It’s Halloween tonight, and that means a lot of things come to mind, including pumpkins, candy, and the fact that there’s now only 55 days left until Christmas. For the film enthusiast, however, Halloween is the time where we almost immediately think of horror movies. Horror as a genre is a case where, for a long time, I’ve struggled to understand its appeal. I always thought it was rather odd that we entertained each other by scaring the ever-loving crap out of each other until they can’t sleep for a while. But then I started looking at films in more depth than I used to, and came to the conclusion that horror films are more about suspension of disbelief that most other genres of film.
When I say this, I mean that horror films rely far more of the suspension of disbelief than other films. If a horror film can’t get that crucial suspension of disbelief right, then it’s fucked. I’ve seen my fair share of horror films, and I’ve seen them range from convincing works of fiction to absolute punchlines. I’ve also noticed that the horror movies of today are almost completely indifferent to each other. If you’ve ever seen a trailer for a modern horror movie, you’ll probably notice that it looks and sounds like the last horror trailer you might have seen, and that’s because a worrying trend in the horror genre, in which today’s horror films seem like something sucked the life right out of them.
In the old days, the majority of horror films focused on gothic horror settings and characters, often drawing from gothic horror novels (like Bram Stoker’s Dracula for example). Somehow I like to think that this was the better approach, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that all the films produced in that era were classics. In fact, to me, only the 1958 Hammer Horror incarnation of Dracula (itself a remake of the 30’s film starring Bela Lugosi) still holds up as a classic film. While there are plenty of good films from that era, a lot times it was hit or miss. I’m guessing people were easier scare during the 50’s and 60’s, because a lot of horror films from that era are almost comical by today’s standards.
Later on, the horror films of the 70’s and 80’s began focusing on more visceral ways to scare people. From there on out, slasher horror films began to take over after the success of films like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street, which are still popular today. After that, the market was over-saturated with slasher films trying to imitate the more popular films (a phenomenon that is as old as cinema itself), while the story writing got dumber and dumber. Other horror films of that era were beginning to exploit the Satanic ritual abuse panic of the 1980’s, when every news station would churn out increasingly outlandish reports of violence and depravity allegedly committed by Satanists (this would later be discredited). However, it wasn’t until the 2000’s that the horror genre would take on its current form. Ever since Saw, horror films would become about torture and sadism for its own sake, and since Paranormal Activity, many films pretended to be found footage films.
Today’s horror films seem very homogenized, and I say this because now they all the exact same look, sound, and feel. Horror itself has become an incredibly cheesy genre, mainly because modern films rely very heavily on age old clichés that they tend to employ in a very heavy-handed manner. Another thing I’ve noticed is that plenty of horror films tend to be about grossing people out for its own sake (a trend that might have started with The Human Centipede, but might have been around for much longer), and thus a lot of horror films don’t have much plot at all. Of course, there might be a few exceptions to the rule, but the general outlook is pretty bleak, and a lot of that is to do with movie producers lacking the will to innovate. That being said, horror is a rather sensitive genre. If it isn’t done right, then it completely flops, but if it’s done just right, the results can be surprising.