Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Definition of Horror Death Match, Part 1


I'm late in posting this, but this is the awards season still. I saw some interesting differences in how horror is viewed by two different sets of judges who give out awards to horror films, and I want to look at how they compare. First:

On March 6th, the Vault of Horror blog announced the winners in its second annual Cyber-Horror Awards.

On March 7th, the Cinefantastique website announced the winners in their second annual Wonder Awards.

Both awards were determined by people writing about genre films. In the case of the Wonders, ("Wonsies"?) the writers for Cinefantastique website. For Cyber-Horror, ("Cybies"?) writers for horror blogs and other online sources.

It was interesting to compare the two results. The Wonder Awards are given for film achievements not just in horror, but the fantasy and science fiction genres as well, unlike the Cyber-Horror Awards. So, just limiting the look-see to horror nominees in the  Wonder contest, let's check out where the nominations and awards overlapped-- and where they didn't.

For Best Film, the Wonsie nominations included Coraline and District 9. . I'd include both in the horror genre, though some say the former is fantasy (if dark), and the latter sci-fi. Of course, they're all of those things. The Cybie noms included neither of those films; the choices were Drag Me to Hell, Trick 'r' Treat, Zombieland, Grace and Thirst. Avatar won for Best film in the SOW awards, Trick'r'Treat pulled a surprise win in the C-H awards. Looks like the CF team doesn't think much was achieved in straight horror in 2009; VOH's group seems to like its horror strictly straight up.

There were no overlaps again for Best Director, but Neill Blomkamp was nominated for District 9 in the Wonsies.

For Best Actress:

Horror nominees:

  • Katie Featherston in PARANORMAL ACTIVITY
  • Isabelle Fuhrman in ORPHAN
  • Charlotte Gainsbourg in ANTICHRIST
  • Saoirse Ronan in THE LOVELY BONES
  • For Cyber-Horror:

    Alison Lohman, Drag Me to Hell

    Isabelle Fuhrman, Orphan

    Jordan Ladd, Grace

    Emily Browning, The Uninvited

    Megan Fox, Jennifer’s Body

    Again, the two awards don't seem to agree on what the best horror films were, or maybe even what a horror film is.  

    I understand that more judges are involved in the Cyber-Horror Awards than in the Wonder Awards, so it was interesting to me that the definition of horror seemed stricter with the former than the latter.

    I asked Brian Solomon of Vault of Horror about it, and he said this:  

    "The results here are interesting. I enjoy the Wonders very much because they encompass all of genre cinema. But the CHAs focus strictly on horror--so you're bound to get a more thorough [emphasis mine] representation of that genre in particular. It's the nature of the beast! The Wonders draw their nominations from a comprehensive listing of all genre films, so those doing the nominating can choose anything they want. [That seems to me to buttress-- hehe, I said "butt"-- my point, Brian.]

    "The CHAs also have a group of nominators, but we only really chose from a list of the year's horror releases, so naturally our picks were more strictly [again, emphasis mine] within the realm of horror than the Wonders. There were still some exceptions though, like Coraline."

    Are contemporary horror film devotees unable to appreciate films that merely creepy and unnerving, or have sci-fi elements? Or just those who write about contemporary horror?

    Does a horror film have to be "in your face" with gore to be good? Can a horror film have a "sense of wonder"?

    More about the two awards and what makes for a good horror film in Part 2.


    jmcozzoli said...

    You bring up a good point for discussion. Having input into both awards I noted the differences in approach and worked with them, given the range of nominees in each. This is not to say either award is better or lesser in its scope, as each one has a different goal.

    In regard to horror per se, let's face it, much of what is done in theaters is redundant thematic scripting and effects, which takes precedence over drama and subtlety, the necessary elements of supernatural and psychological horror. To the broader fan looking at horror, sci-fi, and fantasy in total, I can see where certain horror movies might drop from nomination when a broader range of movies is being assessed.

    I for one consider Coraline a fantasy and horror movie; while District 9 is a sci-horror movie for me, which I think makes them more broadly appealing.

    In regard to your question regarding horror film devotees being unable to appreciate the creepy and unnerving, I'd say that's not true. Looking at Asian horror, alone, there are a number of movies that rely heavily on building such an atmosphere.

    Max the drunken severed head said...

    You are obviously absolutely right about Asian horror! I should have said that.

    Thanks for the comment, John. I'm posting on the run (or roll in severed head case), but I'll just say you make some good points. But you do cat-e-GORE-eyes CORALINE and District 9 as horror (as well as other genres)-- were those even seriously considered for BEST FILM at the Cyber-Horror Awards?

    Or is there a minimum level of onscreen blood spillage to qualify? I'm curious.

    jmcozzoli said...

    I can only speak for myself in saying I would argue that Coraline and District 9 are indeed horror films to an important extent. I can't say if others nominating and voting in the Cyber-Horror Awards felt the same way.

    I do feel some fans actually look for a level of blood spillage to qualify a movie as horror. Look at the insane backlash toward Twilight. It's a light horror series with emphasis on vampires as "vegetarians" and trying to fit into normal life. Why castigate it for being easy on the splatter? I thought the first movie was a bit slow, but I enjoyed the romantic angle and the drama.

    But some fans would balk at calling it a horror movie. I don't.

    Max the drunken severed head said...

    "Having input into both awards I noted the differences in approach and worked with them, given the range of nominees in each"

    Interesting. Are there many participants who nominate and vote in both awards? THAT'd be interesting.

    Sparkly emo vamps just offend some horror fans, I guess... ;)

    jmcozzoli said...

    Keep in mind the scope of both awards differs. Brian's Cyberites are for categories within best in horror, while Steve's Wonders are for best in categories in horror, sci fi, and fantasy taken together.

    You can see the blogs Steve usually asks input from in the "Recommended Websites" section on Cinefantastique Online. He usually asks those who gave their input for feedback on why they voted this way or that, and I hope he does it again this year as a followup to the awards. It's a very informative look into how the contributors made their decisions.


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