List of must-see films for the Crime section of my taxonomy of horror sub-genres.
Let Us Prey (2014) Dir. Brian O’Malley
I stumbled onto this film just after its US release while searching for Irish horror films. Let Us Prey’s national identity places it in an interesting place—it’s set in Scotland with a mostly Scottish cast (with the exception of noted Irish actor Liam Cunningham in a lead role) and funded by Ireland and Britain. While I haven’t necessarily discussed intra-national dynamics of settler colonialism and law enforcement in the UK (Britain, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales) at length, most of my posts in the Irish Horror Blog and my podcast on The Fall do delve into these relationships between Ireland and Britain. Let Us Prey, like The Fall, uses horror elements (aestheticized violence in particular) and police procedural dynamics to open up a discussion about these politics, and their contemporary iterations.
I Saw the Devil (2011) Dir. Kim Jee-woon
I Saw the Devil is a Korean procedural crime horror film that follows the back-and-forth between serial killer Jang Kyun-chul (Choi Min-sik) and National Intelligence Service agent Kim Soo-hyeon (Lee Byung-hun). This is perhaps the most gory and cinematically impressive film on this list (with Let Us Prey coming in at a close second) and most closely follows the conventional police procedural dramatic formulas. The cat-and-mouse narrative that the film centers on, and the revenge elements—Kyung-chul murders Soo-hyeon’s pregnant fiancée Jang Joo-yun [Oh San-ha] at the beginning of the film—draw from the crime thriller and noir genres that serve as the foundation for crime horror.
The Bone Collector (1999) Dir. Phillip Noyce
I know, there’s a lot of disdain for mainstream, blockbuster horror within the genre’s fan communities, but hear me out on this one. For as much as The Bone Collector is mainstream and as much as it is a thriller, it also utilizes elements of horror, particularly in its graphic torture and death scenes. These scenes operate in very much the same way as similar scenes in more identifiable horror films like Sorority Row and Saw; they structure the time in the films around physical trauma. In The Bone Collector, the audience sympathizes with the victims in the moments of their deaths and again in the moment of their corpse’s discovery, and we sit in those moments, cringing. Just like with any other horror film, with the exception that this film also revolves around piecing together a murder mystery with limited clues and miraculously brilliant police work.
Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1990) Dir. John McNaughton
Henry almost didn’t make the cut for this list because, as Carol Clover explains, it “plays definitively on sadistic impulses” and therefore “does not in [Clover’s] view qualify as horror.” This assessment comes in the context of her assertion that horror “may play on other fears and desires too, but dealing out pain is its defining characteristic; sadism, by definition, plays at best a supporting role.” While I don’t disagree with Clover with regard to the majority of Henry’s narrative, the reason that it ultimately still belongs on this list, and in the horror genre in general, is entirely based on it’s use of intercut nonlinear shots of violence. These flashes interrupt the narrative and shake the audience out of the familiar, comfortable story, first because of how abrupt and unmotivated their inclusion is, and second because of the degree of violence depicted. Like with so many gore films, seeing the end result of violence inflicted on the body sometimes does sufficient “harm” to the audience simply by allowing us to imagine how it happened to qualify for Clover’s definition of proper horror.
Random Acts of Violence (2013) Dir. Ashley Cahill
Random Acts of Violence is a documentary style satirical horror film that calls to mind the smug self-importance of work like Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye and Kerouac’s On the Road. It does make some interesting points that crime movies tend to overlook (much to the detriment of the genre) especially in terms of gentrification, class, and urban development. These arguments, however, are so thoroughly steeped in misogyny and whiteness that they lose their critical conviction and the film ultimately falls short of effecting a real change in terms of narrative and thematic genre conventions. That said, like so many films that I’ve included on these lists, it’s a step in the right direction, even if it is a very small step.
Image Credit: Showbox/Mediaplex © 2011
Author: Geneveive Newman