Analysis Of A Nightmare On Elm Street And Silence Of The Lambs As Sub Genres Of Horror

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Horror is seen as one of the most predictable of all film genres that exist. It is very unusual in which it derives pleasure from scaring their viewers. The predictable quality within the film lies in the receptiveness, it manifests itself in most sequels within the genre. All film genres are repetitive to some degree, but in the case of horror films it is more pronounced. To be selective within the research about the works of horror films in the right manner and which aspects should be placed under the title of an established horror genre. Genres are initially created with the idea of gathering certain defining elements resulting a “group” or “type of” films. Two films that possibly fit into this genre is A Nightmare on Elm Street and Silence of the Lambs. As sub-genres these two films are quite diverse in which ways they depict a story to their viewers which also allows for exploration of the diversity of the horror genre.

Film genres are initially created with the idea of gathering certain defining elements resulting in a type of films. Film genres have identifiable types, categories, classifications or groups that are recurring and have similar, familiar or recognizable patterns, techniques or conventions. “The semantic approach thus stresses the genre’s building blocks, while the syntactic view privileges the structures into which they are arranged.”

Altman (1984) argues to approach genre in an academic manner which has two main structures to stop the confusion. The first is the semantic elements, the other one is the syntactic. The two elements are separated into the two sections (semantic and syntactic). Then proceeds to analyze a piece of work within a genre with both elements in consideration. Traits which fall within semantics of a genre are the common traits in terms of subject matter; “attitudes, characters, shots, locations, sets”. For example; in typical horror films; characters – monsters, vampires, or killers and location – in a big castle or a haunted house. While the syntactic is associated with how the subject matter is presented and structured to the viewer, which is the cinematography side of film making. It enables the film makers to achieve the specific atmosphere that is trying to be portrayed.

The definition of “horror” from the Oxford dictionary – “an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust” and “a literary or film genre concerned with arousing feelings of horror”. As much as it is needed to be considered of a genre for its plot, iconography or structure. Genres such as horror, drama or comedy, despite those qualities, there is much more to these devices to achieve the correct emotional effect on the audience. In addition to this, Strinati’s (2004) definition from “An Introduction to Studying Popular Culture” characterizes horror, “As a genre that represents the need for suppression if the horror shown is interpreted as expressing uncomfortable and disturbing desires which need to be contained.” However, in The Genre of Horror (2012) although the main objective is to evoke “feelings of fear, shock or disgust.” it argues these are not accurate enough to establish characteristics in horror as various other genres. Therefore, it requires a lot of thought and consideration when identifying attributes of horror and to bear in mind the possibilities it could fall into other genres.

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The “slasher film” A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) written and directed by Wes Craven is a prime example of a classic horror film. A ‘slasher film’ is defined by Cherry (2009),“Films portraying groups of teenagers menaced by a stalker, set in domestic and suburban spaces frequented by young people, the only survivor a female who (in the early cycles) has not participated in underage sex.”

The plot of Elm Street revolves around four teenagers who are stalked by a mysterious figure and killed in their dreams, thus they are killed in reality. These teenagers are unaware of the cause of this strange phenomenon, they do not know who this person is and how it is happening. Elm Street is defined as ‘marvellous’ horror, it is to accept “the second layer of reality” and “the new laws of nature” while the narrative last, even though the viewer is aware of its irrational, mystifying phenomena. This movie triggers fear in the viewer from a psychological perspective, it is not to fear for the type of death that cannot be controlled but encountering the unknown can be more frightening than the known. White (1971) said “Our fear of being unable to deal with our environment”, this portrays a sense of vulnerability in the character because it is hard to identify the unknown. The viewer shares the same experience as the character as the unpredictability produces the tension and suspension in the character which embodies horror in the recipients even though there is no justification to share their fear. “…In the majority of slasher films, the killer is an ordinary person who has suffered some terrible – and sometimes not so terrible – trauma…It is because of this past injustice that he/she seeks vengeance – the bloodier the better”.

Rockoff (2002), explains the usual motivation behind killers in slasher films, but in the case of Elm Street Freddy Krueger was a child murderer that had been released on a technicality. The parents in the neighborhood burned him alive as an act of vigilante justice. The way that Elm Street has been produced fits into the horror genre as a slasher film because it captures the fear of the viewer as the characters are put through situations where they are unable to control their dreams and wake up from the nightmare that the killer Freddy Krueger is putting them through hence they are powerless.

The film The Silence of the Lambs directed by Jonothan Demme written by Ted Taddy, adapted from Thomas Harris’s novel is an example of a psychological horror thriller film. The definition of the genre that this film fits into is as follows; ‘Psychological horror is a subgenre of horror and psychological fiction that relies on mental, emotional and psychological states to frighten, disturb, or unsettle readers, viewers, or players.’ In order to communicate a sense of suspense and suspicion in a syntactic way White (1971) talks about certain techniques with the camera to emphasizing distinct actions which would usually be the norm. Such as moving the camera in a single shot, “shifting lighting, moving actors, or changing sound or content of some kind…”. This is clearly demonstrated in The Silence of the Lambs in where Clarice is in a dark room and trying to fight off and find Dr Hannibal Lecter. The camera is through the night vision goggles that Lecter is wearing and it creates a sense of suspense and it makes the viewer feel as though they are looking through Lecter’s eyes. This delivers a more subtle ways of unfold the plot yet it arouses emotions in the viewer instead of just displaying a dead body or gore in every shot. “Psychological horror locates the source of horror in the mind of the psychopath, serial killer or other villain. It is the villain’s motivation for causing suffering that provokes the fear response.” Colvito (2007) explains the sub-genre of psychological horror within a film is generally paired with a psychopath as a protagonist. This film perfectly fits into the horror genre as it has the conventions of the ‘typical’ horror film. The notion of fear is capable of being evoked with injecting thoughts of powerlessness. This powerlessness can be represented by withdrawing physical and mental control of one’s own body, it is executed within this film.


With the distractions of possible crossovers of horror with psychological and thriller related elemented in the challenged film, the horror genre as a whole is large and hard to define it. The films discussed do fit into the horror genre quite easily, both are sub-genre films that include the element of a typical horror film. To define a horror genre itself is challenging, as it does not only to consider the semantics and syntactics. But in this particular genre it is definitely more than meets the eye for the reasons horror uses qualities in a psychological manner and the interesting variations of the uncontrollable causation.

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