Seven Horror Films That Defy Their Genre

After seeing Cabin in the Woods this past weekend, I was reminded of how great a horror film can be when it steps outside the confines of its genre. This isn’t to say that “traditional” horror movies can’t be good – horror as a genre is built on a foundation of unspoken rules and pitfalls.

Of course films like The Shining and Alien will always hold a rightful share of the throne. Still, there is something entirely refreshing about seeing a horror movie that bucks the trend and does something truly original. Below are seven films that accomplished this rare feat.

1. From Dusk Til Dawn (1996)

This movie also features Selma Hayek as a stripper. Just sayin.

What makes it genre-defying:
Perhaps the best trick From Dusk Til Dawn plays is deceiving its viewers about what kind of film they are truly in for. At the outset, we watch a violent robbery go down, which in turn escalates into a kidnapping. Desperate to get off the road, the gang retreats to a dingy motel. From there, a meeting is arranged at a bar on the outskirts of  town. It is nearly an hour into the  movie before we learn that the crew and patrons of the elegantly named Titty Twister are actually crazy vampire beasts. Add to that the genuinely humorous elements of the script, Quentin Tarantino playing a guy who might be creepier than any bloodsucker and some supersoakers filled with holy water, and you’ve got the makings of a film that won’t fit neatly in any section of a Blockbuster.

Best scene:
This is tough, but I’ve got to go with the opening scene where George Clooney and Tarantino rob a gas station. Instant classic and a perfect decoy for what’s to come later.

2. Red State (2011)

What makes it genre-defying:
Who knew Kevin Smith, the man behind Clerks and Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, had a horror film in him? Well, probably  anyone who’s looked at the guy’s Twitter feed in the past two years. In all seriousness though, I went into Red State thinking it would be some dialogue-driven homage to horror films past. Smith is a major film buff, and combined with his extensive knowledge of the comic book world, I guess I just expected something derivative. Not the case. Red State is a film in three parts: the first part subverts the “I found someone on the internet who wants to meet” plot and includes a few vintage Smith moments courtesy of the main characters (three teenage boys); part two is the horror film, of which I will say only that I was totally shocked and enthralled by what transpired; finally part three is in many ways a war film. If horror movies are defined by having an “evil” antagonist, someone who legitimately scares you the viewer,  few if any will match the dark depths of Pastor Abin Cooper.

Best scene:
Nothing compares with Abin Cooper’s nine minute sermon as the film begins its descent into the second act.

3. Wes Craven’s New Nightmare (1994)

What makes it genre-defying:
The concept of this film is the epitome of meta-horror. Heather Langenkamp, who played Nancy in the first Nightmare on Elm Street, stars as herself. Wes Craven also appears under his own name, hard at work on a new installment of the Nightmare franchise. Where things get very, very weird is when Freddy (not to be confused with actor Robert Englund, who plays himself) “breaks through” into the real world. So, in essence, Freddy is terrorizing the cast from the original Nightmare on Elm Street film with a particular focus on Heather’s son. I haven’t seen this movie in quite a while, but I remember being impressed with a number of scenes, especially in terms of set design and script prowess. Even if the movie comes off as corny or dated, it’s worth watching to see Craven execute the idea of recharging a stale horror franchise by having the infamous bad guy attack the filmmakers who made the original.

Best scene:
Heather goes to visit Wes in his office as he works on a new draft of the upcoming Nightmare script. After Heather finishes explaining to Wes that her life is somehow mirroring the screenplay he is working on, it is revealed that Wes has written everything they just said to one another on the most recent page of his screenplay.

4. The Faculty (1998)

Robert Patrick doesn’t know how to play normal people, and for that we love him.

What makes it genre-defying:
In essence, The Faculty is Invasion of the Body Snatchers, except in The Faculty, the characters have seen Invasion and can therefore use it as a survival guide of sorts. The Faculty marks the second film on this list by Robert Rodriguez, and also features a screenplay by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson. The story follows a group of high school kids including the nerd (Elijah Wood), the bad boy (Josh Hartnett), the loner (Clea DuVall) and the new girl (Laura Harris). In a matter of days, their high school becomes a breeding ground for an alien takeover. Armed only with Hartnett’s homegrown synthetic uppers and a healthy distrust for one another, they are forced to grapple with a town that has been turned. I love how this movie takes multiple expectations and disembowls them. The viewer gets a Breakfast Club vibe, and then one sharp twist later and that perception is ruined. One thinks the film is plausibly a hip re-imagining of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, until DuVall’s character explicitly references the film and they use it as a basis for how to defeat the extraterrestrial baddies. As with Williamson’s Scream, the movie also adopts the “everybody is a suspect” element, given that the aliens inhabit the bodies of familiar faces.

Best scene:
Pretty hard to argue with Jon Stewart getting his hand cut off with a paper cutter before being stabbed in the eye and melting. Shout-out to the retractable bleachers in the finale as well.


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