The genre film has been a longstanding tradition of cinema. Featuring familiar settings, characters, plots and motifs, genre films are grounded in the films and literature that have come before them (Sobchak, 1975). The horror genre in particular has both grown and maintained considerable popularity across a variety of contemporary art forms (Carroll, 1990) over the past 50 to 60 years, from its prominence in literature to its more recent success in mediums like video games. When specifically referring to film, where other genres have fluctuated in popularity over time, most notably the western, the horror genre continues to thrive with The Nun (Hardy, Wan & Safran, 2018) being one of the top grossing films of 2018.
However, though a staple of film and literature, and with rising exposure in new creative outlets, such as video games and virtual reality, there is a notable medium where the genre has never proved particularly popular, a medium with an equally rich and extensive history. That medium is animation.
Animation as a medium has few to no restrictions. It is only bound by the animators’ imagination, and it is my impression, as an admirer of both the medium and genre, that this would suit the horror genre immensely. The potential to create otherworldly imagery that is not entirely possible in live action, or is at the very least considerably difficult to achieve. This is not to say that horror relies solely on imagery, but that the potential remains.
While the novels of Stephen King continue to be best sellers, and films ranging from Friday the 13th (Cunningham, 1980) to the Oscar nominated Get Out (Peele, 2017) prove successful with audiences and critics alike, on the rare occasion where animation has attempted horror it has often received little to no critical or commercial recognition, especially when compared to its live action and literary counterparts.
Yet animation is a successful medium, having grown immensely popular over the past 20 to 30 years. From the early theatrical offerings of Fleischer studios to the billion dollar grossing modern productions of Disney, the medium of animation has continued to evolve from decade to decade. And during this evolution it has thrived, with the recent success of Pixar and DreamWorks features clear indicators of this; however, this success does not only apply to the major studios. Independent animation has also grown over the past decade through the advent of platforms such as Newgrounds, YouTube, and Vimeo. With these platforms alongside both affordable and accessible animation software and tools (Wada-Marciano, 2012), it is easier now more than ever to both consume and create animation.
And yet in this period of prosperity and accessibility the medium has still proved less than fruitful for the horror genre. This video essay asks why.
Using the work of Noel Carroll's (1987) The Nature of Horror to establish a precedent of what the horror genre is and aligning itself with Carrolls concepts of “art-horror” (pp. 10), this video essay looks back at animations history from the early theatrical shorts of Disney, Warner Brothers, and Fleischer through to the anime boom of the 1980s and beyond, all in an attempt to identify examples of animated horror and note when, where, and why the medium embraced the genre. In doing so, the video format allows viewers to see the medium and genre histories side by side, viewing their development and evolution in a way that writing could not fully do justice. This essay functions as a visual history of the pairing first, before drawing conclusions based on that history. In showing clearly the development of both the genre and the medium, it highlights a long running, and often unnoticed, relationship between the pair, a relationship that has shown promise for the genre, but is ultimately undermined by the success of the, as of yet, untapped medium.
Carroll, N. (1987). The Nature of Horror. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 46(1), 51-59. doi:10.2307/431308
Jordan, P. (Director), & Blum, J., Hamm Jr., E. H., Mcittrick, S., & Peele, J. (Producers). (2017). Get Out [Motion Picture]. United States: Universal Pictures.
Sobchack, T. (1975). Genre Film: A Classical Experience. Literature/Film Quarterly, 3(3), 196-204. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.helicon.vuw.ac.nz/stable/43795619
Cunningham, S. S. (Director), & Cunningham, S. S. (Producer). (1980). Friday the 13th [Video file]. United States: Paramount Pictures.
Wada-Marciano, M. (2012). THE RISE OF “PERSONAL” ANIMATION. In Japanese Cinema in the Digital Age (pp. 74-96). University of Hawai'i Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.helicon.vuw.ac.nz/stable/j.ctt6wqh7n.8
BIO: Tuakana Metuarau is a lecturer at The Victoria University School of Design. A filmmaker, animator and game developer, he graduated from the School of Design in 2015 with a BDI specializing in Media Design before completing his Masters of Design Innovation in 2017. His areas of interest are film and animation production alongside video game development, specifically how modern tools and software can recreate the various qualities of each respective medium.