The Liminal Case of Monster Movies

As I review my library for films to view during my Halloween Horror festival the issue of categorization moves to the front of my thoughts. Horror is a slippery thing to define and precisely what counts as a horror movie varies from person to person. Is The Silence of the Lambs the first horror film to win Best Picture, or was it a thriller? More to the point of my personal film festival is the classification of the sub-genre of horror, the monster movie.

There is no doubt that some monster movies are also horror movies; Frankenstein in most of it variations is a horror movie, Alien is an SF, Horror, and a monster movie that spawned an entire cycle of imitators. I think the original Godzilla/Gojira is a horror film the enormous monster a stand in for the horrors of war and atomic weaponry. However not all monster movies are horror films.

If we examine the Godzilla franchise it is clear that to me that at some point it stopped attempting to horrify and instead sough to thrill instead. Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster does not seek the make the viewer feel dread from the monster’s impending but excites the audience with a massive battle of giant monsters while making just enough commentary about pollution to have some social relevance.

I think that horror is always personal and by that I do not mean that it is merely individual taste but also that the subject of the dread and terror is experienced on a level that is subjective and intimate. In Gojira there are plenty of scenes where we are masterfully introduced to minor characters that are sketched quickly and competently so we empathize with them as they face the unimaginable horror of a giant radioactive monster. This gives us the horror of the movie and not the man wearing a rubber suit stomping a miniature city.