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The Horror Criteria


For Article Wednesday, we will be discussing our new system for breaking down the proper identification and ranking of a horror film using our own unique philosophical process. This post will be pulled as a reference for all future reviews so you readers can recall this criteria when we rank a film.

Through our short-lived careers as reviewers, we have hit questions revolving around not only how to grade a horror film, but how to categorize a film as horror. This has led Efrit and I to map out a tri-level criteria system to rank a horror film. Firstly, the film will be ranked on how much of a horror film it actually is. This will be based on factors that define horror films, which will be specified. Secondly, the film will be graded based on its quality as a horror film, based simply on the horror criteria. And thirdly, the film will be graded by its quality as a cinematic piece with no bias (as much as that is possible).

The rankings for each category will be 1-10. We will eventually have a visual aid to make this easy to view for you readers, but in the meantime, expect a note of each ranking at the end of review posts. Let’s break down the categories.

Horror Qualifier

The Horror Qualifier designates how much of the film is horror-oriented. There is a set number of factors to define a horror film. A horror film is then “ranked” on how high on the qualifier it places, based on the number of checkmarks it receives from the following criteria:

  • Gore/bloody violence (this may be implied, but usually includes material that conveys violent behavior).

  • More than three startling moments that are designed to elicit fear.

  • There is a “malevolent” (or otherwise violent) force that, in most cases, seeks to harm characters. This force is often portrayed by a creature, supernatural being, serial killer, or other scifi/thriller/fantasy roles.

  • The cinematography, lighting, music, and set design develop an ambiance present throughout the film designed to scare or terrify via a macabre atmosphere.

  • The protagonist(s) experiences and conveys a sense of hopelessness against the evil force.

  • There is a mystery in the plot the protagonist(s) must solve in order to survive the malevolent force.

  • There is an element that relates to common nightmares or primal fears.

  • Certain material is designed to disturb or cause revulsion with the viewer.

  • There is a strong sexuality that is often “punished” by the malevolent force.

  • There is a sardonic, morbid commentary that is either communicating a negative aspect of society or culture, or is portraying a satire of a genre of media.

There are 10 factors to qualify a horror film. A horror film does not need all of the elements above to be qualified as a pure horror film. In order to qualify as a horror film, the movie must score a ranking of 7-10, as not every element is a requirement, but it should contain a majority of these factors. 4-6 is the gray area containing many films with horrific elements, but better qualify in the fantasy, scifi, or thriller genres. 1-3 does not qualify as a horror or thriller film, but may have an element or two that used horror factors to convey a message.

Horror Quality

The quality of a horror film is not necessarily held to the same standard of the conventional cinematic piece. For example, Friday the 13th and The Relic could be seen as highly successful and highly entertaining horror films, but are not necessarily high-quality “conventional” films. Despite their success at what they set out to achieve, these films could lack in quality acting, writing, and cinematography. These standards will not be held against the films here.

Did the film succeed at eliciting fear? Did it have horrific elements that were used to convey a message? Was it entertaining, using methods of sardonic humor or activating a fearful emotional response? Is it a good horror film? These are the questions that will lead to the horror quality ranking.

Film Quality

It is impossible to dismiss the entirety of the horror genre when ranking a film in the context of film critique. If the goal is to elicit a fear response, that can’t be held against the film. But there are elements in every film that help define it as a high-quality film. I am of the opinion that such critique is not entirely objective. What Efrit and I define as “quality” may differ from someone else. Heck, we differ on such matters between each other.

Yet, there can be a somewhat quantifiable process to define a film as “good” or “bad”. Those standards, such as cinematography, score, acting, writing, and effects/design, will be critiqued under this category. A relatively low ranking here does not necessarily mean a film is not highly entertaining or isn’t a film we wouldn’t suggest watching as a horror fan.

We hope this breakdown of our future review criteria will help you in your horror film endeavors, and that you find these rankings useful in the future. We’ll do our first review under these new criteria this Friday!

© 2020 Sickle and Efrit | Dalton Vanhooser & Kyle Hagan