EPISODE 241: SUSPENSE OR HORROR?

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10 Responses

  1. Patrick says:

    In the delineation between Horror and Suspense, the key word that I kept waiting to hear is physicality. For me, horror is a physical manifestation where as suspense is a psychological manifestation. I think that feeling of “Agressively Wrong” that David references is our reaction to the physical distortion of our expectations of what can happen in the universe.

    As human beings we don’t actively think of ourselves as being physical matter in the same way as a rock or a chair is. We convince ourselves that we have some higher assigned role in the universe that makes us not susceptible to the same destructive forces that we see placed on other physical matter.

    Horror is the violation of the human delusion. In a strange way, its very similar to slapstick comedy. Horror is a violation of our own hopes of immortality and specialness. Its the destruction of our own warmer and friendly view of the universe towards a more Hobbesian view: the world is savage and does not discern in its waves of destruction.

    Again, in this way, I would see horror having more in common with comedy than with suspense.

    Great episode.

  2. Battleship Pretension says:

    This is a great and clear summation of exactly what I was trying to get at when I referred to things being “wrong.” I wish I could have said it as well as you have here.

    – David

  3. Dayne says:

    Well said, Patrick. And I agree this was a great episode.

    I do, however, disagree with the framing you guys took on it. I believe it was Scott, whose reviews I quite like so this is no criticism of him, who first said you know what will happen with suspense but you don’t with horror. I absolutely disagree and think it’s the other way around.

    To use David’s example with the guy shooting his head, that’s suspenseful precisely because you don’t know what will happen. Will he get the shot off? Will he hit the bad guy? The horror is at what’s happening, already happened, or we know will happen – horror is about the truth, suspense is about expectation. A great example is The Shining. I find that movie terrifying. The reason I find it terrifying is not because I don’t know what will happen. I know Jack Nicholson will go insane and try to kill his family, and then Kubrick makes me watch for two fucking hours knowing that will happen and letting it build. That sense of dread, that’s what horror is about. Horror is a revealing, like Patrick said, potentially of fragility as well as many other things.

    David mentioned a lot of Lynch films. I just saw Blue Velvet for the first time. Despite it’s many genre trappings, that is absolutely a horror movie. That scene when we first meet Dennis Hopper is terrifying because it’s true, and that hits us in our gut. It’s like the character says later – “You’re just like me.” That’s the true horror of the film, that behind all that facade something unknown, inexplicable and truly terrifying lurks, and that that thing is ourselves. Horror is about making us face a truth we don’t like. In Blue Velvet, that we’re all animals at bottom. In The Shining, that the family is a deeply unstable, potentially destructive construct just two seconds from exploding at any time. The supernatural stuff is just trappings, devices used like in a fairy tale to pad the uncomfortable bits and then sink us deeper into the horrific truths we are facing. That’s my feelings on the subject anyway.

  4. Scott Nye says:

    I definitely see your point about horror, but I’ll reword my idea of suspense – it relies on a set of possible outcomes, whereas horror is an outcome you couldn’t see coming. Yeah, we don’t know if the guy will get the shot off, but we’re essentially waiting in anticipation to see whether or not that will happen.

    Whereas in The Shining, we know something is waiting for Jack in room 237 (looked it up!), but the anticipation we feel is far more horrifying because we have absolutely no clue what that could be. And the revelation of the old woman is also totally unexpected, unpredictable, and all the more horrifying for it.

    So I think it’s actually a mix of both – the unknown and being faced with something tangible yet impossible – or perhaps two separate things altogether.

  5. Rick Vance says:

    When you were laying out your original definition of the difference at the beginning of the episode David my mind jumped to a single film, The Wicker Man. The way that film has that feeling of something is not right but its in that suspenseful mysterious way that makes you want to keep watching until the gut punch that is the final scene that is horrific on so many levels, that is almost a jump scare without the jump because it is telegraphed completely but it works entirely.

  6. Dayne says:

    Hmm. That’s a good point, Scott. I think I still like my definition of horror thematically, but in practice, I can definitely see what you’re saying. The problem with horror, as opposed to suspense, is its really hard to nail down. Because, while you’re right about 237, a great deal of what The Shining relies on is the fact that we really know that Jack is gonna go nuts. I think suspense is about the outcome, and horror is about the mood. The Shining is a horror movie because it so perfectly establishes a horrific mood, which allows for suspense as a part of it. What do you think?

  7. Christoffer says:

    Quick comment on how Dracula/Frankenstein didn’t have scary visuals: People actually fainted when seeing those two characters on the screen. The very sight of them was so horrifying at that time that large amounts of people actually fainted. How easy it was to freighten people back then really shows how much the human race has changed. Wondered what would have happened if somebody had made Antichrist, or hell Hostel/Saw back then.

  8. J. Warner says:

    Some very random thoughts…

    – To me, the horror genre’s primary function is to scare or frighten. Being creepy, atmospheric, disturbing or unsettling all can or should play a major part as well, but at least for the enterprise as a whole to be 100% successful in what it sets out to do as a genre piece, I personally think it has to bring some sort of fearful emotion out of you.

    – For me, the terms “thriller” and “suspense” pretty much mean the same thing and are so interchangable that I personally do not differinate between the two. Ultimately, though, it is all entirely subjective and what may constitute a horror film to one person will to another be a “psychological” or “supernatural thriller.”

    – You guys seem to have the opinion that in order for something to be successfully suspenseful, you have to at least on some level know or expect what is going to happen. … I may be alone here, but I don’t follow the logic. If you really think you know what is going to happen five seconds or five minutes from now in a story, how can one possibly be put in suspense by that? Isn’t suspense all about not knowing what is going to happen next and having that cause a level of amprehension, anxiety and fear in you?

    – I think “Rosemary’s Baby” counts horror for more than just the ending; the very notion that those who are closest to Rosemary as well as her neighbors are all involved in some sort of cult that is trying to get her to become impregnated with the seed of the all-time-mythic boogeyman of them all is an extremely unsettling scenario, and it’s hard for me to view that as that as more of a thriller. Now, if everyone were Soviet spies or something and were trying to do something nefarious with Rosemary or getting her pregnate, then I would probably agree that it is much more in the suspense column as even though that scenario too could be just as disturbing, something about it still just doesn’t feel like horror to me.

    – To each their own opinion on the character, but in the John Carpenter original as well as some of the sequels, Michael Myers of “Halloween” is not neccessarily crazy or psychopathic. Granted, he is locked up in an asylum for many-a-year but I think that is more so because it is the only real place they can try to keep him out of and away from society at large the most effectively. As John Carpenter has stated in the past (and who in the credits for the first movie is referred to as “The Shape”), Michael is really akin to some sort of relentless force of nature and, as Dr. Loomis says, is “purely and simply, evil.” He’s just an evil “person” who has this childlike curiosity or fascination with killing; just because he is a mass murderer and an utter bastard does not automatically there is something physiologically or otherwise wrong with him.

    – Just because “Scream” and the entire series has a whodunit or mystery as the key plot point in its narrative doesn’t auomatically make it less of a horror film. Who says (obviously) that genres can’t mix and mingle together and not overwhelm one another so that the story ultimately becomes more of one than the other? Also, can’t a mystery be scary or unsettling in of itself? I’ll just have to respectfully disagree with the notion that “Scream” is less horror than it is a thriller.

    In the end, some people consider films like “Jaws,” “The Silence of the Lambs,” “Se7en,” and “The Sixth Sense” as horror films, others say they are thrillers or suspense movies. It is really all subjective so in the end I have to admit that no one’s opinion on the subject is more valid than anyone else’s except for themselves.

  9. J. Warner says:

    Two other things I forgot to mention…

    – Up until (the awful) “Hannibal Rising,” there is never a motive or explanation given for why Hannibal Lecter became a cannibal. Even if they had given him one in “The Silence of the Lambs” I wouldn’t automatically think that’d necessarily make him less unsettling, but often times the less you know or can understand about someone or something, the scarier it is or can remain.

    – On the subject of “The Silence of the Lambs” in particular, I’d say that just as many would argue for it being a horror movie as any would for it being a thriller (I personally would never consider it only a “drama” though) is due to the nature and personality of Hannibal himself, the whole movie has a very gothic look and atmosphere to it, and there are quite a few scenes that could be viewed as meant to illicit fear or terror/horror just as much as they are meant to illicit suspense.

    … But again, to each their own interpretation(s).

  10. J. Warner says:

    – Last note, in regards to your talk on the murder scenes in “Zodiac”: just because something might be visually withheld or cut away from on screen doesn’t inherently make it less horrifying or frightening; for some, the imagination or what you don’t see is ions more effective and/or affective than anything that could ever be shown.

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