February 23, 2018

Watch: Everything You Need to Know About Horror Films at the Oscars in Five Minutes

Here's why horror films demand to be taken seriously by the Academy.

[Editor's Note: This video essay is part of our "Everything You Need to Know" series created exclusively for No Film School by Senior Post.]

In looking over the film awards season of the past few months, it isn't too much of a stretch to deem Jordan Peele's socially-conscious horror filmGet Out, as one of the biggest surprise success stories of the year. From a completely objective standpoint, a politically(nail)biting horror movie like this—nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Achievement in Directing, Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role, and Best Original Screenplay—isn't supposed to be nominated for an Oscar! It's a horror movie with extremely dark humor, and those usually don't fly too well with the older members of the Academy.

So what's changed? How did Get Out break through and demand to be taken seriously? In the first video essay from our "Everything You Need to Know," series, we examine how the Academy voting body is changing (i.e. skewing younger) and how more works of genre, formerly pushed aside and ignored for much of cinema's year-end-awards history, may have a brighter future ahead. This video does not require the consumption of fava beans but does go down smoothly with a nice chianti.

When Jonathan Demme's film adaptation of the Thomas Harris novel, The Silence of the Lambs, opened on Valentine's Day in 1991, few genre fans nor obsessive awards prognosticators could've predicted that the film would become, a mere 13 months later, the third film to ever win the "big five" Oscars at the Academy Awards (along with It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Lambs took home Best Picture, Director, Actor, Actress, and Adapted Screenplay).

Demme's film was a grisly horror, one with graphic violence and extremely disturbing subject matter—when a deranged cannibal is one of your leads, the material demands as much—and, being a horror film, certainly wasn't viewed as an Oscar frontrunner. That all changed the night of the 64th Academy Awards ceremony.

William Friedkin's 'The Exorcist.' Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures.

Can history repeat itself? Get Out was also a wintery February release, and like Lambs, its remarkable staying power has it being feted with awards over a year later. It's a shocking, thrilling turn of events, given that the Academy (and year-end awards in general) have been begrudgingly hesitant to honor genre work; as the above video states, less than 10 best picture nominees throughout the Academy Awards' 90-year history could be classified as horror.

And on the rare occasion that a horror film would be nominated, the verbiage discreetly begins to change. The Silence of the Lambs is a horror film? Nope, let's call it a psychological thriller. The Exorcist is a movie about demonic possession? We say it's a frightening story about the internal horrors of a single mother and a broken home. By changing how a nominee is spoken about and categorized, the Academy has occasionally justified its outside-the-box choices. If they can't do that, they might find a way to honor a film's special effects and makeup.

Do you see the Academy's position on genre films changing as the Academy itself begins to change? Are there other genre films that received Academy love that we didn't reference—Sigourney Weaver's Best Actress nomination for James Cameron's Aliens is still a pretty awesome one—or that you felt should've won the top prize? Let us know in the comments below.

Movies referenced

  • Alien (1979) dir. Ridley Scott
  • American Beauty (1999) dir. Sam Mendes
  • An American Werewolf in London (1981) dir. John Landis
  • Arrival (2016) dir. Denis Villeneuve
  • The Babadook (2014) dir. Jennifer Kent
  • Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) dir. Benh Zeitlin
  • The Birds (1963) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  • Black Swan (2010) dir. Darren Aronofsky 
  • The Blair Witch Project (1999) dir. Eduardo Sánchez & Daniel Myrick
  • The Blob (1958) dir. Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. 
  • Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) dir. Francis Ford Coppola
  • The Burning (1981) dir. Tony Maylam
  • Carrie (1976) dir. Brian DePalma
  • Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) dir. Jack Arnold
  • Dracula (1931) dir. Tod Browning
  • The English Patient (1996) dir. Anthony Minghella
  • Ex-Machina (2014) dir. Alex Garland
  • The Exorcist (1973) dir. William Friedkin
  • Fatal Attraction (1987) dir. Adrian Lyne
  • Forrest Gump (1994) dir. Robert Zemeckis 
  • Friday the 13th (1980) dir. Sean S. Cunningham
  • Get Out (2017) dir. Jordan Peele
  • A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014) dir. Ana Lily Amirpour
  • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) dir. James Gunn
  • Halloween (1978) dir. John Carpenter
  • The Hurt Locker (2008) dir. Kathryn Bigelow
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) dir. Philip Kaufman
  • It (1990) dir. Tommy Lee Wallace
  • It Follows (2015) dir. David Robert Mitchell
  • Jaws (1975) dir. Steven Spielberg 
  • The King’s Speech (2010) dir. Tom Hooper
  • The Last Emperor (1987) dir. Bernardo Bertolucci
  • Let The Right One In (2008) dir. Tomas Alfredson
  • Little Miss Sunshine (2006) dir. Jonathan Dayton & Valerie Faris
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) dir. Peter Jackson
  • Nebraska (2013) dir. Alexander Payne
  • Night of the Living Dead (1968) dir. George A. Romeo
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) dir. Wes Craven
  • Ordinary People (1980) dir. Robert Redford
  • Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) dir. Guillermo del Toro
  • Psycho (1960) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  • Rear Window (1954) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  • Rebecca (1940) dir. Alfred Hitchcock
  • Rosemary’s Baby (1968) dir. Roman Polanski 
  • Scary Movie (2000) dir. Keenen Ivory Wayans
  • The Shining (1980) dir. Stanley Kubrick
  • The Silence of the Lambs (1991) dir. Jonathan Demme
  • The Sixth Sense (1999) dir. M. Night Shyamalan
  • The Sting (1973) dir. George Roy Hill
  • Titanic (1997) dir. James Cameron
  • Under the Shadow (2016) dir. Babak Anvari
  • Whiplash (2014) dir. Damien Chazelle
  • Winter’s Bone (2010) dir. Debra Granik
  • The Witch (2015) dir. Robert Eggers

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