“Hereditary is a domestic drama. The Silence of the Lambs is a psychological thriller. Jurassic Park is an action movie.”
For decades, audiences and the popular press writ large has either ignored the horror genre or done its best to discredit the genre’s achievements, and by design, calumniate it in the process. When horror films achieve critical acclaim or make tidy profits at the box office, it’s almost like the entire world stops while the genre jury deliberates, and the jury– in a move that surprises absolutely no one– always returns a “Not horror” verdict.
Fundamentally, the chasm between what a genre product is and how a genre product is seen is predicated on the antiquated idea that horror– and all genre cinema– is inherently less than. Praise is always hedged– e.g. any given horror movie is good for, well, a horror movie. Limitations, it would seem, are congenital to horror by dint of genre, and the dominant cultural forces would have you believe that it’s nothing more than gonzo gore and naked women– a genre that only occasionally elevates itself with worthwhile material.
Even within the horror community, there are creators old and new (whom I will refrain from naming here, though many of you will likely know who it is I’m referring to) positively eager to denigrate and malign the genre. Horror unlike other gernes, is painted in broad strokes, expounded in terms of the worst offerings in a way that wantonly ignores those features that invalidate the record. Think of common refrains such as “horror hates women” or “horror is nothing but blood and guts.” How myopic would someone’s gerne canon need to be to think that’s all the genre has to offer? Horror that doesn’t adhere to those antecedent tropes is hailed as elevated (despite most genre offerings evolving and innovating in kind), and ostensible elevated horror is then stripped of its status, chewed up, and fetched up as a thriller or psychological drama– or any genre therein that isn’t horror.
What is often ignored, however, is how often horror is present in most all the media we consume, and how those horror elements are arguably the most effective parts. These genre hybrids are often celebrations of the horror genre, inserting those elements where narratively possible, enhancing their given narratives in considerable, sensational ways. The Simpsons, The Leftovers and Watchmen for instance (among many, many others) all shine when the scales of the genre amalgam tip toward horror. Indeed, genre-adjacency cannot exist without the genre itself, yet horror– present as it is in some of the most acclaimed film and television this decade and the last– is still disdained and deprecated. Horror is in everything, though, even a fun little Netflix show about family and space.
Lost in Space (2018 – Present) is certainly a strange gerne hybrid to use as the genesis for this argument; but Lost in Space, knowingly or unknowingly, exemplifies the best of what the genre has to offer (and it also happens to be what I’m currently streaming). Perhaps that is no surprise given that Neil Marshall (The Descent, Dog Soldiers) is an EP on the series. Lost in Space, like several other popular shows (e.g. Stranger Things, On Becoming a God in Central Florida, and Criminal Minds… see how many there are), draws its best moments from the wells of horror. In Lost in Space, desert velociraptors are dotingly inspired by Spielberg’s imagination and tense pursuits through the abandoned Resolute are kindled from the embers of Ridley Scott’s Alien.
“Danger, Will Robinson!” The rest of the Robinson clan should be on the lookout for danger, as well, because they are facing challenging times. It’s 30 years in the future and the family has been chosen to start a new life in a space colony. On the way to what they believe will be a better world, the Robinsons’ ship is abruptly thrown off course and they are thrown into a dangerous alien environment. Now light-years from their original destination, they must forge new alliances and work together to survive. Stranded with the Robinsons are unsettlingly charismatic Dr. Smith and inadvertently charming Don West, two outsiders who are thrown together by circumstance and a mutual knack for deception.
Like a sentient Netflix algorithm, it’s the equivalent of saying, “If you like Lost in Space, you’ll love horror movies,” and, well, it’s true. So much popular media is shaped and conceived by the horror genre, and that proliferation of genre influences makes it all the more frustrating when creators, audiences, and critics try their damnedest to distance their work and the work of others from the genre, like horror is some kind of slur. Awards shows repeatedly decline to nominate horror films in any categories, major (*cough* Toni Collette and Lupita Nyong’o *cough*) or otherwise (how else can you explain Crimson Peak’s Oscar snub for Production Design?) and the remunerative box office return of genre films on the whole receives barely a whimper from the popular press. Horton heard a Who, but no one heard how Crawl (2019), a goofy b-movie about killer alligators, made $91 million worldwide.
Horror truly exists in all things, and it exists because of how deep-rooted horror and fear is to the human experience. Horror engenders love and sacrifice– fear engenders compassion and bravery. Horror, in some workaround way, is a celebration of life, and Lost in Space celebrates life better than most of the shows on the streaming platform. That celebration– the poignancy of Will’s (Maxwell Jenkins) relationship with the robot, the impenetrable heartache of Dr. Smith (Parker Posey)– is only possible because of the horror at the periphery. Without horror, there is no life.
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As Netflix has just released I’m Thinking of Ending Things– another movie whose creators have tried really, really hard to convince audiences it’s not horror– it’s inspiring and strangely comforting to find an epic space soap opera embrace its horror roots. Fans of the original Lost in Space’s run know well how often that show approximated horror tropes in the deep recesses of space, and the reboot appears to be no different. There’s little that can be done to combat the venom lobbed toward the horror genre– this inexplicable genre exodus– but movies and television, some big and some small, celebrating the genre we all love is a pretty good place to start. In space, no one can hear you scream, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t. Continue to scream and maybe– hopefully– someday someone will hear it.