What Makes A Thriller A Thriller?

What makes a “Thriller” a Thriller, besides Michael Jackson?

Some time ago, I had a long discussion with the most prolific consumer of both fantasy and horror books (and movies) that I know, my oldest son, about just what makes “horror” horror? Or, what makes a “thriller” a thriller, and not “suspense”? And so forth.

For example, what was “Alien”? What was “Aliens”? The same? If so, why do they feel so different?

Afterwards, I decided that I needed, for own sanity, to come up with a topology. Here’s what I developed:

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21st Century Jerks

Webster-Merriam defines “jerk” (the personality-type) as:
a) an annoyingly stupid or foolish person (eg, “was acting like a jerk”), or
b) an unlikable person, esp. one who is cruel, rude, or small-minded

But, look at the second definition. It is based on a social norm (“unlikable”). So, if, in the first place, the group norm is that of being cruel, rude, or small-minded, then what?

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Herzog on Cruise

Director/Actor Werner Herzog, age 78, regarding Tom Cruise:

“It struck me to see the relentless professionalism with which he worked. I wish I would never have a life like him. He would have his nutritionist on the set and nibble a few things every two hours. A very precisely balanced sort of diet — and working out physically. Not a life that I would like to live.”

From this interview.