System Domain 3: Horror Film Genre Cycle

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Film is not an isolated form of entertainment. It is a living, breathing reflection of the societies within which it is created. Additionally, film has its own systems of creation and re-creation.

An excellent example of the dynamism of film is the system of genre cycles, which define how a film genre is created.

The cycle begins in the experimental stage, where films play with new ideas, beginning to group together common themes. A couple examples in the horror movie genre are films such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and NosferatuPut simply, movies in the experimental stage try out different styles, themes, and characters to define what fits well in the genre.

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Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The next stage of the cycle is the classic stage, when films within the genre begin to follow closely along the norms established in the experimental stage. For example, occult/possession films as a subgenre (to be discussed later) of horror film experienced a classic stage in the ’70s with movies such as The Exorcist and The Omen.

Then, genres enter the age of refinement. In this stage, new stylistic elements/embellishments define films within the stage. In the ’60s, with the rise of counterculture, Texas Chainsaw Massacre used elements of the Vietnam War to embellish the already-existing slasher film subgenre.

The last stage typically discussed in the genre cycle is the baroque stage, or self-reflexive stage. By this point, the genre is so established that the genre themes themselves become the topic of the films. Oftentimes they are comedic, like the Scary Movie series, but are not always, like Cabin in the Woods.

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Cabin in the Woods

However, leaving the genre “cycle” at the baroque stage would actually create a genre timeline, without re-creation of new movies under the genre. Horror as a genre would have died long ago if self-reflexive movies were the end of the genre. Instead, there is a reinforcing feedback loop to ensure its survival as a genre.

At any stage in the cycle, minor changes in the films can lead to the creation of a subgenre, entering the cycle again at the experimental stage. For example, the first slasher film, Peeping Tom, followed the horror genre’s established norms, but with enough change to create a new subgenre, which was experimented with by Alfred Hitchcock and other directors to establish it with its own norms.

This process can also occur with genre mixing, which combine elements of other genres or subgenres to create yet another subgenre. Romantic-horror movies like Warm Bodies combine elements of both the romantic genre and zombie horror subgenre.

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Warm Bodies (aka Zombie Romeo and Juliet)
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