Horror breaks the rules, and gleefully so, making it the coolest, sexiest, and most viscerally enthralling of all genres.
The first horror film is believed to have debuted in 1898. And since that time, the genre has endured remarkable durability, even in post-COVID times when movies like Scream 5, The Black Phone, and Barbarian can make an extreme killing at the box office (shocking both audiences and analysts).
Why are these films so unshakeably popular, and why do audiences continue to turn out for them en masse?
There is a simple answer, and it is because horror is far and above the best genre available to cinematic connoisseurs. But that’s a big, bold statement, so let me explain.
More than any other type of movie, the very nature of a horror film ensures an interesting and intoxicating mix of elements that you simply will not get (at least all in one place) from any other type of film.
Horror is often reduced to one simple criterion: scares. And while that’s undoubtedly a core component of genre films, it’s far too reductive. In fact, I would argue that horror is the most expansive genre, adeptly addressing a wide range of emotions and often providing some of the most thought-provoking and richly layered content you’ll find in cinema.
With horror films, one can expect to experience humor, adventure, thrills, romance, drama, social commentary, terror, and allegorical representations of important themes, along with compelling visuals and titillating spectacles.
To illustrate my point, let’s look at the fifth entry to the seminal Scream franchise, which kicked off 2022 — a stellar year for horror — in a fashion that perfectly exemplified this genre’s tendency to offer something for every person sitting in the audience or back at home.
For those who might have found the violence too much, there was still a wildly intelligent script that not only provided memorable one-liners but genuine characters that you could root for.
Additionally, the continuing thread of Gale and Dewey’s tumultuous relationship provided some emotional stakes for those who enjoy romance enmeshed in all the carnage. The revelation that Sidney is now a happily married woman of three children (and the fact that she once again survived) speaks to horror as a progressive genre.
In fact, horror often allows marginalized members of society to step into the spotlight and enjoy thoughtful, meaningful, and compelling storylines.
Historically, horror films have typically been way ahead of the curve in pushing boundaries, redefining social norms, challenging the status quo, and breaking down barriers to representation.
Scream 5 was the first entry in the wildly successful franchise to feature such a diverse cast, which could arguably be seen as a contributor in helping ensure the successful relaunch of an 11-year dormant franchise.
On the flip side, we have other blockbuster hits like The Black Phone and Barbarian that typified the type of catharsis (and good old-fashioned fun) that can be afforded to horror fans who are sensation seekers.
While they may not have offered deep commentary or complex stories, these types of entertaining horror films remain important by offering a unique and incomparable feeling of catharsis derived from confronting fear in a controlled setting.
Horror can ask a lot from an audience.
Genre films often place beloved characters in jeopardy — dangerous situations they may not survive — making it the most daring genre for the bravest of movie-goers. As a result, these films target viewers who choose not to turn away from the darkness that permeates their lives, darkness that scary movies reflect.
This exploration also helps to classify splatter fans as one of the more intellectual, curious, and compassionate types of individuals that this world has to offer.
Just ask any Scream Queen who has attended a convention; horror fans are some of the nicest and most well-rounded people you will ever meet.
Speaking of nice people, Barbarian smartly cast Bill Skarsgard against type with an Act 1 shocker that provided yours with the most nerve-jangling shock experienced, probably not since 2018’s Hereditary. Such a subversion makes these movies unpredictable and deliriously exciting.
To look further, what makes horror the best genre is the pulpy way it grabs your attention.
For better or worse, horror is a transgressive genre that can alienate some but provide a sort of unorthodox therapy for pleasure seekers who need a release.
Fantastic music, dynamic editing, dazzling visuals, and impressive (practical) special effects combine to make movies that engage the body and mind to unparalleled degrees.
The way horror films can trigger the fight-or-flight response also has the added benefit of boosting adrenaline, endorphins, and dopamine — effectively making horror movies one of life’s best natural highs.
Put simply, watching an effective horror film is an experience quite unlike any other.
With Scream 6 just around the corner, it is time to get excited and terrified all over again about which fresh and inventive ways will be utilized to shock and delight.
Whether you’re in it for the kills or you’re in it for the emotion, horror is an irresistible cocktail of the human experience, delving into horrors both real and imagined as well as terror both external and internal.
Lovable heroes provide role models for some in their lives who don’t have many to look forward to, and the artistry and magic involved in practical effects/set-pieces continue to impress and inspire generations of fans to not only tell their own stories but bravely confront the darkness and invite metamorphosis.
Horror is the best genre because it is the boldest, takes risks, invites exploration, and, above all, has FUN while doing it.