The Death Of Horror

When was the last time you watched a horror movie and left the cinema with the heavy feeling within your soul that what you just saw would haunt you for the rest of your days? It sounds silly asking that question to a modern audience, after all this generation is traumatized every day of their growing lives. All they have to do is to turn on the news to be told of the dark futures they have to look forward to, and these modern horror films don’t seem to catch on to that fact. They seem more interested in retreading old ground and trying to recreate past glories rather than embrace the new horrors around us, and that is why the genre is dying.

There are certain images in the history of horror that have gifted us over the years. Images like the sight of a blonde bombshell being hacked to death in a shower by a crazed cross-dressing lunatic, a young girl violating herself with a crucifix whilst under the possession of the devil, or just the overwhelming, inescapable image of tidal wave of blood gushing out of an escalator and washing over you with the overbearing dread of the terror that is to come. That is the mark of a classic horror movie: to create a feeling of unshaking fear after watching something too disturbing for words.

Of course, today’s audience now sees these classic scenes as being cliché. Movies like Psycho and The Exorcist have been riffed mercilessly over years, in particular The Shining, as it is impossible not to think of the perfect Simpsons parody whilst watching it.

It is hard to imagine any horror film of the past decade that is open to such parody, as they haven’t created a scene worthy of mockery. Take the evolution of monsters for example; in the thirties we had the classic Universal monstrosities of Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man etc., which are now being reimagined into steroid-fuelled action fares (see 2017’s The Mummy starring Tom Cruise, on second thought, don’t). Movie monsters soon developed further, creating unforgettable slashers like Freddie Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers whose lineage stories are so messed up and screwed around with in endless remakes and useless sequels that they more resemble superheroes rather than murderous psychopaths.

Which eventually leads us today, where the cinemagoers are supposed to be hiding behind their popcorn from entities like the Bye Bye Man (which is possibly the worst name for a monster ever to be kicked around a writer’s room) and the upcoming adaptation of Creepypasta’s golden child Slender Man (AKA, suit wearing Mr. Tickle). If this were the evolution of horror has taken us so far, then I dread to think of what the next stage will look like.

Part of the problem with modern Hollywood when it comes to making movies, is that they seem to believe that the key to making money is in remakes and sequels. I shall begin my next rant by stating that in the history of filmmaking, there have only been two remakes of horror movies that are worth anybody’s time, the first being John Carpenter’s The Thing, which is a loose adaptation of the 1951 black and white sci-fi horror flick ‘The Thing from Another World. The other being Michael Haneke’s shot for shot remake of his 1997 film ‘Funny Games’, and whilst the 2007 remake is more accessible of English speaking audiences, the original still haunts me to this very day.

Those two instances aside, we are still bombarded with one remake after the other, the only effect of them being a greater appreciation of the original, and the utter detriment of the ‘artists’ who believe they can improve perfection. Masterpieces like Psycho, The Whicker Man, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Carrie have all fell victim the dreaded reboot. Perfect films forever tainted by the association of a soulless rip off.

Then we have the sequel. Every now and then a fresh new idea comes along and your faith is somewhat restored that new talent can breathe life into the tired genre. But once the film makes any kind of money, Hollywood has found yet another cash cow to milk dry.

Although I wasn’t the biggest fan of the original Saw film, millions flocked to the cinema’s to see it because there was the idea of something new for a change. The same goes for Paranormal Activity, The Purge and the vomit inducing Human Centipede.

Now whenever you see a poster that reads coming soon with the some amputated body part and a double digit number after the word Saw, you can’t help but groan at how lazy the business has become. However, there is only one thing more obnoxious then the sequel, and that is the prequel. Particular examples of this are the recent films to come from the Alien canon, and whilst it’s seemingly popular to hate those movies and I myself can’t say that I’m impressed by them, I am willing to give them a pass as they are still the vision of the mind that created the original classic, Ridley Scott.

Others are not as lucky to escape my ire. There are many examples of this, including the 2011 origin story of the aforementioned, The Thing. Rather than examine the basis of the 1982 masterwork in masculinity, paranoia and the will to survive against an undefeatable foe, it instead relied on cheap jump scares and nauseous gore that you can get in a bog standard Eli Roth affair. Not to cast any dispersion to talents of Matthijs van Heijningen Jr., but all I could do whilst watching this movie was think back to the original and bask in the bloody genius of John Carpenter.

After reading this far, you may have the impression that I’m a bitter curmudgeon ranting about how much better the old days were, Well to prove to you all that I am ever the optimist, I will now talk about the films from the past couple of fears that give me hope for this doomed genre.

Out of all the horror films of the past decade, few have had a greater impact on the social aspect of movie making than Jordan Peele’s directorial debut, Get Out. I’m sure that most of you have heard of this film already but if you haven’t had the chance to see it, do yourself a favour and watch it. I am convinced that out of every horror movie that has been made since the millennium, Get Out will have the longest after life. Get Out doesn’t concern itself with pointless jump scares and cartoonish blood loss, it instead holds up a mirror to the modern attitude of racism, particularly the backslapping ignorance exhibited in middle class liberals who think they are part of the solution, yet they have no idea of the damage they are causing.

Jordan Peele, who made his reputation as part of the much-loved comic duo, Key and Peele, wears his influences very much on his sleeve. A film I was instantly reminded of after watching Get Out was Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby, the story is very similar with the protagonist trapped within a menacing social circle, whose plan was to use the central character as a pawn to carry out their unholy agenda, but unlike Rosemary’s Baby, where the antagonists was a group elderly Satanists, Get Out’s real life relevance makes it even more unsettling than it’s legendary predecessor.

Two other movies from the decade that I feel deserve praise are David Robert Mitchell’s ‘It Follows’ and Jennifer Kent’s ‘The Babadook’. Both are very different in terms of themes, but never the less important in leading the charge in a new wave of exciting Horror.

It Follows, deals with the youth’s conceptions of a sexual revolution and the ever present risk of sexually transmitted infections, whilst The Babadook handles the age old themes that has inspired writers since the dawn of time, death and grieving, yet also creating hands down the best movie monster of the 21st century. Hopefully, the next wave of screenwriters and directors can learn a lesson form these three modern masterpieces, but until then, we wait in bated breath to see what Peele, Mitchell and Kent do next.

So to sum up, with the movie business’ current attitude of remakes, sequels and prequels not showing any signs of leaving any time soon, we are still forced to witness the defamation of a once great genre, all the while completely aware of it’s slow, agonizing death. However, with movies like Get Out, It Follows and The Babadook, there is always hope of reanimation. 


Jena ButlerComment