Last updated: August 17, 2021

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Fear is one of the most acclaimed cinematic themes for audiences. Starting from the romanticist tradition of the 19th century, horror films have managed to become exhilarating experiences that push viewers' emotions to the limit.

Horror films are, in turn, cult films. Many of the best titles have gone down in history thanks to their ability to cause dizzying and immersive emotions through visual, sound and even sensory resources (in the case of 3D and 4D cinema). We all have a favourite horror film, as well as one we would never watch.

If you are new to horror or want to choose the perfect horror film for the right moment, this article is for you. In the following lines we will tell you everything you need to know to choose the ideal film to keep you up all night and make you scream in fear and wake up the whole neighbourhood.




Summary

  • Horror films are part of a film genre of the same name that seeks to stimulate the emotions of the audience through fear and psychosis. There is a large catalogue of horror-related sub-genres, making this classification one of the favourites of the general public.
  • Before watching a horror film, it is worth asking yourself some questions: Is it a film based on real events or is it mere fiction? Am I more interested in horror or suspense? What about Mexican cinema in this area? All this will help you choose the perfect film for you.
  • Of course, there are more factors you can take into account. Next time you find yourself walking down the aisles of entertainment shops, consider the rating, sub-genre, format, time of filming and the origin of the story. Oh, and take your precautions if you're a scaredy-cat.

The Best Horror Films: Our Picks

Buying guide: What you need to know about horror films

Since the consolidation of television as an entertainment medium, movie marathons have become an ideal option for a night out with your partner or friends. If you're looking to stay up all night watching horror movies, here's everything you need to know about the genre.

You can always sleep with the light on after watching a good horror movie. (Photo: Daniel/ 123rf)

What is a horror film and what are its advantages?

Horror films are a film genre whose value lies in its ability to cause emotions of anguish, fear or anxiety in the audience. For some historians, this genre was born along with one of the first short films in history: 'The Arrival of the Train' (18967) by the Lumiére brothers.

The appeal of such films lies in their ability to provoke dizzying sensations in their audiences, as well as to extend the experience beyond the film through psychological effects such as psychosis. In addition, they are often films that keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.

Despite their popularity, horror films are often criticised by conservative audiences and sceptical critics. It is often believed that many films in this genre fall into clichés or clichés, and abuse simple visual devices to provoke scares instead of real terror.

Advantages
  • They provoke strong emotions
  • The experience goes beyond the film
  • They are immersive, avoiding distractions
  • Wide variety of subgenres
  • They are great choices for company
Disadvantages
  • Themes can be repetitive
  • There are many prejudices about this genre
  • Scripts and performances are not always adequate
  • They are not suitable for all audiences
  • They can be implausible

Fictional and fact-based horror films - what should you look out for?

Among the countless categories within this film genre, we can distinguish between those based on real events and those based entirely on fiction. Regardless of their verisimilitude, here's what you need to know about each style.

Fiction. They usually focus on situations or characters whose existence in real life would not take place or would be very unlikely. It includes all those with the presence of fantastic or monstrous beings consolidated by legends or previous novels.

Based on real events. It is an infallible marketing hook to attract the attention of audiences. The plot of this type of film involves paranormal situations or phenomena experienced by one or several people. Their ambiguity makes audiences identify with the fears of others.

Fiction Factual events
Origin Literature, science fiction Myths, legends, occult philosophy
Likelihood Medium High
Protagonist Monsters, psychopaths, killers, ghosts Supernatural phenomena and characters, historical characters
Emotions Fear, anxiety, panic Superstition, empathy, psychosis

Original horror films or reboots?

We live in a time of a strong marketing strategy centred on nostalgia for times gone by. Many cultural products of all genres and formats have opted to offer new versions of established classics. Should we watch horror films in their new adaptations?

Some sagas, such as Chucky or Saw, have been extended for numerous instalments based on a formula that has worked for them. Others, like Eso, have been the subject of new adaptations. While it is often believed that the old classics are always better, it is up to each person to use his or her own judgement and decide individually.

Horror or suspense cinema?

Suspense and horror often operate in tandem in audiovisual productions. The characteristics of each can complement each other in a great way to offer high-level stories and experiences. Here we tell you the characteristics of each genre so that you can choose a film according to your interests.

Horror. The genre focused on fear has the mission to provoke physical sensations close to vertigo and anxiety. This is achieved through the construction of stories with drama, mystery and high tension that culminate with the use of the resource known as jumpscare: the sudden and strident appearance of something.

Suspense. The difference with horror is minimal, but pointed. It is a literary genre that uses tension throughout the plot to keep the viewer's attention. It differs in that it offers the audience information that the protagonist does not have or vice versa. It is based on mystery rather than scare.

Horror/Thriller Suspense
Distinctive resource Jumpscare Narrative tension
Surprise factor High Medium
Psychosis building Medium High
Subcategories Monsters, zombies, psychopaths, gore Psychological horror, crime, war

A horror film can test your senses and nervous system. (Photo: gstockstudio / 123rf)

Purchasing criteria

As you can see, to talk about horror films is to refer to a myriad of sub-genres, ideological currents and literary influences. Here are some of the important things to consider when you're about to buy a horror film - don't forget to turn on the lights!

Rating

It almost goes without saying that the content of horror films is not suitable for children. However, among the nuances that distinguish this genre are the levels of explicitness in the approach to the subject matter. Keep in mind who will be watching the film so that you can share it with the right audiences.

B-15. Among the film classifications in Mexico is the one that restricts access to children under 15 years of age. This is due to the constant scenes that show non-explicit sexual scenes, frequent violence, inappropriate language or complex themes.

C. Adult films go far beyond explicit sexual content. In the case of horror films, these are films whose content may be disturbing or too shocking for young audiences. Recall that some categories, such as gore, are characterised by graphic and excessive violence.

Sub-genre

Throughout this article we have mentioned some of the sub-genres that emerge from horror cinema. Each has specific characteristics related to the era, the place of development and the themes addressed. While film taxonomy is extremely broad, here are the most popular sub-genres.

Horror. One of the earliest variations of horror cinema. It is a direct legacy of romanticist literature, characterised by the presence of monsters or fantastic beings as antagonists. Most were inspired by the most famous monster in literature: Frankenstein.

Slasher: Have you ever thought about the sound knives make when they break the wind? Hence the unconventional name of this sub-genre. The premise of these films is simple: a killer seeks to torment his victims in order to ultimately deprive them of their lives. If you're careless, you could end up proving the antagonist right.

Gore. One of the most dramatic sub-genres. It incorporates elements of theatre and stage costumes, mainly blood. Its aim is to demonstrate the fragility of the human body, so these films are full of violence, mutilation and brutality that is not far removed from the red newspapers.

Format

Marshall McLuhan said that "the medium is the message". This means that the form in which we get information is more important than the information itself. It is important to distinguish the differences between each form of film consumption. You can do the test with each medium. In the meantime, here is a brief description.

Screen. Meaning television or computer screens. These devices are useful when you want to have a comfortable experience at home. The downside is that the sound systems and the size of the screen itself can interfere with the immersive horror movie experience. Still, they are great options for marathons.

Standard cinema. Most movie theatres usually have at least one horror film in their line-up. Cinemas offer experiences that captivate the senses thanks to the darkness of the venue, the size of the projection (which isolates and captures the full visual spectrum) and the high quality sound.

3D cinemas. If you're looking to take your cinema experience to the next level, this option is for you. 3D effects have been widely used by the most successful horror films to heighten the fear in viewers. If you don't think this is enough, try 4D versions of classics and new blockbusters.

Epoch

In art, talking about time periods serves to encapsulate a current and its simultaneous influence in different parts of the world. In horror films, something similar is true: trends emerged as a result of the influence of the outside world at a particular time. Here are some notable epochs.

The 1930s. Prior to World War II, a trend emerged in the United States known as monster movies, which was one of the first booms in horror cinema. It was an era influenced by expressionist cinema and the gothic style that would prevail in Britain in the following decade.

The 1970s. Technological advances inspired the appearance of some titles whose subject matter revolved around the paranormal or the unknown present in everyday life. There was also a boom in horror science fiction involving characters such as aliens and monsters far removed from previous canons.

1980s. The conservative tendencies of the Western world at the time inspired, paradoxically, the creation of films with gore aesthetics and extensive displays of violence. It was during this period that the consumption of horror films became widespread, which is why some of the characteristics of that time are still prevalent in today's cinema.

Origin of the story

As a last criterion, we suggest you take into account the origin of the script or plot of the film. As we have mentioned, horror is a literary tradition that draws on different mythological and philosophical elements from many places and times. The inspiration of a film can change the perspective we have of it and even broaden our experience.

Based on a novel. Since the beginning of cinema, adaptations of books to the seventh art began. The same has happened with horror films, which have starred the most iconic characters of romantic literature. To exemplify this point, we can limit ourselves to talking about one writer: Stephen King.

Based on legend. Very common in countries or areas with an extensive local or regional mythology. It deals with themes that are well known to audiences and adapts them to cinematic language. Take for example the different versions of "La Llorona", a popular Mexican legend.

Based on a police case. Similar to the category of "true events", these are films that focus on characters or events that had media and legal implications. Many horror and suspense stories often revolve around police investigations that are not necessarily paranormal, but simply shocking.

(Featured image source: Lassedesignen/ 123rf.com)

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