The horror genre can be an immersive, gripping assortment of some truly terrifying films, though it's often looked down upon by both elitist film buffs and average viewers alike. Laughable images of Jason X or Paranormal Activity 4 will spring to mind, and the whole business seems to feel like a cash grab aimed at teenagers fooling around in the back row of the theater.
Hopefully you're thinking of exceptions to this stigma, films that have captivated you and challenged the notion of what a horror film looks like. Maybe you've seen It Follows, The Babadook, or another film in recent years that was fortunate enough to have a wide release but was also inspiring in its composition. These films give us hope for the genre, a genre that we adore and cherish and a genre that is in desperate need of change. Horror films accomplish a feat that no other type of movie has managed: They elicit nightmarish fantasies in our minds and electrify our most primal instincts. Watching a scary movie is among the most interactive of viewing experiences. They don't just speak to our fears, but they speak to our hearts and minds. When executed with passion and wit, a good #horror film is a fine work of art, and we deserve more of these types of movies.
Thankfully, the genre is not a lost cause, and we are actually on an upswing in terms of quality and innovation. I can say with confidence that there is no better time to be a horror fan than the present, despite how the genre may appear at first glance. If you're itching for some great horror films, and you want to see a change so that these movies reach you more easily in the future, here's what you can do.
While a trip to your local movie theater may reveal little to no horror films playing on a given day (and those that are playing were likely poorly received), it's important to remember that most horror films don't receive a wide release. They debut at festivals and often go straight to streaming services or other methods of distribution online. While it can be tedious to do so, it's up to you as the viewer to seek out concepts the excite you.
With a Netflix account, this becomes a lot easier. Streaming services have offered indie filmmakers reasonable deals for their products after seeing them in festivals, and they've become a lot easier to find when browsing through your feed on a stormy night. This is how a lot of people discovered Hush, a delightful home invasion thriller from director Mike Flanagan that found its way onto #Netflix in April.
Seeking out films online may lead you to a drop off in production quality from what you'd find in a theater, but this can be an important adjustment for finding innovative ideas. Due to budgetary constraints, young filmmakers are often forced to find creative solutions and end up making wildly fascinating, even more realistic and terrifying pieces of cinema as a result. I challenge you to embrace the eccentric, the under-budget, and the absurd. Customize your tastes and explore all of the niches that you wouldn't otherwise find from wide releases. Make your way to your favorite search engine and start exploring. The possibilities are endless.
If you're a devoted horror fan, it's tempting to make your way to the theater and catch every precious release you can find. While there's nothing wrong with taking in a wide variety of films, mainstream releases tend to yield remakes, sequels, and rehashed concepts time and time again. While some of these films can bring unique ideas to the table and move the genre forward, they typically do the very opposite. Studios will fund familiar properties (or similar concepts) far more easily than a risky, innovative idea. If we want to see change in what kinds of films get distributed, it's up to us as consumers to vote with our wallets.
By the same token, make sure to support original ideas. Creating an audience for more absurd, innovative movies is an important step in seeing these films become more accessible. You can actually see this happening right now with movies like Nicolas Winding Refn's The Neon Demon, which has turned a lot of its audience on to a more offbeat definition of what a horror film even looks like. Also, be sure you're spending just as much money on original ideas as you are on sequels and remakes (Please don't just torrent them). If we demonstrate our interest in original filmmaking, we'll be rewarded with more big screen releases that excite our curiosity.
While 2016 had its faults in terms of overall cinematic quality, it's actually a year to be proud of in terms of original concepts in horror. Not every film was a success, but there hasn't been a year so diverse and interesting in terms of style and subject matter in a long time. I truly believe this is the result of a widespread rejection of trite concepts and franchises. We just have to keep fighting the good fight and continue celebrating new ideas.
Learn To Specialize
We deserve great horror films, but great is such a relative concept. With a genre so dynamic, so engaging, with so many facets of storytelling involved, it's important that we understand what makes a piece of horror electrifying to us as an individual. When you watch a film you like, make sure you point out concrete reasons you enjoyed it. Are you drawn to the director's style? Perhaps they have a larger body work to explore. Maybe the type of story itself is fascinating to you. It's likely that there's a similar concept floating around somewhere else.
Once you've learned to dig deeper and reject the mainstream releases, you open yourself to a wide array of subgenres. Find your favorites and really dive in; horror is a loose label slapped onto a sea of films. Does the supernatural interest you? What about psychological horror, the terror of humans being humans? (If so, the above film Landmine Goes Click might interest you. Trust me, though, it's a hard one to watch.) Maybe you're interested in a niche concept. I've always been drawn to focused films that take place in one setting along the lines of the #Saw franchise. With this in mind, it's become a lot easier to find more offbeat, exciting films that fall along my niche.
While critics have their place for a reason, horror films are often poorly received in far higher numbers than other genres. Yes, this is largely due to the repetition of ideas throughout all horror films. However, a large part of this bias is also the specialization of these subgenres. I've always found that with a great concept — one in which I'm truly invested just from reading a synopsis — I'll at least moderately enjoy the film. Don't be afraid to wade through some poorly received films — those are the best places to find your niche.
It can be discouraging for newer members of the horror fandom upon seeing their big screen options, but with these lessons in mind, it actually becomes easy to find great works of horror that have flown under the radar. It's one of the most active genres in the indie scene, and it's up to us as consumers to support these brave filmmakers and show our support for new ideas. While the industry at large can systematically suppress the types of movies we want to see, they still exist. They're out there lurking, waiting to creep up and terrify us to our heart's content. Be bold, be brave, and be sure to share any great titles that might have flown under the radar.
What other advice would you offer to horror fans searching for the next great horror film?