The Value of Nightmares: How The Academy Awards Continue to Ignore Horror

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It’s no secret within the film industry that the horror genre and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences don’t quite gel together. Although there have been genre films that have penetrated the Academy’s persistent disinterest in horror- such as BLACK SWAN, ROSEMARY’S BABY, SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, JAWS and THE EXORCIST, fright films have often been considered “less than” when compared to Oscar-bait drama and more ambitious, expensive productions. For the most part, the horror side of the film industry has come to accept this divisive relationship, especially considering how much expensive politics come to play in the voting process rather than objective quality. And while the Oscars receives flack from other voices from the industry for their lack of diversity and their susceptibility to traditionally lauded subject matter, there’s a good reason for horror fans to decry the Academy Awards as well, as the transgressions- albeit passive- have gone beyond frustration and into active disrespect.

Granted, most horror fans don’t necessarily care about the Academy Awards, and who can blame them? In the few times the AMPAS and horror have crossed paths, the FANGORIA readership hasn’t necessarily rallied to support those titles or even collectively celebrate their wins. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean the Oscars don’t have any weight to the genre, and for most casual moviegoers, an Oscar nomination could bring in a whole new audience for a horror film. So while a Best Picture nomination might be reserved for the bold genre critical darlings that come once in a blue moon, the cognizant disregard for horror in other categories should be enough to warrant some outward resentment towards the AMPAS.

Perhaps the most blatant disregard of the horror community is the Academy Awards make-up category, a relatively newer category (only having been around for 35 years of the 87-year-old award ceremony) that has, in the past, given the genre some undeniable credit. While films like THE FLY, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and BEETLEJUICE have taken home Oscars for Chris Walas, Rick Baker and Ve Neill, respectively, some of the genre greats including Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero and Rob Bottin have never taken home gold, with the former two never even having been nominated. And for a category that is seemingly undefined- one may assume they can nominate up to five films- the most films ever nominated for the category in a given year are four, with only four horror films in the past 20 years receiving nominations in the category.


For a category that doesn’t necessarily hinge on the quality of a film (with nominees including BAD GRANDPA, NORBIT and 2002’s THE TIME MACHINE), it’s frankly quite astonishing how the AMPAS actively refuse to acknowledge myriad incredible make-up contributions in both studio and independent horror fare. With even up to two more spots that could be nominated, films such as CRIMSON PEAK, KRAMPUS, THE HALLOW, WE ARE STILL HERE, DEATHGASM, THE EDITOR or TALES OF HALLOWEEN and more that sport phenomenal make-up achievements are left ignored at the end of the day. Hell, the last horror film to receive the Academy Award for make-up was Rick Baker’s make-up for the much maligned THE WOLFMAN, a production that notoriously replaced most of Baker’s genius handiwork. And when it comes to visual effects, AMPAS will go to sci-fi over horror every damn time, depriving the horror genre of recognition towards its most undeniable strength.

Yet the make-up nomination is not the only area where horror is criminally misrepresented by the AMPAS, and the 2015 awards are a perfect example. One only needs to look at Richard Vreeland (a/k/a Disasterpeace)’s score for IT FOLLOWS, one of the most universally praised cinematic compositions of the ‘00s, for proof that Oscar refuses to oblige even the strongest horror scores if they don’t fall within their traditional orchestral guidelines. The same could be said about Steve Moore’s incredible score for THE GUEST or Clint Mansell’s breathtaking STOKER score, both of which were non-contenders for serious award consideration despite being more memorable than arbitrary score nominations such as, say, SAVING MR. BANKS or THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.

But horror isn’t just cast aside there: cinematography, director, performances, production design; all of these categories are left barren with horror representation. And, in a way, it’s even more aggravating that films with horrific subject matter and violence, such as THE REVENANT, THE HATEFUL EIGHT, EX MACHINA, ROOM and SICARIO, are considered to be more legitimate candidates solely due to the studios and talent associated with them. Yet if there’s anything that can be taken in satisfaction, it’s that eventually, the Academy Awards will be the last of its kind as the landscape changes: as Sundance, SXSW and other prestigious festivals add top tier genre programming while the Golden Globes celebrate horror television’s fantastic renaissance, it’s only a matter a time before AMPAS is forced to acknowledge the artistic value of the horror genre.

About the author
Ken W. Hanley
Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel "THE I IN EVIL", and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.
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