From Le Manoir Du Diable, to Nosferatu, to the Conjuring, horror films have changed a great deal. Many would say the 1980’s horror classics (The Shining, Childs Play, and Friday the 13th) while most of them slasher films, are considered the peak of the genre. Personally, my favorites include Evil Dead, The Thing, and A Nightmare on Elm Street (original releases of course). Now I’m not saying ALL modern horror films are inferior, however, both filmmakers and movie audiences have forgotten what makes a horror film scary.
The “casual moviegoers” LOVE jump scares. Let me tell you, being startled is not the same thing as being truly scared. That feeling of genuine fear is lost in many of today’s films. Let’s take A Nightmare on Elm Street for example; when I first watched Freddy kill people in their dreams, I was terrified of seeing Krueger in my sleep. I couldn’t watch the series again until I was 16. Films like Childs Play, and It had the same effect. Because of them, clowns or dolls are not a welcome sight to many. I think that is true horror; when something is so terrifying you can’t shake it off. A horror movie also doesn’t need to have FRIGHTENING or SHOCKING elements to scare the shit out of you. It can be a slow paced thriller, building up suspense and anxiety that keep you on the edge of your seat, much like Jaws, The Strangers, and The Gift. It’s a different approach to fear, but invokes the same emotion in us nonetheless. Today, many films in the thriller genre are better horror movies than actual horror movies. People like the feeling of being scared more than the buildup, which leads feels the more jump scares and less building suspense, and overall the story of the film. I’m not saying all jump scare movies are unwelcome. The Conjuring, Sinister and Insidious are all perfect examples of great jump scare films. All of them build the tension, with a great score and proper world development, which leads each of them to “earn” their scares. They may have one or two jump scares in it that are generic and bland, but overall as big budget horror films they deliver.
A “proper” horror ending has also become lost in many of today’s films. By wrapping everything up in a nice little happy ending, the movie loses its lasting impression. You can shut off the movie and go to sleep without a problem, forgetting what you saw while you say “Oh that was a good movie.” This should not be the outcome of a true horror film. A horror ending should stay in your head for days on end, making you cautious of your surroundings and creating a general sense of unease. A couple of films I can think of off the top of my head are The Witch, The Babadook, and It Follows; each closes with an open ending or leave a lasting, terrifying impression. These type of film endings linger in your mind for a while, making you reflect on what the characters could have done differently or what’s going to happen after the credits roll. Sometimes in the genre, evil needs to win, and it needs to win brutally. Think about the comedy/horror film Drag Me to Hell, directed by Sam Raimi. (SPOILERS) At the end the main character tried her hardest to get rid of the curse but failed and you see her literally get dragged into hell which was just as shocking as it was terrifying. An ending can sometimes make or break a true horror film.
I also noticed classic horror films are targets right now for reboots/remakes. On paper this seems like a great idea, with the amount of CGI we now have, allowing the films to have no limitations. However putting a great deal of CGI in a movie doesn’t automatically make the movie great or even a little better than the original. If a film didn’t do very well in the past because of the poor CGI or practical effects, then sure, remake it. But there is no need to remake classics films because “the CGI will give it a new vision” or some crap like that. Horror sequels were put into overdrive back in the day. Friday the 13th has 11 sequels and a remake as of 2009, with Halloween being a close second with 10. Let’s take Aliens for example, which ended up being just as good, or what many might agree with, even better than the first one. Sadly Aliens 3 and Aliens vs Predator came out, with the quality of the films coming down a bit (to be fair AvP movies are pretty entertaining). Then Prometheus released, and it could have been a lot worse, but it was an alright prequel compared to the last three movies. Modern horror films have a similar problem, though their sequels have died down a bit. Still, whenever modern horror films do make a sequel, it’s significantly worse, being an OBVIOUS cash grab that contains no creativity. At least old school horror sequels were entertaining and fun. There are exceptions to modern horror films sequels that turned out actually being good, including The Conjuring 2, The Curse of Chucky, and Ash vs the Evil Dead (TV show but it’s still sequel since Bruce Campbell being Ash again).The reasons why these movies are good sequels are pretty simple; while they follow the same path as the previous movies, they expand on the overall theme. The filmmakers take what was good about the previous films and make a better version of it. The Conjuring 2 did a great job at adding new and fresh things like the crooked man and the nun while keeping the creepy supernatural vibe that worked so well in the first movie. This should be the standard for other sequels; make them remember why they loved the pervious movie while bringing new and fresh blood in the mix so it’s captivating and provides a cathartic experience.
Overall, I think it’s unfair to say modern horror films are shit compare to the old classics. Big budget movie studios love feeding the “casual moviegoer” a generic piece of trash (Annabelle) that will sadly still make a lot of money. There is some hope though. There are many fantastic indie horror films being made every year, but due to limited release, won’t ever get the audience they deserve. The truth is, these jump scare movies aren’t going anywhere, but occasionally you can find great modern day horror films that bring back the old school scares and make you feel like your 12 again. You just need to know where to look.
Written by Michael J Montalvo
Edited by Xavier Latorre