A recent post over at Dead End Drive-in got me to thinking about those horror and paranormal films that transcend their respective genres, breaking out the pigeon holes to find a greater resepct among all films. Below is my list of films that fit this criterion. I'm sure there are some I've missed (and they are not listed in any particular order), so if you have any contributions...
A note: I've purposefully excluded classic horror/paranormal films because, as logic would dictate, if you established the genre, you can't transcend it. I've also eschewed some films best termed Suspense or Psychological Thrillers since dealing with a killer (serial or no) isn't the single defining element to horror in my humble opinion.
Frailty--In dealing with the fine lines between faith, blind zealotry, and complete psychosis, Frailty examines the lives of two brothers recruited in a holy war against demonic forces by their father. But the viewer is never quite sure if there really are demons or dad's just a lot bit nuts.
Fire In the Sky--The UFO, the aliens... They're almost after thoughts, as if a focus group demanded them (damn you, focus groups!!). Fire in the sky doesn't require extraterrestrial terrors to tell the story of Travis Walton's abduction from a mountain in Arizona. The story here is about how he went missing, how he returned, and how he tried to piece together the shattered remains of his life in the wake of his claims.
Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind--Similarly, I would add CE4thK to the list for how it deals with those affected by UFOs (the self-doubt, the ridicule, the paranoia...), but in the framework of individuals struggling to find the answers and meet this phenomenon head-on.
The Green Mile--In this tapestry of characters we almost forget there is something supernatural afoot in this prison, mostly because scary thrown in your face like a pile of dirty underwear every two minutes. Sure, it's dark at times, but its a darkness that comes from the human condition; a darkeness tempered by the irrepresible spirit of the film.
Let Me In--In a world weary of angst ridden tweens that sparkle like club kids in the sunlight, Let Me In (and it's Swedish counterpart) breathed new life into Vampires. This wasn't about blood and guts; it was about growing pains.
This is what zombiesurvivalstrategy.com had to say about the original: "They have a lot in common. Both films are about disillusioned young people who meet vampires and fall instantly in love with them. The vampire in Twilight, played by tween sex icon and Robert Smith wannabe Robert Pattinson, denies Kristin Stewart’s advances because his having sex with her might destroy her and her purity. Excuse me for one second while I vomit. This is just a teenage girls’ bullshit (and dangerous) fantasy of having to chase the perfect man. In Let the Right One In, our vampire ‘girl’ uses the boy’s affections to her own ends, encouraging more and more violence from him, eventually convincing him to lead a life of mass-murder so he can satisfy her bloodlust. This is about real power dynamics in relationships, and how couplings in real life are complicated by messy things like exploitation and selfishness. These darker themes are what vampire movies are really about. Not the agony of pre-marital chastity."
The Sixth Sense--I'll admit, with each viewing after it doesn't hold as much magic, but that might be argued for any film. But for that first time or two--Wow! It's impactful. The very first time its watched, the film hits you like a Mack truck: the ghosts that pop up at just the right unexpected moments, the twist ending... It may be the only great film M. Night does, but he did it to perfection, and that's worth something.
The Birds--Yeah, I guess there's Psycho, but it's really just a good old psycho killer movie. However, an avian ravaged dystopia never seemed so bleak as in Hitchcock's sonic wasteland, The Birds. The absence of sound, the proximity to the endless expanse of ocean, as if perched on the edge of the world itself... Hitch knew what he was doing. He understood that terror wasn't always something terrible; it didn't require musical cues to tell you to be scared; it didn't even require an explanation shoved down your throat. In fact, it practically demanded that such be denied.
The Serpent And The Rainbow--Wes Craven's earliest attempt at doing something other than horror is this film about a Harvard scientist who goes in search of real zombies in Haiti. The only thing holding this film back from a true genre-transcender is the climax, which relied heavily on some classic horror film moments. Had Craven not used such a heavy hand to sell you on this-is-a-zombie-horror-film, it would have made the list.
Scream--As abused as it is now, it's easy to forget how fresh and revitalizing this film was when it first came out in 1996. It brought slasher horror back from the brink of oblivion with a sardonic, self-referential wit that has, sadly, become the template for so much that followed.