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People have long treated horror films with derision and disrespect. But the genre is vast, and many films are both amazing and distinctly horror.

Intro by Jack Wilhelmi (Managing Editor)

As horror fans, we’ve all heard variations on the same theme: “That film is too good to be horror”, “That’s not ‘real’ horror because…”, “Why do you watch those awful movies?” After a while, it becomes exhausting when people – especially fellow cinema lovers – degrade and turn their noses up at a perfectly fine genre of film.

Horror has always been about celebrating the underdog and showing the darker sides of humanity. It is about opening the creaking closet doors and fearlessly showcasing whatever – or whoever – is lurking inside.

Horror taps into instinctual fears, anxieties, and allows people to explore their own in a safe space, curled up in a blanket on the couch or cuddled up next to someone.

For some, it is catharsis.

Survivors of abuse, neglect, trauma, and other horrific facets of their past can look to seeing strong survivors like Ripley in Alien and Laurie Strode in Halloween and feel, for a moment, that they are seen and heard. Not only that, but they are celebrated; they are fearless, and not alone. In horror, the downtrodden live to fight another day. The weak may find their inner strength and stand up to unspeakable horrors. The outcast can become powerful. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Recently, critics and the Academy have shed some light on the values of the horror genre, most notably in the 2018 season when not one, but two films – Get Out and The Shape of Water – were nominated for Best Picture. When The Shape of Water won, horror fans reveled in the thrill that came from feeling accepted, for once, and like our beloved genre actually had value by a larger group of people who are, quite literally, paid to judge movies on their technical and artistic merits. But then the comments began again: “Oh, that’s not a horror movie, though…”

This year, another genre-bending movie, Parasite, is up for prestigious awards and – again – many of us have heard counter arguments that it doesn’t count or qualify. But we might argue that there are nuances to the genre that only the most dedicated fans can capture in our heartfelt explanations.

The Morbidly Beautiful staff took on a project to examine some films that are – in our opinion – absolutely within the horror genre.

We explain why, when so many have argued they aren’t, they belong. These are stories of the darker sides of humanity, though perhaps not painted in the traditional light of what most think of when they reflect on horror as a genre.

It’s in these stories that we fully experience fear, joy, love, and acceptance, and we hope it gives you a better idea of just how amazing and broad the genre is: that’s part of why we all love it so much.

1. Heathers (1989)

A defense by Kirby Kellogg

Just because a monster doesn’t rip out your throat or a supernatural serial killer doesn’t make a Pollock with your guts doesn’t mean something isn’t a horror film. Sometimes, the great evil is just an ordinary person who does horrible things to the people around them. This is where Heathers becomes more relevant than ever.

Heathers was a film released at the tail end of the 80s and has evolved from a little-known flick about ego and the mundane misery of teenage life to a cult film where teen suicides and serial killing turned stark and strangely lifelike.

In the face of a world where school shootings and the depression of Gen Z and millennials have only grown more visible and recognized in the eyes of the world, HEATHERS takes a more sinister edge.

In the 80s, school shootings were less common, and the idea of death happening before the apathetic eyes of adults was more a topic of dark jokes than reality. Back then, Heathers was considered to be a dark comedy.

Now, as we pass the film’s 30th birthday, watching Jason Dean (Christian Slater) set up bombs in the boiler room and Heather Chandler’s collapse into her glass table isn’t truly funny anymore.

This event is worsened with the knowledge that Chandler’s actress, Kim Walker, died young from a brain tumor in 2001, at the tender age of 32. Viewers nearly fall headlong into the shoes of Veronica Sawyer (Winona Ryder), facing down the barrel of her beau’s gun with three faux suicides at her back, and the fact arises that Heathers has long since shed its darkly comedic coat.

Heathers is not just horror now: Heathers is a dark mirror to a culture that will gladly blind itself to the suffering of young folks just to keep the status quo.

The musical Heathers evolved into uses a reprise of another song, “Seventeen”, to close the show – a song that features the line, “I can’t promise no more Heathers, high school may not ever end.”

How sad it is that Heathers has become this: a symbol of a culture that some high schoolers look to as a reflection of their own time. High school truly may not ever end.

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

A defense by Vicki Woods

The Silence of the Lambs is one of my all-time favorite films, period. It follows FBI Cadet Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) on her hunt for a serial killer. In the process, she meets with incarcerated Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) to inquire if the brilliantly insane cannibal can help her find a serial killer who skins his victims. I don’t care what anyone says: this is a horror film.

Yes, there is a huge focus on Clarice and the investigative process, but Dr. Hannibal Lecter is as horrifying of a monster as it gets. Stellar acting from the likes of Anthony Hopkins, Jodie Foster and Ted Levine helped it win 5 Oscars. Commonly, the film is pigeon-holed as a “psychological thriller” in the eyes of the Academy, and may have been done to qualify, since they have no horror category.

That said, The Silence of the Lambs is a gripping nail-biter that left my heart racing. And it is a terrifying film with enough gore to satisfy any horror fan. It’s time to give credit where credit is due and embrace this Oscar-winning masterpiece as the brilliant horror film it really is.

3. Get Out (2017)