Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Secret of Sarah Pennington - Thriller vs. Horror Movie

When our first feature, a campy comedy titled, “Beaches, Buns and Bikinis,” began festivaling, a number of distributors looked it over.  A common response was, “Had this been a horror movie we could have distributed it yesterday.”

Ok, so I wanted to create that opportunity – make a horror movie and the result is “The Secret of Sarah Pennington.”  This picture is a story about a drummer who, while performing at a high school reunion is arrested for the murder of the lead singer.  In trying to clear himself, he discovers that just about everyone thinks high school mass murderer Sarah Pennington has returned to kill more people.


After watching this movie with various people, the question arose, “Is this really a horror movie or a bloody thriller along the lines “Silence of the Lambs?”

How do we decide?  By looking at what’s being said about Horror versus Thriller on the Internet.

One anonymous person who claims to be a screenwriter for TV shows and motion pictures offers the following:

“Horror genre involves a protagonist dealing with terrifying situations or entities. It can include, but not limited to, their own psychological fears, creatures, aliens, ghosts, serial killers, inner fears, and more. The protagonist usually endures psychological or physical traumatic experiences that are unusually strange and/or frightening to them. The focus is on dark, twisted, and nightmarish fears of the protagonist. Horror does not necessarily involve graphic violence as this is a common misconception with the general public.”

Interesting, this person offers “Silence of the Lambs” as an example of a horror movie.

Wiki answers says this:
“A thriller is more interested in suspense, putting you "on the edge of your seat" or in plain terms, making you nervous for the fate of the characters. A horror movie wants to make you fear for your personal safety, to make you afraid that what happened to the characters may happen to you even after you've left the theater.

As a good horror movie often contains a great deal of suspense and as a good thriller can be pretty scary in spots it's more down to the intentions of the film maker and the subject matter of the film.”


Difference between.net lists four differences between horror and thriller films:

1. Thrillers are meant to thrill while horror films are meant to horrify the viewers.

2. Thrillers are predominantly witty, usually twisted, and contain better plots while horror films are, more often than not, predictable.

3. Horror films are often less practical and less realistic than thrillers.

4. Horror films usually have more supernatural elements than thrillers.

Author Lisa Burkes suggests several items to consider when deciding if the genre is a horror or thriller movie.

Every film is written with a purpose, how it wants to affect the audience. Thriller movies are meant to thrill, to keep viewers on the edge of their seat - not shaking in it.

Thriller movies always have a good plot.

Thrillers are films that could happen. They're about stalkers, serial killers who stay dead when they die and practical phenomenon.

Horror films stray from reality, with killers returning from the dead and other supernatural elements taking place.

Horror focuses on gore and body count. A thriller might kill off a significant number of characters, but any grotesque deaths will only be implied, not shown.

Genre Mixing to Gain an Audience.  Many times genres are mixed and for the sake of attracting more viewers they are categorized in a non traditional way.

So lets combine these guidelines and see how “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” measures up.

1. Thrillers contain better plots while horror films are, more often than not, predictable.

“Sarah” we think has an excellent plot that is not predictable.  A couple of viewers indicated they kept changing their minds on who they thought was committing the murders

2. Horror films contain supernatural elements.

Our movie does have supernatural elements in it.

3. Thrillers are meant to thrill while horror films are meant to horrify.

A couple of test viewers remarked that after watching the movie, they had trouble sleeping because they were disturbed by the movie.

4. Perhaps this movie is a combination of genres.

“The Secret of Sarah Pennington” certainly has thrilling moments, has gruesome deaths, supernatural forces, and a strong plot.  So maybe it is both a thriller and a horror movie.  Watch “The Secret of Sarah Pennington” and decide for yourself!

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