pause. It seems the more accomplished a movie is, the more likely some are to address it as a “psychological thriller” and nothing gets my non-silent goat more. JONATHAN DEMME’s film is certainly rich and expansive enough to elude simple stagnant classification but, at the end of the day, without the element of horror, it has no bones to stand. Let me ask you, if somebody showed up to your Oscar party wearing clothes made of human skin and a mask constructed of another person’s torn off face would you think their outfit was horrifying or thrilling? Exactly. SILENCE OF THE LAMBS is horror.

Crikey, if SILENCE isn’t horror then what is? Besides the already mentioned body mutilation, violence and death, SILENCE straps on a diving helmet and plunges into the less easily defined depths of the pit. Yeah, there’s some nifty crime & mystery stuff going on and Clarice’s ascension past those who underestimate her is immensely gratifying, but her anguish and regret over not being able to save an animal she meant to protect from slaughter is the real spirit crushing agent of darkness here. We come to find out Clarice is haunted by past events and I think that emotional/spiritual horror is a sharper more persistent blade. For instance, I have a Facebook page and many of my pals are horror fans, so I’m pretty much besieged with images of “horror” everyday: zombies, vamps, decapitations, the usual snore parade. Every once in a while somebody will post a picture of an animal being harmed under a title like “Stop this!” and I know they are trying to do the right thing but it’s like throwing battery acid in my eyes and it makes my soul barf for humanity. Meaning, I’m not convinced the lambs of the title will ever be silenced. That’s horror.

I get the drift of those that say SILENCE is not horror. I understand their logic and points and politely chuck those ideas towards the dustbin in my head. This is more than an issue of semantics for me. Can I just keep this one victorious memory intact and unmolested by those who live to rain on my parade? When SILENCE won that night twenty years ago, in my mind, the entire horror genre won and more importantly (to me) so did I. It seemed that finally something I cared about was getting some respect. (It did not hurt that just the year before KATHY BATES wrangled a best actress award for MISERY too.) I had grown up watching the movies that I dug utterly disrespected and devalued and frankly, I was sick of it. In 1992 it seemed like the world was catching up to what I already knew. I started to imagine a future where I didn’t have to add an extra star or up the letter grade to every review of a horror film I read in order to make up for the preexisting prejudice. I’m sad to tell you, I’m still waiting for that day.

Maybe I’m OK with that. Some art forms are born to walk the fringes. I don’t expect everyone to like horror films but I do believe they deserve to be judged fairly rather than automatically dismissed because some find their subject matter distasteful. Really though, how can anyone expect horror as a genre to emerge from the ghetto when those who claim to be its biggest supporters are the very ones who most vehemently rip the movies themselves to shreds? If you want to read a truly venomous take on a horror film, your best bet is a horror fan site, a place where boycotting movies that are not filmed yet, burning directors at the stake and tearing apart nearly everything that comes down the pike save for a few worn out sacred cows are a matter of course; with fans like these, who needs enemies? That’s coming from a gay guy who twenty years ago was still firmly in the closet at a gay friendly Oscar party when SILENCE OF THE LAMBS won. Nothing drags a movement down like the naysaying, doubting Thomases from within. Tonight I’ll be at another Oscar party but this time not as a self-sabotaging malcontent. Maybe the world of horror hasn’t progressed as much as I would have liked in the past two decades but I have. I’m seriously going to toast SILENCE OF THE LAMBS 20TH anniversary win tonight and I’ll do it as a loud, proud devoted fan of horror…get used to it.

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11 years ago

20 years? Damn. I know I saw it when it came out but that kinda freaked me out reading that it’s that old.

And I have never even considered that it wasn’t horror. It still scares the crap out of me.

11 years ago

Wow, 20 years! Silence was the first movie my daddy ever took me to see. I loved it then and love it now.
The horror genre really doesn’t get enough respect! Sitting in a theater during a scary movie, you can’t deny that they provoke more reactions and emotions from the audience than anything else. You don’t see all the jumping and screaming and yelling at the screen at any other type of films. Except if you’re seeing Twilight with a bunch of teenagers.

11 years ago

Excellent article (as always)! Unfortunately it seems that horror is treated like a dirty word more often than not. I noticed that studios more and more use “psychological thriller” or “supernatural thriller” labels instead of horror one, but this has been happening for a very long time. I can take any of the horror DVDs from my collection and there’s about 80% chance that the movie is either labaled as a thriller on the cover or it has the director (or someone from the crew) violently arguing that their movie’s not horror because it’s good/not violent for the sake of being violent/there’s no blood etc. While there clearly are movies that are a bit harder to categorize, this more often happens on movies that clearly belong to the genre.

But what’s the fault? Is it because people don’t understand the genre? Or because the general public still sees horror movies only as trashy, cheesy gore flicks? Or is it just because calling a movie “psychological thriller” rather than horor gives it some sort of “class”?

11 years ago

Um…yeah. Walking around blind in the pitch black dark with a serial killer after you isn’t dangerous at all. With that logic you could say any horror movie where one person makes it out alive isn’t horror cause they were never really in danger anyway. But I guess being kidnapped and trapped in a hole by a lunatic isn’t horror either. I was wrong.

It’s kind of a interesting debate though – that my bf and I have every once in a while – esp when were watching Sci Fi type horror. He was saying that Attack the Block wasn’t really horror cause it was more Sci-Fi/Action – which is true. I always just considered anything that in real life would be “horrifying” to experience – whether or not it is made gory or super freaky in a movie – to be horror.

Oh – and – I seriously can’t stand theoretical movie reviews like the one you referred to. My eyeballs don’t stop rolling the minute I start reading them.

11 years ago

Wha a wonderful article – and adressing exactly the points that I have been trying to make for years when people find it necessary to loudly denounce my interest – usually the people who have only seen two or three horror films in their whole wretched lives.

I really, really hate this stigma, and how quick people are to call something a “thriller” instead only for the purppose of giving themselves a better taste in their mouths in order to conform to bitter old men’s ideas and demands on what should be regarded as good or bad taste. Frankly, it’s disgusting. It doesn’t help when the “thriller” classificiation is already so goddamn vague that they can throw it on anything that has a single scene that is even the slightest bit tense or dangerous – when labels like “Supernatural Thriller” start showing up, it just muddles the whole thing even further. I’m tempted to call, saty, “Jacob’s Ladder” a supernatural thriller (yet – SPOILERS – it turns out to never have been supernatural in the first place), but it still has a gay being chased all over by horrifying demons and seeing the most grotesque, frightening images all around him, so balls to that, I call horror!

As one mentioend about how quick DVS covers especially are to slap something like this on, let me tell you the most inasne example of this in my collection: My DVD copy of Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan? Labeled at the end as “Action / Thriller”.

I weep for humanity – or at least the part of it that ackowledges fear as a powerful emotion that is interesting, healthy and FUN to invoke.

Wonderful, WONDERFUL article.

Eric Eddy
11 years ago

Siskel and Ebert have had some of the oddest movie reviews. I remember that the only reason Siskel gave Terminator a thumbs up was the… *DRUMROLL* LOVE STORY.

Really? In a movie about a killer cyborg from the future, the only part you’re concerned about is the love story?

Those guys must have been TRYING to be difficult most of the time. It’s the only logical explanation for their lack of logic(!).