The horror genre is the most diverse genre around, with tons of sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. Often times Hollywood stays away from giving new releases the “scarlet H” moniker. Labeling a film “horror” makes the mainstream uneasy, but there are a lot of big Hollywood flicks out there marketed as thrillers and psychological thrillers that are full of horror themes and elements. Here’s my list of my favorite horror films that aren’t actually horror films.
Let me know what your favorites horror films that aren’t actually horror films are.
Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream (2000) and Black Swan (2010)
Right off the bat we get a filmmaker who walks the line between thriller and horror in most of his films. Darren Aronofsky is a talented filmmaker who often times gives the audience a horrifying look into abject horror without ever presenting a demon, serial killer, or giant creature. Requiem for a Dream has so many horrifying scenes that there’s too many to list. But just tell me that Ellen Burstyn’s decent into addiction isn’t fucking horrifying (as is all the cast’s).
In Black Swan we get a different type of horror as a young dancer (Natalie Portman) is dominated and controlled by her overbearing mother (Barbara Hershey) to the point where she cracks and begins to have difficulty distinguishing between fantasy and reality. Portman gives the performance of her career as a young woman descending into madness.
Peter Greenaway’s The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, & Her Lover (1989)
This is a hugely entertaining black comedy about a wife and her abusive husband who frequent the same fancy London restaurant for dinner every night. The wife meets a kindly customer in the restaurant and begins an affair. When hubby finds out, he’s not happy and things get pretty bad. There are more than a few scenes of brutality that will make you flinch (that damn fork through the cheek!!).
Bryan Singer’s Apt Pupil (1998)
The first movie I can think of where the Nazi isn’t the monster. Singer presents a chilling portrait of obsession as a young man (Brad Renfro) blackmails a Nazi into telling him everything he knows. Creepy stuff.
David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) and Gone Girl (2014)
You know I couldn’t leave Fincher off this list. I think I need to convince you that Se7en is largely a horror film. The film is about a serial killer that kills people according to the seven deadly sins, but of course the studio wouldn’t label this film a horror movie. Instead it is called a drama/mystery/thriller. Whatever!!
Gone Girl also has many horror elements in it (especially Neil Patrick Harris’ character), but watching this film gave me an uneasy feeling from beginning to end. Amy (Rosamund Pike) is a class-A sociopath, and in the end, Affleck’s character winds up inches own Hell that there’s no way out of.
Neil Jordan’s The Butcher Boy (1997)
If you haven’t seen this film, I highly recommend it. When the film begins, Francie (Eamonn Owens) is a normal, playful child who has a rich fantasy life. But Francie’s environment is full of violent, alcoholic, manic-depressive, suicidal parents and other negative things which impress upon his young mind. We watch as all the elements in Francie’s life weigh upon him until he erupts into brutal violence. The Butcher Boy details the “making of” a sociopath. It’s a brilliant film.
Lars von Trier’s Antichrist (2009)
Need any convincing? Just the name “Lars von Trier” alone should be enough. Melancholia, Dogville, and even Nymphomaniac Vols. One and Two, fit this list perfectly, but there’s just something about Antichrist that is extremely unnerving. Willem Dafoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s young son dies while they’re having sex. The couple retreats to a cabin in the woods (Trier even uses the oldest horror setting in the book) to mourn their loss, but instead each becomes consumed by their grief. Hallucinations, meeting talking animals, and sadistic and violent sexual deviancy (there’s a lot of genital mutilation here) accent this film as we watch a couple torn apart by their sorrow and guilt.
Adrian Lyne’s Jacob’s Ladder (1990)
I’m including Jacob’s Ladder as a special mention because this film has embraced its horror label. Jacob (Tim Robbins) is a traumatized Vietnam vet who returns home to find that he sees demons everywhere. Is it PTSD? Is he going crazy? Is it connected to the trauma he experienced in Vietnam? Jacob even begins experiencing shifts in reality. He goes to sleep with one wife and wakes up with another. This film has elements of a mystery, a psychological thriller, a drama, and even has heavy conspiracy overtones in it. But don’t be fooled, this brilliant film is a horror film through and through. The visions inside the hospital will give you nightmares for days!!
So what’s you favorite horror films that aren’t actually horror films? There’s a lot of possible flicks out there that fit this bill. Can’t wait to hear your picks.