I know, I know, This week’s blog post should be about San Diego Comic Con right? All the new trailers for all the superhero movies and TV shows came out; why not talk about that? Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve got superhero fatigue and can’t quite pull myself out of it to give a good analysis of all that Hollywood has in store for our wallets in the coming year.
So instead I thought I would turn to a subject that is pretty near and dear to my heart; Horror Movies! More specifically, how we can save them from themselves. If you haven’t noticed, the past decade or so has given us honestly some of the absolute worst horror movies (I’m specifically talking about mainstream Hollywood horror films). You’ve got your jump scares, shaky cam found footage, PG 13 horror, and ridiculous franchises that produce more of a “meh” than a scream.
So how do we fix it? Well, let’s take a look….
1. Fan Responsibility
Ok, this one is not so much about the horror film as it is about the horror fan. We have a responsibility as fans to shape what content we all want to see. If we don’t want remakes, PG13 horror, and other crappy ass horror films then we need to stop giving them money in the form of ticket sales. It may be really easy to slip in the 9-10 dollars for the next Saw movie, but think about what message that sends to Hollywood. That tells them, “Hey! Saw is cool again! Let’s crank out more Saw movies, but make sure the film is nothing but Rube Goldberg murder machines as plot has no place in these films.” If we want quality, we need to demand quality with our wallets.
2. Characters Come First
How many times have you watched a horror movie recently and just thought to yourself, “Who is this character and why should I give a shit what happens to him/her?” Aside from maybe the scene or two of forced exposition on a character, most of these horror movies really do not have much of an arc for the characters within the film. When we have no reason to care what happens to the characters then any tension building on the film’s part is lost. Look at John Carpenter’s Halloween, not much is known about Laurie Strode in the film. But we see her arc as a meek teenager in the beginning of the film, a potential victim running for her life from Michael Myers through the middle of the film, and finally taking an assertive stance as the surviving hero by stabbing Myers with a clothes hanger. We see this arc with Laurie and ultimately want her to survive as the tension ratchets up.
3. Horror Needs to be Grounded in Real Themes
Some of the greatest horror films have derived their messaging, characters, and most importantly, their monsters from reality. Night of the Living Dead is not about zombies, it is about the breakdown of humanity when all hell breaks loose (literally). The Shining is about the corruption of the family unit and the effects of isolation. Get Out is about race relations and subjugation of people. These are all very deep themes that go beyond just the surface horror. Most modern horror films rely on the theme of “The Unknown” way too much. The problem with that is that it is very hard to relate to a theme that isn’t known. What is far scarier are the horrors that we deal with on a daily basis because we have become numb to it. At that point the horror is more about ourselves than the elusive “Unknown”.
4. A Return to Rated R
Horror movies only exist in the realm of the R rating. PG13 horror is a bastardization of what is a a pure genre that relies on terrifying imagery. The stories that we as human beings find terrifying can only be truly told when we are free to show horror for what it really is. Watering it down deadens the impact of the horror. Imagine if The Exorcist was watered down to PG13 to attract a larger audience. Do you think the film would have nearly as much of an impact as it does now?
5. Fear Comes From Atmosphere Not Gore
I see this in a lot of direct to video horror movies. Filmmakers feel that to be a horror movie and appeal to fans that it needs to be chock full of blood and gore to ridiculous proportions. I disagree. I think that blood and gore can be used for effect if the plot warrants it, but it should not be a substitute for general tension building through atmosphere. Spend time on crafting disturbing music, building a pace that leaves people on the edge of their seats, and finally, what we do not see is sometimes far more horrifying than what we do see. Our minds can craft the most horrifying things. The filmmaker’s job is to use that to their advantage by fostering an environment that promotes the horror of the mind.
So there you have it! Horror is one of the oldest and most profitable genres of film. It is a genre that is continually changing and evolving. But we do not have to settle for remakes, PG13 rated, substandard Hollywood garbage. We are the fans and we can demand a return to the glory days of horror. The future of the horror film rests with us and the filmmakers who hopefully learn from the failures of the past and craft new cinematic nightmares to keep us up at night.
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