Why can’t we decide if Doctor Strange is horror?

Apart from the tentacle monster of the cyclops, zombies, witches, blood, bloodshed and death, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness displays one of the most transparent horror references, right there in its title.

The film borrows from HP Lovecraft To the Mountains of Madness, a short story that itself had enough interstellar weirdness to fit a Marvel movie – and quickly became one of the writer’s most enduring stories.

Written in 1931, it follows an Antarctic research team who have uncovered the generally gruesome secrets of the ancient “Elder Things” – also known as the “Old Ones” – buried in a range of yet unknown black mountains.

It helped launch a whole new genre: cosmic horror.

Even with the racist themes that recurred so often in his writing, To the mountains of madness and Lovecraftian literature is one of the most widespread examples of sources of inspiration.

All of stranger thingsfor locke and key, for rick and morty, to Mass Effect video games have drawn on it.

And even strange doctorThe one-eyed monster of – officially named Gargantos – is just the movie version of the Shuma-Gorath. Comics writer Robert E. Howard first created the creature in 1967 to introduce Lovecraft’s “Great Old Ones” mythos to Marvel, eventually fitting into strange doctor himself. (The changed name of the film was simply a means of avoid a copyright dispute.)

So if Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has such clear roots in the genre, and the scares, violence, and body horror so often associated with it, why can’t anyone agree if it really is horror?

Horror or adjacent horror?

It’s because we’re really bad at identifying horror, and as it creeps into the mainstream, we only get worse.

“Don’t worry, Sam Raimi fans. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness goes full horror,” wrote Karl Delossantos, editor and film critic of The New York Times. shortly after the film’s premiere.

“It’s a horror movie”, criticizes Tessa Smith tweeted the same wayalso making sure to note that director Sam Raimi’s stamp is firmly there – a cause for concern after strange doctorOriginally planned director Scott Derrickson left “creative differences”.

(Marvel Studios CEO Kevin Feige refused later the move was because Derrikson wanted to take the film further into the horror world than he was ready to go.)

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But elsewhere, the greatest number of critics could bring themselves to say that it was “adjacent to horror,” “inspired by horror“or as container”horror elementsEven CBC’s Eli Glasner suggests it’s “just the veneer of horror…a fun ride with no real moments of dread”.

“I wouldn’t call it a strict horror movie,” Chase Hutchinson, film critic for Collider, said in an interview. Instead, strange doctor uses horror tropes and imagery to evoke the genre, without being firmly in it.

He said, “When you look at it as a holistic thing, a few sequences that use the language of horror don’t make a horror movie.”

Doctor Strange is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, shown here with actor Xochitl Gomez, appearing as America Chavez, who has the ability to travel between worlds. (Jay Maidment)

Much less than a failure, strange doctorThe makers of seemed to be in the same boat, wanting to get horror fans excited without being labeled a horror movie.

As early as 2019, Feige had coveredsaying he “wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a horror movie”, but a “big MCU movie with some scary footage”.

Raimi replied saying in an interview that the film has “a flavor of horror”, while star Benedict Cumberbatch says Esquire Middle East that he was “trying to lower expectations” on strange doctor being a horror movie.

“I think it’s almost definitely the scariest Marvel movie ever,” he said. “But I know that doesn’t necessarily put him in the same league as the brilliantor of The Exorcism of Emily Rose.”

Difficult to define

It’s some weird gossip from the team in charge of promoting their film – but not entirely confusing.

Horror as a genre marker has always been hard to pin down, explained Chris Alexander, filmmaker and professor of horror history at Sheridan College in the Greater Toronto Area.

While you can clearly identify comedy as comedy if you’re laughing, action as action when you see a car chase, the strict guidelines between horror and drama or thriller – the genres it’s most often compared – are much harder to pin down.

It can be harder to tell if a movie is trying to excite you, like in a thriller, or genuinely scare you, like in a horror.

And with the Marvel Cinematic Universe now nearly 15 years old, introducing a new film on the frontier of a new genre is an appetizing decision – one all the easier to pull off in the unique and fungible space of ” the horror”.

“That word, it always bothered me, because it’s just a marketing gimmick,” Alexander said. “I mean, it’s just a way for a publicist to have a certain kind of movie easily categorized, to market it to a certain demographic.”

Even though horror can stretch more than pretty much any other genre, what probably kept Marvel’s creators from saying they’ve completely dabbled in horror is how most people think the opposite is true.

More than any other storytelling subsection, people’s interpretation of horror is often a rating — and more often than not, that rating is negative, said horror scholar and lecturer Amy Jane Vosper. at Trent University in Peterborough, Ontario.

“When we mention the word horror, people automatically think of the slasher subgenre, because it’s come to exemplify horror in general,” she said. “However, the horror is so much more nuanced than that. There’s so much more going on.”

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Judgement strange doctor how much he looks like a typical slasher, like Scream, Nightmare on Elm Street or most recent Smart, would clearly leave something to be desired. And the belief that this is how audiences would decide whether the film counts as horror is probably why its creators avoided calling it that.

But Vosper said it has less to do with what the horror can be and more with how much we are unable to identify it.

A little respected genre

Even though the kind always made moneycritics and audiences have not always associated the idea of ​​”artistic merit” with “horror”.

Dating back as far as the 90s, Jonathan Demme Thesilenceofthelambs is often cited as the only horror film to win Best Picture at the Oscars. And while horror fans have always argued over whether this movie even counts as a horror movie, Vosper argued that not only was it horror, but so were other past winners. .

As recently as 2018, the two Jordan Peeles get out and Guillermo del Toro The shape of water won awards at the Oscars.

Both have strong horror elements, Vosper explained — though viewers almost never think of del Toro’s film as such. And in addition to Peele himself describing his film as a social thriller, when screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher presented Peele with an award for the film, he said that if get out it’s horrible then Jaws is a “beach movie”.

Daniel Kaluuya appears in a scene from Jordan Peele’s Get Out. The 2017 film was described by the director as a “social thriller”. (Universal Images/YouTube)

It’s part of a misunderstanding of what horror is and can be, said film critic Courtney Howard, and that’s despite a list of atypical films, like Humans, To protect and The Babadookredefining the kinds of stories the genre can tell – and how they can be told.

“The thing about horror movies these days is [they] can be a combination of everything,” Howard said. “Whether it’s scary jumps or that feeling of dread that equates to something more powerful and hitting you.

So in the end it’s strange doctor horror movie?

Questions like that have followed the genre since the Universal Classic Monsters series in the 1930s, said writer and film historian Karina Wilson.

But while what scares us will always change, turning the dial down doesn’t necessarily stop strange doctor – or any other film – to be horror. Because it’s still the most subjective genre – and that’s the point.

“Horror will always be different for different people,” she said. “And we’re going to argue about it until the last of mankind is extinct.”