Stories based on the supernatural are more versatile than one might think. After all, if a story is labeled “supernatural,” the reader—or viewer—will be expecting ghosts or vampires, werewolves or zombies. Or a monster or three. But actually, supernatural stories take on aspects of other genres very well.
When An American Werewolf in London debuted in 1981, there were actually people who got up and walked out of the theater. Why? Because the movie is laced with very dark humor. Some audience members didn’t understand when something was supposed to be funny, and if was, well, why? This was a horror movie; it wasn’t supposed to be funny. But the mash-up of horror and comedy actually sat very well with quite a number of viewers, and scary movies started crossing over into scary, funny movies. By 1984, Ghostbusters was a blockbuster, although some would say that the very presence of personalities like Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd made the movie a comedy, not a horror film. That is a valid point: Ghostbusters is not a horror movie. But it is supernatural. And funny.
By 1986, John Carpenter, known for such horror movies as The Fog, The Thing, and the adaptation of Christine, merged supernatural, comedy, and martial arts, and came up with Big Trouble in Little China, a fun and goofy romp through ghosts, one-liners, and hand-to-hand combat, both armed and unarmed in true martial-arts-movie fashion. And in 1988, Tim Burton joined the ranks with Beetlejuice.
Then there’s the mix of supernatural and science fiction. In 1997, an eerie movie named Event Horizon was released. I saw that one: it was pretty disturbing, deftly combing science fiction in a story about a spacecraft that disappeared into a black hole and comes back with something paranormal aboard. And then in 2001, John Carpenter decided to merge paranormal and science fiction with his Ghosts of Mars. This one was definitely not also comedic, focusing on a battle between intergalactic law enforcement and the possessed residents of a small mining town on Mars.
Stories of the paranormal also play well with romance. There are heartbreakers like Ghost. Patrick Swayze’s performance as a man trying to protect his love while also trying to solve his murder from beyond the grave is enough to require a box of tissues while watching. The other one that comes to my mind is Somewhere in Time. Even though it’s not a classical ghost story, it certainly has elements that stray beyond your everyday romance. A double feature of Ghost and Somewhere in Time would mandate tissues, possibly a stiff drink, and a shoulder to cry on.
But not all paranormal romances are sad. Classics like The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Blithe Spirit, or even The Uninvited come to mind. In more recent years, there was Ghosts of Girlfriends Past.
Paranormal elements are so much fun to play with that they turn up in action and adventure stories (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl), family fare (Field of Dreams), and children’s films (Stardust, or anything Harry Potter). There are dead warriors in The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. Even George R. R. Martin dabbled with that in his Nightflyers, first made into a film in 1987, and then turned into a TV series last year.
Yes, paranormal pretty much goes with everything, and I love that versatility. But I do get a hankering for a really good ghost story, the kind of movie that gives me chills and leaves me thinking “What if…?” Fortunately there are quite a few of them out there. Woman in Black, anyone?