When I was younger and more wide-eyed, I loved to be afraid of the things that hid in the dark. I would have nightmares all the time, but they were the kind of nightmares where you can enjoy them for the adrenaline rush they gave. I would dream of monsters, ghosts, and mutants. When I would wake up, I would be relieved that it was over but then later I would feel like I wanted more. One day I was flipping thought the channels and I saw that Dracula was being played on TV. It wasn’t the Gary Oldman version or the Hammer Studios version but the original black and white Dracula made in 1931. I had heard about Dracula and had seen people parody it, but I never had seen the original source material until that day.
I was a changed kid after that.
I was frightened by the dark atmosphere, the menace that Dracula had, and the creepy laughter of Renfield. It was one my first true tastes that I would get in the horror genre and I absolutely loved it. After the movie, the announcer said it was having a marathon of the all the Universal Classic Monster movies. I had no idea what exactly the Universal Monsters were but while watching the clips of the movies that were coming next, I decided to stay in front of the TV and get scared. I saw almost all of them during that cool October evening and I had fun while watching. They took me to the place that my scary dreams would take me. I tried telling my friends at school about it but when I told them black and white, they completely lost interest. I was really in shock, I couldn’t
believe that one detail about a movie could turn them away from it. There was really nothing I could do about it, so I just moved on with it. I tried finding more movies on TV, but I never really saw them again.
Until my freshman year of high school.
During my middle school years I began to develop a fascination with films and filmmaking. I thought it was really interesting and I began on a quest to see every movie I could. Old or new, it didn’t really mattered. I just wanted to see more of an art form that I truly loved. That’s when I discovered the history of the Universal Monsters. I was new to how to use the Internet because my parents wanted me to start using it from 7th grade onward. By eighth grade I knew how to find stuff that I wanted to look for by either Googling it or going to Wikipedia. I was really curious one day and I found the list of the Universal movies. My nostalgia for the emotions I felt, where exhilarating. By using my dad’s iTunes account I purchased and watched each of those movies that I loved as a small child. It was glorious and it got me thinking more and more about horror movies in general. I had seen them in movie theaters and occasionally on TV but I never really gave them much thought. I never got truly scared by them, but after re-watching those movies I wanted to see the evolution the genre took from Frankenstein to House of Wax. For years I went decade by decade watching some of the best horror films ever made like The Exorcist and Poltergeist and when I reached the 2000s, I discovered what had happened to the genre.
From the 1930s to the late 1980s, horror movies were in many ways scary. They could be chilling or spooky, or bloody or jumpy, it didn’t matter because they were able to scare people watching in the theater. They were able to do this because there wasn’t an over saturation of the market yet. Sure there were a lot of horror sequels to Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and even the Universal Frankenstein series, but when a bad horror movie came out, it was one bad horror movie not the hundreds of bad movies that come out either through DVD or sometimes in theaters. The horror movie market is the cheapest genre to make and the easiest one to make money in. Since 2000 there has not been a good sequel to a horror movie. When there is so much crap in front of you, you start to see only crap. During the 1990s, the growing home video market allowed independent horror directors to make a movie and show it a wide audience even if it did suck. Horror movies started to die because there was more shit than good and now we can’t even distinguish from good or bad anymore. Every horror movie nowadays looks the same, regardless of what kind of sub genre it’s producing.
The worst part though, is that most horror movies do not know how to be horror movies. You can make the case that the classic horror movies are not even remotely scary. Your probably right on that part but the reason were not scared by those movies is because we have become desensitized by the sheer amount of bloodshed that we demand in modern day horror.
The classics worked because they created an atmosphere, they were slow to build tension, and the dark shadows and angles created a chilling mood. Even gory movies like The Exorcist, used slow pacing and atmosphere to truly scare people. That movie gets into your skin not because a little girl vomits green puke at someone, it’s because it builds the tension to such a degree that when the scares occur you never forget them. Modern day films show you the torture but not the buildup to the torture.
Films like Hostel are not scary because it feels like the filmmakers are trying to gross you out, not trying to scare you. Though sometimes when their is too much buildup and little payoff, it can still suck. The Paranormal Activity series is the perfect example since literally nothing happens in the movie but because there is a large bang, we jump out our seats. That’s not fear, that’s some asshole hiding in a corner and surprising you.
Paranormal Activity doesn’t give the audience fear, it just gives them a one second surprise in a ninety minute movie. The only American movies I can kind of think of that almost embraced what made horror movies awesome is the first Saw film and Insidious. Both are made by the same director, James Wan, who emphasizes on atmosphere to help tell his frightening story. When the jump scares occur they scare because he builds on the tension rising in the scene. James Wan is really an unheralded horror movie director hero. However he can’t stop that fact that American horror is dead.
Any horror film being made in today’s modern age is either a rip off of a previously successful horror movie or a remake, sometimes both. It blows my mind how much Hollywood loves the movie remake and horror movies got the absolute worst of it.
While there have been a few original horror movies to come out to theaters in the past few years, the majority are remakes. Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, House of Wax, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, 13 Ghosts, the list goes on and on.
It’s kind of sad that filmmakers have run out of ideas for movies.
What’s weird though is that a good chunk of foreign horror movies are pretty good. Japanese and Spanish filmmakers constantly make excellent films in this genre, but instead of releasing the original versions here in the States we get to watch the shitty American remakes of foreign films. There are exceptions to this, like the American Grudge which is an absolutely terrifying film, but they mostly just suck.
What does this mean though for Horror movies as a genre?
Well one thing is for certain, there will always be a market for horror movies, because people love getting scared. Whether or not the genre comes back from being really bad is a different question.
Though there is an answer.
We control what we see and what kind of media we consume. Instead watching terrible found footage movies like The Devil Inside or Paranormal Activity 5, stay home and watch scary ass movies like The Thing or The Exorcist. Our money controls what is made and what is not. Until we stop paying to watch stupid horror movies, then the genre will be continue to be dead and we won’t be able to raise it from the grave.
Here’s hoping that I can watch a truly terrifying horror film in the future. I want to relive the emotions of letting my imagination run wild with childhood fears.