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Horror Genre Chart

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D.I.S.T.I.N.C.TDont Ignore Setting, Technical Codes, Iconography, Narrative, Characters, Themes


Setting is arguably one of the most important aspects of a horror movie. Many horrors take advantage of conventional settings, such as an old mansion, an asylum or a suburban home on which to base their story. According to convention, the setting must be darkened or misty in order to impair the vision of the viewer, as this works to build the overall tension of the setting. Many films choose to set the scenes at night, however when it is set during the day there is often something to limit the view of the reader, e.g. a forest, mist, high walls etc.

Technical CodesIn most horror films, there is low-key or ambient lighting. When films are set in the daytime, ambient lighting is often used with an overcast sky. When films are set at night, the lighting is often provided by the moon, or a light that is meant to resemble the moon.The camerawork also uses a good depth of frame, often conveying the protagonist in the foreground with the antagonist in the background. The editing is often exaggerated, with sudden changes from long shot to close up, without the use of a smoother mid-shot.Sound is also important. At times, the sound is completely ambient in order to convey tension and suspense and give the viewer the feeling that they are in the same room as the characters in the film.

IconographyIn horror, there are several symbols that traditionally are iconographic of the genre. Just two of them are blood and knives (as pictured). However, some other common ones are masks, blunt instruments, religious symbols (crucifix, satanic cross) and items to do with the paranormal such as ghosts and moving objects.Lighting can also be iconographic because of the conventions normally shown. Its usually low-key lighting and attempts to convey an ambient scene, usually with moonlight shining through the windows/shutters.Also, images of innocence are usually present, such as childrens toys, dolls, playgrounds, schools, etc. as well as childrens songs and laughter. This is a binary opposite because of the innocence and kindness of children contrasts with the darkness and horror of death.

Narrative StructureThe majority of films follow Todorovs Classical Hollywood Narrative, however with many horror movies, the sense of equilibrium is never portrayed. Sometimes the film begins with disequilibrium and ends on a false closure, leaving a sort of cliffhanger for the viewer to question what might happen next.The final girl in horror movies is always a victim/hero and therefore portrays a masochistic image to the viewer.Certain sub-genres are usually quite formulaic, for example slashers normally involve a childhood traumatic event, followed by them returning to the location on an anniversary, killing a group of immoral teenagers, with a virginal, boyish final girl who survives.

Character TypesGoing by Vladimir Propps Character types and popular horror conventions, there are several types of character:Hero Sometimes also the victim, they are usually a virginal, androgynous girl;Villain;Stupid/immoral teens;Children;Ineffectual Police;The hero who has a go;Those who refuse to believe.

ThemesPopular themes in horror movies include:Hidden evilRepressed sexuality (or more open in later films)Binary opposition (light v. dark, good v. evil)Science gone wrongThe unknownDominant ideology the killer is often large, male and often goes after weaker victims (teens, women, etc.)