Horror is a genre that’s seen its fair share of changes over the years. We’ve been telling scary stories since the very beginning of written history, with cinema taking the reins in just the last 100 or so years. A lot has changed since our first tries at horror movies, with silent films like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari numbering among some of our earliest efforts. This was followed by an era that saw classics like Rosemary’s Baby and Suspiria, followed by the beginning of the slasher era with Halloween and Friday the 13th. All this brings us to today, in a time where our horror is rapidly becoming more and more mediocre.
The scare tactics and devices filmmakers used in the past to terrify and amaze us have had to evolve with the times, and in many ways Hollywood has failed at this miserably. Nowadays, we’ll get one, maybe two halfway decent movies per year in the genre, a paltry number when you consider the relative deluge that poured forth in the past.
1. We stopped confronting our own fears
The best horror films are the ones that tackle the fears of the generation they were created for. Many British movies take place in the city, as the primary location for many of the darkest years of the nation’s history during the Industrial Revolution. In the ’70s and ’80s, slasher flicks were set in the suburbs, as the death of the nuclear family began to take hold. Nowadays, our scary movies aren’t a reflection of our society’s own fears, they’re merely stories. Even stronger movies like The Conjuring are simply your run-of-the-mill ghost and demon tales, frightening audiences with tactics that have been around since the inception of the genre. The technology-centric Unfriended may have been the first to actually break this trend, but in the meantime we’re stuck with the same old stories.
2. Horror films got stuck on old gimmicks
Back when The Blair Witch Project released in 1999, the idea of a found footage movie was revolutionary. What could be scarier than seeing video-camera reels that looked like the genuine article. Combine that with the low budget needed to shoot these movies that led to huge box office takes, and soon every studio wanted in on the action. Multiple Paranormal Activity movies and a Cloverfield later, and the format was effectively beat to death. Hollywood’s tendency to go to the well until it runs dry struck again, destroying what used to be a perfectly effective mode of filmmaking.
3. The rise of torture porn
The mid ’00s saw the rise of a brand new genre of horror: torture porn. With James Wan’s Saw (2004) and Eli Roth’s Hostel (2005), Hollywood had its newest and easiest method for terrifying audiences. Put a character in a situation, do horrifically graphic things to their body using chainsaws, bone-saws, and elaborate traps, and you can shock and disgust just about anyone. The scares became easy to produce, needing only a budget for the buckets of fake blood these graphic new movies required. In the process, a whole generation of filmmakers missed on learning the finer points of horror that would teach them to work for their scares rather than simply cutting off someone’s leg and calling it a day.
4. Sequels became more important than good ideas
The issue of the sequel began far before our current generation, with franchises like Friday the 13th and Halloween continuing on well past their expiration date. But now more than ever Hollywood is fixated on the idea of rebooting, remaking, and repackaging. The Conjuring became one of the most profitable horror films this decade, leading to a lesser spin-off focusing on a demon-possessed doll in Annabelle. After the success of Saw, Lions Gate rolled with six more movies in the franchise. Already we’re seeing fewer and fewer horror movies based around original stories, running along with an marked increase in inferior sequels that recycle the same old scares from their predecessors rather than pushing the genre forward.
5. The Twilight Effect
Monsters have long been a source for some of our most terrifying movies. In the early days of horror cinema, vampires, werewolves, and zombies were creatures to be feared. Fast-forward to today and these monsters of old have been dressed up, sexualized, and made into objects of affection. It began with Twilight‘s complete destruction of the vampire and werewolf mythos, which in turn led to imitators like The Vampire Diaries, True Blood, iZombie, and more. Whereas before these creatures were devices for producing scares, nowadays it’s hard to convince a teenager who grew up on Edward and Bella that monsters are supposed to terrify, not soothe.
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