I have a dream. A dream where horror terrifies again. A dream where this tired genre stops making me jump, and starts scaring me. A dream where the film industry stops pumping out endless remakes of old horror classics.
I have a dream today.
Horror has harboured some absolute classics of cinema. Whether you consider Kubrick’s masterful and exceptional piece the Shining, or Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi horror Alien, or even Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs, with that world beating performance from Anthony Hopkins; these movies were not only forms of entertainment, but means to terrify, shock and excite. They are true classics of the now tired genre; masterpieces that stand the test of time over decades more then some horror films today do for a few mere minutes. Particularly in Kubrick’s the Shining, the direction is used in such a way to install genuine terror, and whenever I watch it I feel goosebumps on the back of my neck and down my arms, and I can hardly breathe. Without cheap jump-scares (playing a loud noise to briefly frighten the audience), the vision of Kubrick and the acting of Jack Nicholson have immersed me in a haunting world which terrifies me in a way which not many films can. Then take Ridley Scott’s classic horror film Alien: with his haunting cinematography and perfect sound design, such an experience has seldom been matched since, and the scares are even more terrifying for it. In an odd way, even though I wasn’t alive when these were released, I miss these sort of films. They were made in such a style that suggested the makers took a sort of pride in their work, a degree of care.
No such luck today. Although the film industry is producing non stop waffle in every area, including romantic comedies, thrillers and even Superhero movies, the horror genre seems to have it particularly bad. Originality is forgotten, a sense of class and decency is gone from the film-makers’ approach and even self parodying mocks of the genre such as the Scream franchise have dropped dead. ‘Promising’ and ‘exciting’ directors such as James Wan (who I can understand but disapprove of) and Eli Roth (who is just a downright clown) are attempting to take on the genre in their droves, with nasty and pretty tasteless films such as the Saw series and Eli Roth’s Hostel films, the latter of which can be defined as torture porn. They are not well made, they have no sense of decency or flair in execution, they are just nasty and stupid films that are a little look into the director’s twisted vision. Unfortunately there is a market for this sort of thing, but I fear that the lines between conventional horror and torture porn are getting blurred. Some are even denying Roth’s work (and I will again say what a disgustingly perverse and stupid film-maker he is) is torture porn, when the plot of Hostel is a group of teenagers get tied up and tortured excessively in dark rooms for about 2 hours. It is vile, shoddy and inexplicably dumb cinema, and is a dark road for horror to be lead down.
A few horror films over the past decade have caught the eye, for attempting to be different, and some show signs of reinventing horror down a much more interesting and original path. One interesting example is the original Paranormal Activity, and although it spawned an immediately uninteresting franchise, the first in the series used a very clever technique in building up the paranormal presence to create a sense of dread and unease. A rare occasion where I wasn’t annoyed by jump-scares, Paranormal Activity was a very well made horror film that was then tarnished by its successors. The previously mentioned James Wan had a decent stab with the hit horror Insidious, which was a creepy and effective, if somewhat convoluted haunted house/possession movie, which is scheduled for a sequel. This was another highlight of the last decade; while not overly brilliant or original, it at least had attempts to create a good atmosphere and a sense of dread, which is a vital step that some directors just move around. The best of the last ten years though, is ironically the critically acclaimed and semi-genius film the Cabin in the Woods. To the average viewer, it is a pretty average and conventional horror movie. What it is to the keen observer is a comedy-of-sorts, poking fun at the horror genre by providing the most clichéd and stereotypical horror film in years, as a message to the industry. It is almost a mock of the very genre it pretends to be, a brilliant and satirical view of the tired genre.
Say what you must in defence of Eli Roth and James Wan, and the many repetitive and tiring horror films that litter the shelves: the fact the best horror film of the last ten years is mocking the genre, says an awful lot about the condition it is in. A vicious cycle, a wave of repeatedly nasty and silly horror films are constantly hitting our screens. This prospect is more scary then the films themselves.