Halloween is coming up. What more of a perfect time to shed some light on the dying genre: horror.
The Horror genre flourished in the 70s and 80s with classics such as The Exorcist (1973), The Omen (1976), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Carrie (1976), Alien (1979), Poltergeist (1982), A Nightmare of Elm Street (1984), The Evil Dead (1981), and the beginning to two ever-lasting franchises Halloween and Friday the 13th (1980).
Here, we saw many sub-genres of horror emerge: horror of personality and real people, horror of the Devil and demons influencing children, horror of monsters and demons in general, and horror of the supernatural. But just like all movies, horror had to keep reinventing the wheel and raising the bar. Unfortunately as a whole, the genre wasn’t able to keep up it’s grueling success.
In the 1990s, unoriginality plagued the decade as sequels were banged out to try and profit from the classic originals, but almost all were panned by critics and received mild box office success. It seems as though the audience who thoroughly enjoyed the slasher and zombie films of the 80s disappeared in the 90s. They’ve grown used to it and wanted something new and different, but the studios stuck with something safe… not new and daring.
A few bright spots in the 90s ended up being those films who mocked the horror genre, along with one very unlikely gold mine. Dead Alive (1992) was Peter Jackson’s attempt at horror, where he deliberately went overboard with the gore for comedy. And then there was Scream (1996) that had characters who made references to the horror genre in the film for comic effect. Along with that fresh perspective, it also rejuvenated the slasher film, putting it into a teen view. The success of Scream resulted with additional teen-slasher flicks such as I Know What You Did Last Summer and Urban Legend.
The biggest and most successful horror film of the 90s was The Blair Witch Project (1999). Made for practically peanuts ($22,000), the movie grossed over $240 million worldwide and currently holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for “Top Budget: Box Office Ratio.” The film was good, but that wasn’t the reason for it’s extreme success. It had a remarkable marketing campaign, including using the Internet and spreading a rumor that the footage from the film was real. The documentary style and seemingly completely ad-libbed script helped to feed the fire that the movie was real. There’s no doubt that this rumor was a big reason why it made so much money.
So where did that leave the state of the horror genre for the new millennium? Not in good shape. Though I have to admit, the 2000s have been better than the 90s… but that’s really not saying much.
What’s wrong with horror movies today?
Horror movies are supposed to be scary… that is the sole purpose for the genre. It’s a tricky feeling to achieve and depend an entire movie on because everyone is scared of something different. Not everyone believes in ghosts and spirits, therefore those people might find supernatural horror movies pointless and laughable. Others are immune to the shock factor of the current torture-porn movies that amplify the gore as a horror element. If you’re not a bit squeamish, you could probably laugh at all the fake blood pouring out of someone’s body or when someone’s limbs are being ripped off.
As for me, well I’m not a horror fan. For some it’s all they watch. They love to be scared. They love to get that thrill of suspense and love to (as twisted as this sounds) watch people die. This doesn’t mean I’ve hid my eyes from the gore and the ghosts throughout my entire life. I enjoy horror movies. It’s just that in my opinion, horror is the worst genre of film.
Don’t get me wrong… there are plenty of horror films that I love. As I thought about it some more, I can edit my hatred towards the horror genre to hatred towards the current state of the horror genre.
I don’t hate The Silence of the Lambs, The Exorcist, The Shining, or any other horror classics. They’re awesome! They’re well-made, well-acted, well-written… just all-around “good” movies. And that’s all I’m asking for, despite the genre of the film I want to see some effort put into a movie. Is that too much to ask for? Not really, but the studios aren’t always interested in putting out “good” movies. If they can bang out a handful of movies every year that are low budget, have inexpensive actors, and can make a profit… keep the movies rolling!
Let’s face it. The horror genre is dying. There’s simply not enough good horror movies anymore. Since the original ideas have faded into oblivion there have been countless remakes of classics. To name a few: Halloween (2007; Rob Zombie), The Hills Have Eyes (2006; Alexandre Aja), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003; Marcus Nispel), The Omen (2006; John Moore), The Fog (2005; Rupert Wainwright). None of these films were good and they almost tarnish the excellence of the originals. The current generation of movie watchers will pick up these remakes, be completely turned off and then once they find out that they just watched a remake, will have no urge to watch the classics. It’s a crime! Stop remaking the classics!
Am I being too rough? I don’t think so. I want to like horror movies. Let me tell you one things about horror films… they have awesome trailers. Every single time I see a trailer for a horror movie I go, “Damn that looks awesome!” But then I immediately retract my excitement because I remember… “It’s a horror movie. It’ll most likely suck.” Some examples: An American Haunting (2006), Pulse (2006), Turistas (2006), Vacancy (2007), and House of Wax (2005). I don’t know about you, but to me all of these movies looked pretty cool. The trailers were good, but the movies sucked.
Covering the other side of the spectrum, there have been a handful of recent horror films that I loved. Probably my favorite recent horror film is The Descent (2005; Neil Marshall). Here is an original horror story with a group of unknown actresses who find themselves trapped in an underground cave and find out they’re not alone. This wasn’t a teen-horror, wannabe slasher film. This had good acting, a great storyline, and excellent directing. There were plenty of “edge-of-your-seat” suspense and it blended the cheap “shock” horror tactic with brutal and gory violence very well. And the ending… all I have to say is that if you’ve only seen the U.S. version of the ending then you are missing out! Watch the original ending (U.K.) and The Descent will simply blow your mind.
Here is the trick… Horror movies are only good when they strive to be much more than just a “horror movie.” This is the case for all genres. If a comedy is made with only one intention, to make you laugh, then it might be a good comedy but it won’t be a good movie. Same as chick-flicks. If they only try to make you weepy, then it might make you cry, but was it really a good movie?
Let’s take a look at The Sixth Sense. What a fantastic movie that was. Not only did it make people wet their pants, but it really drew you into the film because of its story depth. The characters were so convincingly real (or at least you thought so until the end). And the idea of the existence of ghosts and how they’re still around because they have unfinished business is expanded in this M. Night Shyamalan masterpiece. The medium was Haley Joel Osment, but he was just a kid who didn’t understand the world of the dead. He needed a psychiatrist to help him understand the supernatural, and that psychiatrist’s unfinished business was helping someone understand himself. Pure brilliance.
Good horror movies surprise you and might even scare you. Great horror movies haunt you. Take great horror classics like Psycho and Jaws for example. When talking to someone in their 50s or 60s they might recall the fear they felt while watching the film, but then they’ll go on expressing how they were haunted afterwards. Psycho created a fear whenever you took a shower, especially at a motel, and Jaws created a fear whenever you stepped foot in an ocean. I know some friends who still get a little nervous when they see a flock of birds resting nearby (from Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds). It’s astounding to think that such simple, everyday things could drastically change from a movie, but that’s what great films do.
So what am I saying? It seems as though the production of horror movies has taken a lazy and greedy turn for the worse. There are too many remakes, too many teen-horror films, too much gore and not enough scares. It’s time to go back to the drawing board and come up with some fresh ideas. Not new and twisted ways to kill people. New characters, new stories, new reasons to be scared. There have been some breakthroughs in the past few years. The first Saw film was incredible, but unfortunately has erupted into a number of disappointing sequels. Final Destination put some fear back into everyday life, but its teenager cast made it cheesy and laughable. 28 Days Later was gripping and put zombie movies back on the map, but its sequel 28 Weeks Later was predictable and ordinary. The Others relied on psychological scares than gore and violence, and Grindhouse was a memorable tribute to the B-movies of the 70s.
But it seems like the trend of low quality horror films will continue. In 2009 there is a remake of the Jason Voorhees classic, Friday the 13th. And talk about never-ending sequels… Final Destination 4, The Grudge 3, and talks of a Scream 4 are in the works as well. Honestly, the studios can’t be blamed. They simply put out what they think the audiences want to see. I don’t know if I’m alone when I say the horror genre is in trouble, but it’s obvious that there aren’t enough people who share my thoughts. The Saw franchise has over-stayed its welcome, yet the fifth installment released last weekend still managed to gross over $30 million its opening weekend. And although there were plenty of moans and groans about Rob Zombie remaking Halloween, that even grossed over $30 million its opening weekend. It’s plain and simple. If you want a change… if you believe the horror genre is on the downfall, do something about it and stop paying to watch these cheap excuses for horror movies! Don’t think it’ll work. Oh it will. The only reason why these movies are still being made is because they’re still profitable. Once a franchise takes a hit, the studios pull it instantly. Example… Hostel. Remember that Eli Roth movie about kids backpacking in Europe and then being tortured. It was a massive hit… practically had a cult following. Do you remember the sequel? Of course you don’t. It was a complete failure! Hostel Part II only made $8 million its opening weekend and $17.5 million total. Immediately, any suggestions for a sequel were canned.
Get my point? Well it all comes down to you, the movie-watcher. You want a good horror movie? Visit the 1970s and 80s. You like the current horror movies? Then good for you. If not, take a stand. Don’t let those enticing trailers suck you into their trap. Instead of the remakes, watch the originals. It’s sad how the current flavor of the horror genre is torture. Where’s the entertainment value in that? What’s so creative and unique about making a helpless human suffer? Let’s see some more psychological thrillers, small groups of survivors fighting off a sea of zombies, helpless families running away from serial killers, regular people gone insane, etc. Let’s bring back horror the way it should be!