Yes, we do need to get into the semantics of this right now. What is the definition of a good film? Is the definition the same for every genre? What qualifies as a horror film? I have had this discussion back and forth with Efrit and we inevitably draw the same conclusion: film is art, art is subjective, therefore the true definition of a "good" horror film is dependent on one's own perspective. As we have strained to pick the right films for our lists (hopefully to be posted this coming week), we have tried to narrow down our choices via criteria that make it as personal yet objective as possible. Blending subjectivity and objectivity together is difficult, but often the critique of art (and thereby film) is exactly that.
So what defines a good film to Efrit and I? It ranges slightly. As we will discuss in more detail in our lists that will be posted here and on our sister site, aeither.net, there are certain objective goals of film to make them "good". There has to be a good plot, writing, acting, and effects (yes, effects come into play...especially when you include make-up, costume, and scene design. A drama set in the 1960's that doesn't look like the 1960's becomes rubbish). But the criteria necessary for reaching these goals varies.
Educated film critics will tell you a film must follow a set path in order to tell a story. These same critics laud films that break a fork in the path. This is because, while there is a schematic that can be followed to produce a good story, it is not the only way to produce a good story. In fact, breaking the mold and exercising some courage is how some of our film "standards" were established today.
So what makes a horror film? This is the other question that must be answered in order to produce a coherent top 5 list. While the classification of a film should be a little more cut-and-dry than what makes a film good, Efrit and I have argued on multiple occasions on just how far the hands of horror reach. We both can be more loosely accepting of certain films. This is because of the methods and atmosphere used, the plot's progression, and the impact the film has on its audience.
Frankly, I don't care if a film is classified as horror by some Ebert wannabe (sorry, Efrit) or not. I don't even care if the director himself comes out and says he didn't intend for the film to be of the horror persuasion. The caveat of "thriller" is overused. The thriller genre has its toes dipped in the horror pool more often than by-the-book critics are willing to admit. It often uses motifs and themes common in the horror genre to drive the story. Yet, because of its subtlety, sometimes to make it more approachable to a wider audience, horror films teeter on the cusp of genres. I don't think this should deter one from declaring one of their favorite thriller films as horror. It is about the film's impact on you.
Horror's sister genre, thriller, has muddied the waters on the definition. But rather than exclude fantastic films due to "semantics", we would rather keep an open mind to our surrounding genres to truly get the full breadth of good horror films displayed. Treat this as an introduction, a preview of sorts for our list. While you may see some films you expect, there will certainly be a couple you don't, so stay tuned for that!