|I suppose I'd echo Doug's definition of a horror movie as one whose primary purpose is to inspire fear. It's a bit too loose a definition, since many works that fit into the "suspense", "mystery", "thriller", and even "action" or "drama" categories (as commonly defined) might meet this criterion. |
Is Silence of the Lambs, for instance, a suspense movie, a mystery, a police drama, a psychological thriller, or a horror film? I'd say the main emotional response it aims for is fear, but of a more thought-provoking nature than that targeted by most flicks typically described as "horror". Is it fair to pigeonhole it as a horror film?
So my definition of "horror" is almost certainly too inclusive, but I do think it's fair to say that anything it excludes is most likely not what anyone would fairly consider (upon reflection) a work of horror. I admit that there will still probably be borderline cases.
I don't define Arsenic and Old Lace, The Trouble with Harry, Fargo, or Dr. Strangelove as horror movies, mainly because their chief intent is to provoke not fear, but laughter. While these films certainly do aim to shock the audience, they're mainly looking to make us see humor in things that are really not funny (i.e. kidnapping, murder, nuclear war). While this might be horrifying in itself, the scariest thing about it to me is the question as to why I'm laughing so hard at such horrible events.
So, since my definition of "horror" is far from solid, I would say that the only type of horror movies (or other media) I really enjoy are those that make me laugh (i.e. Army of Darkness) or make me think (i.e. Frankenstein). I don't care for art that just tries to scare me or gross me out for no good reason.
This is my personal taste, of course. I'm not going to try to pass it off as an objectivist aesthetic critique. Regarding horror, as the censorship judge once said regarding pornography, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it!" (Yes, that is a flagrant lie.) More accurate to say, "I may not know art, but I know what I like!"