Ever since people first wove stories about monsters by the light of campfires, “horror” has proven a remarkably resilient and adaptable genre label. Whether it’s crafting ghost stories from the ineffable fear of death or monster tales from an instinctual fear of predation, human beings have proven remarkably adept at mining our vast catalog of fears and transforming them into compelling narrative. We have always loved to come up with new and different ways to scare each other.
Perhaps this cultural immortality is why it’s so disappointing when contemporary horror films become bogged down in formula and lowest-common-denominator plotting – but also why it’s so refreshing when a scary movie tries out something new and unexpected. Deliver Us from Evil – which opened in theaters on Wednesday to capitalize on the long Independence Day weekend – takes a stab at just that, inserting a story of infernal possession into the structure of a police procedural.
Crushing horror together with disparate genres is hardly new or novel. Indeed, science-fiction-horror is a genre unto itself, and horror-comedies have been getting discomfited laughs since Abbott and Costello met Frankenstein. What marks Deliver Us from Evil for special consideration is its experimentation with a nonstandard subgenre to create a tale of cops n’ demons.
The whole exercise has us wondering at all the other, infrequently attempted horror genre mashups that could one day take cinemas by storm. From that bloody-minded brainstorming, we at Screen Rant have cataloged 6 more genres or subgenres we want to see horror combined with more often or more effectively.
6. The Western
Examples: Gallowwalkers, Grim Prairie Tales, Ravenous
Common wisdom maintains that the Western is a moribund genre – fine for niche titles, but destined never to reclaim the popularity it once held in the first half of the twentieth century. If the Western were to hitch itself to horror’s dark wagon, could it be the shot in the arm it needs to recapture the zeitgeist?
So far, the answer has been a resounding, “No.” Though sporadic attempts have been made to marry the western with horror, they have almost all been either overly weird (Ravenous), zero-budgeted (Grim Prairie Tales), or outright terrible (Gallowwalkers).
Nonetheless, the underlying themes of the Western could – with the right massaging – easily be molded into the complementary themes of horror. The exultation of the frontier transforms into the dread of isolation. The heroism of lone men forging their destinies becomes the depravity of desperate men. And there’s so much space out there in the Old West – perfect for populating with all manner of ghouls and ghosts.
Example: Tales from the Hood
Plenty of scary screen stories have featured criminals coming to unpleasant (and often richly deserved) ends. For example, the 1995 film Tales from the Hood (a movie with much, much more on its mind than its title and garish logo would suggest) presents a horror anthology with a crime-caper framing device. Drawing inspiration from old EC Comics and Hammer Horror films, Tales from the Hood visits drug dealers and hitmen with ironic punishments.
Despite this, horror tales have rarely been attempted within the full, traditional framework of a true crime story. Though somewhat similar, the basic structure of most crime/mystery films is different from horror. As such, how about a haunted heist movie? Or a monstrous bit of noir?
An interesting candidate for this kind of treatment is the Image comic book Fatale, written by Ed Brubaker and illustrated by Sean Phillips. Stitching together elements of classic noir, tales of witchcraft, and Lovecraftian horror, Fatale could make for one heck of a two-fisted, frightening yarn.
Examples: The Exorcist, The Conjuring
It might be handy to think of this as “prestige horror” – scary stories that also include rich character development and genuine attempts at human emotion. Technically, attempts to invest horror with greater gravitas and dramatic weight are a dime a dozen. Were that they were more often actually successful.
Consider The Exorcist, so often imitated and never quite duplicated. Much of the early portion of William Friedkin’s horror masterpiece plays out as a tense psychological drama. The true shape of the movie reveals itself slowly, ratcheting slowly toward its infamous grand guignol of a third act.
Recently, this kind of deliberate, character-focused filmmaking appeared in The Conjuring, and the result was a bona fide hit. While the connection between horror and serious drama isn’t always flashy, when it’s successful it can be an electrifying punch to the guts.
Examples: Frankenstein’s Army, Below
On one level, the best war movies already have a touch of horror about them. When Steven Spielberg’s camera lingers on the exposed entrails of a soldier crying out for his mother, the audience isn’t supposed to feel tough, courageous, or patriotic. When properly deployed, these kinds of moments remind audiences that war is indeed an endless, dehumanizing hell.
With that jolly thought in mind, let’s consider inserting some zombies, vengeful ghosts, and acid-dripping fangs in there.
The best recent example of this is the comparatively low-budget Frankenstein’s Army, which combines a novel take on found-footage with fantastic creature designs for a surprisingly thrilling experience. Nonetheless, Frankenstein’s Army remains a horror film with war movie trappings. Just as with the crime genre, war movies generally have a different structure and overall feel than horror films.
As such, it might be interesting and/or genuinely terrifying to combine the full emotional weight of a great war film with the unbearable dread of a well-executed horror flick. While the resultant movie might leave audience members feeling like they’ve been hit in the head with the butt of a rifle, it could theoretically also be dazzling cinema.
Examples: Snow White: A Tale of Terror; Berserk
While Hollywood has occasionally dabbled with darker spins on old fairy tales and fables (see the surprisingly adept Snow White: A Tale of Terror), straight-up fantasy stories have very rarely crossed over with horror. This may not be the case for long: with the seemingly unstoppable cultural ubiquity of Game of Thrones, “dark fantasy” is becoming all the rage. How long can it be before some enterprising filmmaker takes a crack at creating a true horror tale in a fantastical setting?
Perhaps the most concerted effort toward this fusion lies in Japanese manga/anime series Berserk. While latter entries in the manga’s publication begin to resemble a more familiar fantasy narrative, much of Berserk’s run has focused on making its world as grim and horrifying as possible. Even though series protagonist Guts can slay demons with the best of them, his inability to create any kind of meaningful change in the world gives his quest a melancholy and oftentimes hopeless flavor – themes far more familiar in horror narratives than high fantasy.
Though Berserk is far too sprawling and unwieldy to properly adapt into a feature film, it does present an interesting blueprint for how to proceed with hitching a fantasy setting to a horror framework, or vice versa. No doubt such a creation would end up being an original property – but one to eagerly follow nonetheless.
Example: All Superheroes Must Die
Counter-intuitive as it may seem, superhero-horror stories could have the liveliest future of all the entries on this list, despite being the least explored to this point. The only filmic example of this mashup that we could dig up was the barely released All Superheroes Must Die, also known as Vs. This indie flick attempts to push superhero iconography into a Saw-like horror story, and by all accounts fails at both (though no one at Screen Rant has actually seen said flick, so your mileage may vary).
Actual comic books provide many solid examples of this odd, sometimes disarming subgenre. Indie-published titles such as Warren Ellis’s No Hero and Supergod or Gail Simone’s Leaving Megalopolis invert the usual superhero paradigm. In these chilling tales, the inherent hope and inspiration of superheroes trade places with dread and terror. Each is a prime candidate for adaptation into a unique and possibly terrifying feature film.
We may see this kind of mashup sooner rather than later. After all, Constantine comes from source material that combined ghoulish horror with superhero action. In his original incarnation, John Constantine acted as a kind of posh Crypt-Keeper, leading Swamp Thing on a bizarre tour of America’s haunted, monster-infested interior. Though the upcoming NBC show appears to stand very far from those exact roots, it also appears to be wholeheartedly embracing their spirit. Here’s to hoping that there will be a few more effective scares on network television next year.
Scary stories are an innate part of every society’s cultural DNA. As such, horror tales will no doubt remain a stalwart part of the film’s pantheon, even as future audiences’ tastes change in ways both unexpected and inevitable.
However, will the kinds of genre mashups that we’ve been discussing have any place in that future? While Deliver Us from Evil may not have completely blown away the critics, its willingness to play with genre conventions is heartening – and for the folk behind the film’s camera, the future is rather bright.
Indeed, Scott Derrickson, the director of Deliver Us from Evil, will soon be helming Doctor Strange for Marvel. Will the first cinematic outing of the Sorcerer Supreme embrace the same genre tropes that got Derrickson the job in the first place? We at Screen Rant are just about ready to sell our souls or fight a hell-beast to find out.
Deliver Us from Evil is currently menacing theaters.
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