When will the Oscars acknowledge horror films?

March 9, 2023, 5:25 p.m.

Last year was a great one for movies, especially for the horror genre, both with original horror films — “Nope” and “Pearl” — and sequels to already-loved films — such as “Scream 5.” So, when Oscar season came around, many expected to see at least some recognition for these films, even if it was for technical awards. Instead, these films were completely snubbed, with not a single nomination for a horror film. 

Horror film fans expressed their outrage on the Internet with a tinge of cynicism: “Horror movies never get to be nominated.” That is largely true in the most popular categories, the Best Film of the Year and the Best Actor/Best Actress. Historically it has been seen in snubbings of now famously respected films such as “Psycho” and “The Shining.” 

There have been a few prominent exceptions over the years. Sissy Spacek won Best Actress in 1977 for her role as Carrie White in the iconic horror flick, “Carrie.” More recently, Jordan Peele won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay for his film “Get Out,” and “The Shape Of Water” (directed by Guillermo del Toro) won Best Picture. 

One of the biggest snubs in regard to categories were in the makeup and design categories. For example, in Ti West’s “X,” the makeup and hairstyling teams had to give Mia Goth two distinct looks for her characters of the young ambitious porn star, Maxine, and the menacing aging woman, Pearl. Zack Cregger’s “Barbarian” was also a strong contender because of the “monster/creature” makeup in the film. It was grizzly and haunting how real it looked. 

“Bodies Bodies Bodies” could have been nominated for Best Cinematography considering its extraordinary use of lighting. Cinematographer Jasper Wolf was highly innovative in his use of lighting in a film that is set mostly in the dark because of a power outage early in the narrative. Wolf also utilized lighting to support themes concerning digital culture and technology and set up the tense atmosphere that is a hallmark of horror genre films. 

Phone lights, flashlights and even light therapy masks help with lighting darker scenes. According to director Halina Reijn, they are instrumental in highlighting the personalities of characters. The protagonist Alice, for example, wears glow sticks that underscore her party-girl attitude in life.

Performances in horror movies are rarely recognized as well, even when met with both audience and critical acclaim. Two of the biggest acting snubs in the last couple of years are Lupita Nyong’o’s performance in “Us” and Toni Collette’s performance in “Hereditary.” The star of both “X” and “Pearl,” Mia Goth, gave incredible performances in 2022 beloved by critics and audience members. Yet, in the end, Goth was not recognized in a supporting or leading actress role nomination. 

Film journalist Jake Hamilton recently asked Goth about her Oscar snub and the Academy’s general disregard for the horror genre. Goth responded, “I think that it’s very political. It’s not entirely based on the quality of a project per se.”

Keke Palmer, Steven Yeun and Daniel Kalluya also gave spectacular performances in Jordan Peele’s “Nope.” Yeun especially gave a chilling performance as the traumatized ex-child actor, Ricky “Jupe” Park. Nobody could look away from the screen when Yeun’s character recalls the fictional “Saturday Night Live” (SNL) performance about the chimpanzee incident that traumatized him for life. 

Peele’s inventive horror film, “Nope,” must stand out as the worst Oscar snub. Not only was the script tightly written, with both nuance and depth, but the technical work was also innovative and emotionally jarring. Michael Abel’s electrifying score — Abel practically serving as Peele’s John Williams — and the bone-chilling sound design done by Johnnie Burn deserve some recognition from the Oscars this season. 

Peele utilized both IMAX cameras and eye-popping cinematography (the latter by Hoyte van Hoytema). Peele’s screenplay managed to tell a horror story about race and capitalism through an alien creature’s narrative. It is a reminder of how the horror genre has always been a major part of film history and how it preserves the anxieties of the present time it is made.  

Peele also structured the film to be enjoyed communally, at a time when movie house attendance remains lower than before the pandemic. Peele described his inspiration for the film during an interview for “Empire Magazine,” saying he “started off wanting to make a film that would put an audience in the immersive experience of being in the presence of a UFO.” 

“I wanted to make a spectacle, something that would promote my favorite art form and my favorite way of watching that art form: the theatrical experience,” he added.

Horror movies are often historically cheaper to make and usually entice audiences to experience the movies in larger groups. Also, unlike other blockbusters, most of the commercially successful horror movies were original content, meaning not based on existing intellectual property or franchises (exceptions being “Halloween Kills” and “Scream 5”). 

“Nope” earned gross revenue of $123,277,080, which placed the film in the top 15 grossing films domestically in 2022. Other horror movie releases with impressive gross returns in the last year included “Smile,” “The Barbarian,” “Bodies Bodies Bodies,” “The Menu” and “The Black Phone.” Why the film industry leaders would not use awards nominations to better advertise these cost-effective, innovative films and bring people — especially young people — to theaters is unknown.

In a time of diversity and equity initiatives, it is important to note how horror films have become an important vehicle for marginalized voices in the film industry to tell their stories. “Nanny,” directed by Nikyatu Jusu, was an underrated post-colonial horror film. The film focused on a woman from Africa who hoped her new job as a nanny would gain her the money she needed to bring her son to the United States. A violent supernatural presence starts to haunt her dreams and reality as she is faced with the horrors of the American Dream. 

Throughout the film, Aisha, the heroine, is trying her best to find success in America in order to bring her son over from Senegal. The dark film illuminates the hardships of immigration to the United States even when one does everything by the book.

Horror is a genre as old as storytelling itself and a staple of cinema for the past century, essentially starting with films such as “Nosferatu” and “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.” Yet, the history of the Oscars shows a consistent pattern of ignoring this important genre. As horror films continue to show mastery and draw in audiences, nominating them among the best and the brightest can give more incentive for younger audiences to tune in for the award show.

The Oscars Award Ceremony will take place this weekend on Sunday, March 12. Those interested in awards celebrating horror films can check out FANGORIA, which will soon announce the winners of their Chainsaw Awards.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective thoughts, opinions and critiques.

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