I’m getting worried. For years, I’ve been a fan of horror films. I watched all the classics; I tackled Bravo TV’s “100 Scariest Movie Moments,” and yet, horror is nothing like it once was. This is why I’m worried. In the last few years, the genre has been reduced to three cruxes that do nothing to move the genre forward. Those obstacles have kept real chills from hitting the back of my neck.
M. Night Shyamalan: The Man with a Twist
The first obstacle is the reliance on franchises and remakes. Horror has always survived on the countless rehashes of previous success stories. But this rigidity only puts those franchises in a formula that eventually gets parodied. We now make fun of M. Night Shyamalan for his third act twists. We expect Jigsaw to put a clever spin on everything as each Saw movie comes to an end. Hollywood is suffering from a drought of creativity, and it’s even worse in the spook genre.
We need fresh blood in the genre. Found footage is nauseating (literally) as we see intentionally amateurish camerapersons shake, drop, and whip the viewer around. I have no desire to see a movie told the same way my uncle use to videotape his new home. Sure, the Paranormal Activity films scare me, but these films are far from classic status. Look at the major horror franchises of the past decade (Final Destination, Paranormal Activity, Saw), after a while, they all run together. I struggle trying to remember what the basic plot was in any of the middle entries in the Saw franchise. We need new ideas.
The remakes are even worse. With the exception of the fantastic Dawn of the Dead remake, classics have been remade into bastardized versions of the originals. The studios take a beloved film, and run it into the ground. Nightmare on Elm Street, Day of the Dead, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Wolfman, Halloween, The Last House on the Left, I Spit on Your Grave, etc. Each film was remade from the classic it was into a pile of garbage. Every once in a while we get a remake that sets itself apart as inferior, but not completely awful. These films are largely forgotten because of a lack of interest or availability. The Crazies and The Hills Have Eyes are two such examples. Decent remakes, but still nothing in to reach the highest level of horror movie status. It’s not to say I don’t like some these films.
The second obstacle is the PG-13 rating. This rating is an enemy of horror cinema. It is extremely difficult to make a PG-13 rated horror movie that still scares and thrills. I can count on one hand the movies that really hit their mark. But the rating isn’t entirely to blame. It’s studios requesting teen-friendly ticket sales. This means tapping a market that usually too young for horror films. Instead of going the route of scary fare like The Last Exorcism or the original Poltergeist (rated PG?!), the studios release watered down crap like Prom Night or When a Stranger Calls (both also remakes). The violence is muted, the characters become more one-dimensional, and the story usually does nothing. Gone are you 90 minutes and $10 for a film less terrifying than Dr. Oz’s show.
If PG-13 is done right, my argument is no longer valid. But when garbage like The Apparition come to theaters and Rotten Tomatoes has it at a 3% approval rating, I have a point.
The last issue with modern-day horror is the need to make it a hybrid. Prometheus wasn’t a horror movie; it was a science-fiction thriller. Zombieland is a horror comedy. Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is an action/drama horror movie. Horror movies have long used blending of neighboring genres for ideas. The problem is, straight up horror is on the ropes. With proven names like Eli Roth and Alexandre Aja still working on their next films, and Guillermo Del Toro’s horror movie epic and The Dark Tower series being shot down, it looks like straight forward horror is a thing of the past. Or at least, will be for a while.
Looking at upcoming horror films, almost all of them are one of the three safeties horror rests on now. In the next six months, we’ll see if Jennifer Lawrence really made House at the End of the Street watchable, a fourth Paranormal Activity happen, and we’ll take another trip to Texas for Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D.
There is hope. Sinister, V/H/S, and The ABCs of Death might be just the fresh air it needs. If not, I’ll guess I’ll be staying home more often.
Even with all of that, there has been a few recent horror releases that took me hostage and held me captive. To prove good horror films continue to get made, here is my list of my favorite horror films of the last couple of years:
Paranormal Activity – The franchise may quickly run out of steam, but this one really got me.
Tucker and Dale vs. Evil – It switches up the conventional hillbilly murderer story.
Cabin in the Woods – Part horror movie homage, part nostalgia for old-school horror films.
Red State – A Westboro Baptist Church-like villain. Need I say more?
The Last Exorcism – A PG-13 horror movie that is actually scary.