The genre of horror tends to go through phases where certain subgenres experiencing a sort of “renaissance”, where writers and filmmakers explore all limits of the subgenre, where audiences become temporarily obsessed with the subgenre. It’s happened with creature features, psychological horror, slasher films, haunted houses, demonic possession, and the hyper-realistic gore of the “torture porn” subgenre. I guess that, currently, supernatural “found-footage” horror is the big, mainstream deal, what with the Paranormal Activity series, the V/H/S/ series, and July’s upcoming The Gallows.
However, a wholly different type of horror is bubbling up from underneath. Movies and television are gradually starting to explore the intersection between the sinister and the fantastic, while books have long intertwined the two.
There’s Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, which retells the most iconic of fairy tales in unsettling vignettes of horror. Clive Barker has always added healthy heaps of fantasy to his horror, as exemplified in his series Books of Blood. Anne Rice is a veteran of the genre, especially where it concerns her iconic character, the always sassy Lestat de Lioncourt (vampire rockstar? Yes, please!). And then there’s Stephen King, whose horror fantasy epic The Stand is currently being developed into a miniseries by Showtime. King’s other fantasy horror series, The Dark Tower, is in talks for both a film series and a television series. The TV adapataion of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell is airing on the BBC.
Of course, horror fantasy and dark fantasy have always been an attraction to filmmakers. Recently, we’ve seen Forbidden Empire, about an 18th century cartographer who explores the sinister forests of the Ukraine.
There’s the enigmatic and creepy Tale of Tales, starring Salma Hayek, which made waves at the Cannes film festival earlier this year. Check out the weird, mysterious, and beautiful trailer below.
Crimson Peak will be released this October, and Guillermo del Toro never disappoints when it comes to horror with fantastical elements.
It will be interesting to see if fantasy-horror becomes a major subgenre in the near future. If fantasy-horror or dark fantasy is your thing, check out this list of horror-fantasy/dark-fantasy movies, compiled for your viewing pleasure!
Quick note: I know there is a lot of discussion on what defines fantasy horror vs. dark fantasy. Some people maintain there is a difference, others say this was just a creative way to market the genre. However, I’m convinced the difference is that fantasy-horror still aims to scare and provoke feelings of disgust, horror, and terror, all while using fantastical elements as part of the storytelling; dark fantasy, on the other hand, aims to explore a world that does not exist in our realm, and sometimes horror elements are used to give the personality to that world.
Enjoy this list of creepy, scary, and whimsical films! Feel free to add any movies I’ve forgotten! I couldn’t list them all.
Company of Wolves (1984)
“The Company Of Wolves is essentially a modern retelling of Little Red Riding Hood, but this is one fairly dark tale (as opposed to a fairy tale). The darkness envelopes the story in an almost-dreamlike quality, adding dense textures to the mysterious fantasy that unfolds before your eyes.”
“In Czech director Jan Svankmajer’s surreal adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic children’s book, Alice (Kristyna Kohoutova) follows her stuffed rabbit through a portal inside her dresser to be whisked away to Wonderland. While the White Rabbit, Mad Hatter and Cheshire Cat are still present, the familiar magical world and bizarre characters have undergone an unsettling transformation in the director’s vision through the stop-motion animation of dead animals, puppets and other assorted objects.”
“A scientist (Vincent Price) builds an animated human being — the gentle Edward (Johnny Depp). The scientist dies before he can finish assembling Edward, though, leaving the young man with a freakish appearance accentuated by the scissor blades he has instead of hands. Loving suburban saleswoman Peg (Dianne Wiest) discovers Edward and takes him home, where he falls for Peg’s teen daughter (Winona Ryder). However, despite his kindness and artistic talent, Edward’s hands make him an outcast.”
The real tale of Snow White, starring Sigourney Waver and Sam Neill, is a tale of relentless terror and unimaginable horror. When young Lillian’s mother dies during childbirth, the father soon re-marries the well-intentioned Lady Claudia.
Little Otik (Otesanek) (2000)
“Little Otik” is based upon a classic fairy tale of an infertile couple who adopt a tree stump as their baby. It quickly grows into an all-devouring monster that eats the cat and then the postman. Locked in the basement, Otik becomes a favorite of Alzbetka, a creepily precocious little girl, who is otherwise engaged in reading books on sexual dysfunction and warding off an octogenarian pedophile.
Devil’s Backbone (2001)
“Twelve-year-old Carlos is the latest arrival to Santa Lucia School, an imposing stone building that shelters the orphans of the Republican militia and politicians during the last days of the Spanish Civil War. Carlosgradually uncovers the dark ties that bind the inhabitants of the school: hidden riches, sexual intrigue and the restless ghost of a murdered student.”
Night Watch (2004)
“Hundreds of years ago there was a battle between the Warriors of Light and the evil Warriors of Darkness. Realizing that they were evenly matched, the two sides agreed to a truce. The fragile peace between good and evil is kept in place by two groups: the Day Watch and the Night Watch, each monitoring the opposing side. Now Night Watch member Anton Gorodetsky finds himself at the center of a prophecy that may mark the end of the delicate balance between the two sides.”
Pan’s Labyrinth (2007)
“In a dark time for a young girl, Spain and the entire world, the haunting fantasies within her mind merge into reality, giving birth to a land of fantastical creatures and secret destinies–Pan’s Labyrinth . . . El laberinto del fauno. 1944. Rural Spain. As Franco consolidates his brutal hold after years of civil war, lonely and dreamy Ofelia must come to terms with the cruelty around her. Living with her mother and adoptive father–a military officer under the Fascist government who is tasked with ridding last rebels from their area, Ofelia creates a fable, giving life to a secret inner world to help her cope with a world gone wrong.”
“The Orphanage is a chilling ghost story about a woman who discovers dark and horrific secrets hidden within her cherished childhood home. She desperately attempts to rescue her family from the nightmare into which she unwittingly led them.”
“While exploring her new home, a girl named Coraline (Dakota Fanning) discovers a secret door, behind which lies an alternate world that closely mirrors her own but, in many ways, is better. She rejoices in her discovery, until Other Mother (Teri Hatcher) and the rest of her parallel family try to keep her there forever. Coraline must use all her resources and bravery to make it back to her own family and life.”
“Fifteen years after Hansel (Jeremy Renner) and Gretel (Gemma Arterton) defeated the wicked witch who planned to have them for her dinner, the siblings have come of age as skilled bounty hunters. Hell-bent on retribution, they have dedicated their lives to hunting down and destroying every witch still lurking in the dark forests of their homeland. As the notorious blood moon approaches, the siblings face a great evil — one that could hold the secret to their terrifying past.”