I may not know what I ate for dinner last week, but I recall where I was twenty seven years ago today. Enjoying a big, group sleepover, at an Upper East Side apartment filled with thirteen year old girls. I don’t remember anything about it except that the next morning we all went to stand in a block long line, with our already purchased tickets to see the 11 am sold out showing of Jurassic Park. Armed with giant popcorns and soda’s, we settled into the now classic. I wasn’t a real horror fan in 1993. But looking back on that memorable day as an adult and passionate horror lover, I realize now what would’ve never occurred to me then. Without fail, Jurassic Park is a horror movie.
Every year on Twitter, (when we’re not having more important, serious conversations) the debate of what qualifies as horror makes the rounds. I still recall a chat from last year. Someone had questioned the validity of one of my favorite film writer’s best of 2019 horror lists. It sparked a conversation about defining horror movies, and if certain sub categories, like adventure horror, really existed. This wasn’t one of those monumental, everyone in, film Twitter chats. In fact the comments and retweets didn’t even break one hundred. Nevertheless, I was enthralled with the discussion.
Perhaps because it came just a day after watching Jurassic Park on a movie screen for the second time, at Bryant Park’s annual Summer film festival. The rewatch solidified my thought. No matter what that Twitter commenter thought, without doubt, (though not in the truest sense of the word), Jurassic Park is a horror movie.
Here are a few reasons why:
Nedry’s death. You can’t watch the famous sequence between Wayne Knight’s Nedry and a Dilophosaurus and tell me it isn’t scary. At thirteen I remember being legitimately frightened by it spreading it’s neck, revealing wings and spitting venomous poison before coldly killing the villainous Nedry. Interestingly enough, turns out that those traits aren’t even factual. Spielberg added them for cinematic effect, which was clearly quite successful.
Building suspense. Obviously, this is not a classically scary movie. But it works with a lot of the same elements that make horror movies so great. Just like another famous Steven Spielberg vehicle, Jurassic Park builds the suspense by not revealing it’s villain too early. Instead, providing small clues without showing us the whole story. At one early point we see the T-Rex’s talons slinking behind a fence. Slyly introducing us to him without giving a lot away.
Dinosaurs are depicted like killers. A human serial killer might be a lot scarier than extinct animals running around murdering people. But one of the biggest ways Jurassic Park is a horror movie is the way in which it depicts the dinosaurs. They’re clever girls, cunning and predatory. They kill coldly, like the aforementioned Nedry scene.
Again, Spielberg took some liberties, wanting the raptors to be able to turn their heads. This more human like trait, a simple way to effectively make them scarier. Nowhere are they more like us than in the famous kitchen scene when the velociraptors hunt the children, Lex and Tim. They sneakily open doors with their claws. One preys on Tim, but gets locked in the walk in freezer by both Tim and Lex. A moment reminiscent of The Shining. Instead of focusing on a shiny, sharp blade, we see the raptor tapping his claw on the table ominously as he scans the room for his intended victims.
If that’s not horror, I don’t know what is.