13 Horror Movies Marketed as Thrillers
Article By: Tyler Doupe
There are many reasons why studios seem to fear horror movies. A lot of critics seem to view horror as a lesser form of entertainment. But that sentiment isn’t even exclusive to critics. It seems that a lot of moviegoers have preconceived notions about horror films and that can sometimes narrow the size of the audience a film reaches. Not to mention, trying to generate Oscar buzz around a horror film is essentially a fool’s errand.
For the reasons outlined above and myriad others, studios will often employ creative marketing tactics to reach a wider audience and increase the chances of garnering acclaim from critics. But, as horror fans, we know that marketing isn’t everything. A horror movie marketed as a thriller is still a horror movie.
It shocks me to this day that LionsGate tried to market Frailty as a thriller. It is certainly thrilling but more than anything, it is a terrifying tale of the supernatural. When I saw Frailty in the theater, I found it so intense that I nearly jumped out of my seat on several occasions. The late, great Bill Paxton did an incredible job playing the lead, as well as helming the production. Regardless of how it was marketed, Frailty is a well-made horror film that still holds up after repeat viewings.
2. The Silence of the Lambs
I am genuinely curious if Silence of the Lambs would have won five Oscars if it were (accurately) marketed as a horror film? Just because you pull together a talented cast and gifted director doesn’t mean that you are no longer making a horror picture. In spite of being somewhat creatively marketed as a psychological thriller, Silence of the Lambs is still one of the most thought-provoking horror films of the past 30-years.
Even though Misery is based on a terrifying novel by master of horror Stephen King, Columbia Pictures still thought they could get away with marketing it as a psychological thriller and no one would notice. Misery may be light on gore compared to some of the other King adaptations but it is still one of the most intensely terrifying films of the ‘90s. And nearly any horror fan you talk to will assure you that it has more than earned its place in the horror genre.
4. Mute Witness
Although there are most certainly thriller-like elements to Mute Witness, it is a horror film, through-and-through. It’s hard to think about a feature depicting a gang of snuff filmmakers tormenting and attempting to kill a woman who cannot scream for help as anything but straight up horror. But, that didn’t stop the executives at TriStar from attempting to downplay the horror elements and market it as more of a psychological thriller.
On another note, Mute Witness didn’t do big numbers at the box office upon its release and seems to have been overlooked by a lot of horror fans. If you haven’t seen it, this one should be on your radar.
5. Dressed to Kill
Nearly everything Brian De Palma made pre-1990 was a horror film or had horror elements throughout. But because De Palma often approaches the genre from an intellectual standpoint, it seems that distributors are all to eager to market his work as anything but horror. Dressed to Kill is a fine example of that. It is a tribute to Psycho and the gialli of the 1970s. But it was instead promoted as a mystery-thriller.
Se7en is another example of a horror movie with an incredibly talented cast and visionary director that was released as a ‘psychological thriller’. However, seasoned horror fans know what horror looks like when they see it. And Se7en is certainly horror. In fact, it is far more horrifying than so many of the releases to come since, which have been proactively marketed as straight horror. Se7en may not have showed us what was in the box but it certainly did depict several images that I will never be able to get out of my mind.
Although horror fans unanimously agree that Stephen Spielberg’s tale of aquatic terror is most certainly a horror film, Universal Studios would disagree. How could a horror film ever win three Oscars? In fact, on IMDb, the feature is positioned as a drama-adventure-thriller. Sure it is.
8. American Psycho
It seems that sometimes when a film explicitly classifies a character as a serial killer that translates to good cause not to position that picture as a horror flick. And that’s strange to me. Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers are all serial killers. But no one ever tries to make the argument that their respective franchises are psychological thrillers. When all is said and done, the vast majority of horror fans know that Mary Harron’s American Psycho is best categorized as an artistic horror film.
9. The Sixth Sense
M. Night Shyamalan is fairly well known as a creator of genre film. He’s made a multitude of horror pics (with varying degrees of success). But somehow The Sixth Sense is still categorized as a psychological thriller. For God’s Sake, the movie is about a little boy that talks to dead people. It’s hard to imagine it being categorized as anything else. But, then again, how could a horror film receive six Oscar nods?
10. Cape Fear (1991)
Interestingly enough, The Internet Movie Database categorizes the original Cape Fear as a horror-thriller but the remake as a crime-thriller. That is baffling to me, as the remake is arguably much more intense and certainly more graphic in its depiction of violence than the 1962 original. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cape Fear scored three Oscar nods.
11. The Gift
Prior to writing this list, I just assumed that everyone considered The Gift a horror picture. But, as it turns out, that is not the case. Joel Edgerton’s brilliant film was covered by all of the horror sites and ended up on quite a few best of 2015 horror lists. But in doing a bit of research, I discovered that the feature was actually positioned as a mystery-thriller. While it certainly has elements of mystery and is quite thrilling, I would never consider The Gift anything other than a proper horror picture.
12. Body Double
Here is another De Palma film that clearly takes its inspiration from both Hitchcock and the horror features of years past. Yet, it wasn’t explicitly marketed as horror. It was more or less positioned as a psychological thriller in the hopes of appealing to the widest possible audience. You can’t blame Columbia Pictures for trying but any horror fan can see through the attempts to position Body Double as anything but what it actually is: a horror film.
13. Play Misty for Me
Clint Eastwood’s taut horror-thriller Play Misty for Me went on to inspire countless imitators and now, its imitators are inspiring imitators of their own. One great example of a picture that took its cues from Misty is Fatal Attraction. There likely never would have been a Fatal Attraction. And without Fatal Attraction, we would probably never have seen films like 2002’s Swimfan and 2009’s Obsessed. With that said, Play Misty for Me is very much a horror film to me. And I think to most horror fans. Its depictions of obsession and graphic violence are utterly terrifying. And this one still frightens me every time I revisit it.