Why Horror Films Need Their Own Oscars

With the main exceptions of The Silence of the Lambs and The Exorcist (which in my opinion should have won the Oscar it was up for), horror films are nearly always ignored come awards season. This is no longer a disappointment to me. In fact, it makes perfect sense given what these awards have become compared to horror’s B-genre classification. Horror used to be considered only a notch below comedy. But, the comedy genre (when done artfully, intelligently or heartwarmingly enough) can actually still get elevated by Academy recognition—think Little Miss Sunshine or even this year’s American Hustle.

I have no valid argument to put forth in a debate about whether horror films deserve mainstream industry accolades. I do, however, think they deserve to be considered in a similar way—why can’t an awards show exist that understands the genre for what it is and what it can do, but that is also seen as more mainstream or respectable than something like the Scream Awards that air on Spike TV?

I think the answer lies in the aforementioned distinction between the high culture that is inherent in awards season and the typically low culture stigma of horror films which seems to remain no matter how many interesting, innovative or even critically successful films within that genre emerge. Awards season favors audience’s tears and triumph over screams and scares, but isn’t it time that some other awards show does favor the latter?

scream-awards

Perhaps not in the traditional sense or setting; awards shows, as much as they try to be entertaining, carry with them an air of pretension and culturally prescribed authority—attitudes which would prove inapplicable and inappropriate when judging and rewarding films and filmmakers who thrive off of gory viscera and gritty excess. So in that respect, the over-the-top nature of the Scream Awards does work for the genre it is celebrating, so I certainly don’t want to completely disregard or denounce something which I myself have watched in the past. But the fact that that awards show isn’t taking itself too seriously means that we aren’t taking it all that seriously either. I find this to be logical but also highly problematic in an era of artistic experimentation within the genre— all remakes aside these simply aren’t the same horror films anymore. In fact, just when it may seem that many are indeed worse, I find that a lot of them have been of a truly higher caliber.

For example, if this hypothetical awards show were to exist, I would want the awards up for grabs to reflect the variety and playfulness the genre has to offer. Why can’t we have a Best Found Footage film of the year award and have it go to Justin Cole’s The Upper Footage, even if not for its execution alone but also for its impressive marketing? What about other subgenres too: Best Anthology, Best Possession or Haunting (which could easily go to James Wan’s The Conjuring, which was a massive hit) or Best Home Invasion Thriller (why must a film like You’re Next be relegated to the number 1 slot on everyone’s Best Horror Films of 2013 list online but with Adam Wingard left trophy-less for his expectation-defying efforts?) Another award could be Best Rising Star, much like the BAFTA’s consider but for talent in the horror genre specifically—I think Eric England is well-deserving of this accolade for his body horror indie, Contracted.

cabin-in-woods

Horror, after all, does share one key characteristic with Oscar nominated films of more traditionally respectable genres: it has its own formulas. However, one of the reasons I find right now to be such an exciting time for the genre (when awards season has become a less exciting time for me personally) is probably because directors and screenwriters working within horror formulas are often all too happy to test and even completely break those formulas. Meanwhile, many Oscar winning films are predictable and formulaic in terms of Academy appeal. The Cabin in the Woods, Joss Whedon’s meta ode to and absolute dismantling of horror conventions and tropes, is a masterpiece—but I can’t imagine any awards season frontrunner being quite so blatantly self-reflexive about what has made it such a frontrunner in the first place.

I suppose the best we can hope for is that whatever fringe renaissance is happening in the horror genre right now continues to gain momentum and respect of its own and in whatever form it can. Maybe it is for the best after all that the genre remains out of the awards season fray specifically, at least the way awards season is perceived now— horror’s reputation within cinematic culture may not have hindered or hurt it as much as one may think. Instead, it seems as though that designation has forced it to continue evolving unapologetically and unpredictably, untainted by ego and uninhibited by politics.

Sara majors in Film Studies and Media & Communication at Muhlenberg College. Her favorite genre is horror but she loves learning, writing and talking about all kinds of movies and all forms of entertainment. She has interned with Film Forum and Tribeca Film, both in her native NYC where she hopes to find work in criticism, marketing, distribution, or festival programming post-grad. Her blog and associated Twitter were created with the intention of being more involved and aware of happenings in the film and television industries, as well as to practice writing about pop culture in an academic but friendly and funny way.