The Future of Horror
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Caleb attempts to save the horror genre with this critical analysis...
As a fan of horror movies, it frightens me how mediocre most of the offerings Hollywood has given us have become. While most of the premises of these films seem to have some promise, the execution of said stories is usually weak, creating few - if any - scares and basically distributing horror-by-numbers presentations that may play well to casual viewers. But for the true horror fan, they leave much to be desired. Horror is becoming far too formulaic, latching on to trends, following certain patterns in film structure, and basically taming the films for younger audiences to assure ticket sales. It certainly makes one wonder where the future of horror films lies.
While vampires and zombies have been big box office draws for years, the market has certainly become saturated with the monsters in the last few decades. Vampires seem to have had most of the piss taken out of them with the advent of the Twilight phenomenon, but there are still some writers out there willing to try to give them their fangs back. As for zombies, they've been dissected and picked apart so often that they have basically been crammed into every available subgenre of horror that there is. Romero is still making his political statements with his zombie films, while other directors are exploring new ways of keeping zombies fresh and scary with every possible zombieocalypse idea fleshed out (virus, environment, medical experimentation, etc.). They’ve taken over major cities and plagued small villages, overrun islands, voted in elections, danced at prom, ridden the carnival rides and even tormented astronauts.
But as my co-writer Richard Cosgrove has said, it may be time to put the zombie back in the crypt, and perhaps with them the vampire. At least give them a moratorium to allow audiences a few moments to actually miss them. While television programs like The Walking Dead seem to be keeping them on track, it would be nice to see them set aside for a while and brought back when we’re ready for the undead to come back from the grave.
Too many times it feels as though the people behind the films are afraid to allow that feeling of dread - a feeling that is quintessential to the horror genre - rise above a certain point for fear of alienating or even, God forbid, offending the audience...
Religious horror has made a huge comeback in the last few years, but it seems that there isn’t a lot of new ideas coming from that camp either. The majority of the films seem to revolve around exorcism, with some based on true accounts and others entirely fiction. The idea behind possession movies is frightening on its own, whether you buy into religion or not. Those possibilities that one day you could just be taken over by another entity and completely lose control or identity of self is terrifying.
Unfortunately, those films seem to have lost their fright factor, either due to oversaturation of the market, or in some cases, because the films just aren’t scary. The Rite, a film that came out this year starring Anthony Hopkins as a Jesuit priest who becomes possessed while instructing a young priest in exorcism, was inspired by true accounts, and by all rights, had every hallmark of being a good, scary movie. However, the film was marred by lack of character development, which left the viewer uncaring if he ever wound up cured or not. It also seemed to lack any sort of scare factor, outside of the occasional obligatory jumps that added little to the actual story.
Where The Exorcist was designed to scare audiences, these new films feel that all you need is to have a possession and a priest, and you have a horror movie. There are certain nuances that add to a film like this, that keep an audience on the edge of their seats. You want to make the audience feel a little uneasy with what’s going on, not make them feel safe. Too many times it feels as though the people behind the films are afraid to allow that feeling of dread - a feeling that is quintessential to the horror genre - rise above a certain point for fear of alienating or even, God forbid, offending the audience. There should be that point where you feel your skin crawl, when you wonder if you should get up and leave or keep watching. That’s what good horror does best.
Then in 1999, a low budget indie film turned the world of horror on its head. The Blair Witch Project proved that you didn’t need big Hollywood budgets or stars to turn a profit, and audiences around the world were drawn in by a film consisting of a simple story, that of a group of students searching through the woods for a legend, only to wind up missing. The film had a brilliant ad campaign, selling it as found footage of the last days of these poor students as they ran afoul of the legendary witch. In the last few years, the found footage subgenre has taken hold with movies like the Paranormal Activity series, Cloverfield, and the recent Apollo 18. Although fans seem to be split on these films, they do work in that they can make money with little budget. However, there are only so many types of stories you can tell in this format before it becomes mere parody, but for now, these films are still drawing an audience. As for the long haul, I don’t foresee these films being the future of horror.
One would be remiss to look at the current world of horror film without mentioning the recent trend of remakes and reimaginings. While I have been overly critical of this trend, I can’t ignore that as a business decision, it is brilliant. Take a film that already has a large following, and breathe new life into it with updated effects and popular actors. Sometimes, it works well, such as with the Friday the 13th or The Wolfman remakes, or the American remakes of J-horror classics like Ringu (The Ring) or Ju-On (The Grudge), which weren’t as good as the originals but were respectful to them, whilst opening them to a new market for foreign horror films. But it is the missteps that make me curse the teams behind these remakes, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street and the upcoming The Evil Dead, which seems to be taking a clever low budget idea and turning it into something that feels artificial.
For me, the true future of horror lies in the direct-to-video bunch. Every year, Fangoria releases eight films under their Frightfest banner, bringing tales of terror to audiences who might otherwise miss them. Other companies are helping get some of these movies out in the open, and cable stations like Chiller Channel broadcast them to get these filmmakers some exposure. The films are typically in the low budget or indie realms, but the lack of money makes for more imaginative storytelling. Although there are many that are more derivative, there are many others that are truly wonderful movies, films that hark back to the days of midnight movies. Even if they don’t achieve much more than a cult following, they show real talent and passion for the genre, which is missing in many Hollywood offerings.
I hope Hollywood takes note, and checks more of these lesser known writers and directors out, because they may be the only ones that can save the horror genre before it’s too late. And we’re ready for new frights.
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