I recently read another article on this site asking a similar question that I want to improve on and hopefully answer: what is it about those movies that stayed in our minds for decades to come? What is it about modern horror movies that just doesn't leave that scary impact in our minds anymore? While I think these were decent questions and the author, Pedro Asdrubal Diaz, asks and answers them quite well, it got me thinking about the horror movies today.
With the latest stream of horror movies (like The Woman in Black 2, Annabelle, Ouija, etc.) I noticed one major flaw that remains constant between all of them. It isn't Hollywood's insatiable appetite for profit - to make a cheap movie with a few jump scares here and there, only to reap a large cash-grab over the weekend. It's the wrong type of character development. Wrong "type" you may ask?
The typical horror plot goes like this: A character(s) nobody cares about gets involved with something demonic and a barrage of jump scares and death ensues. By the end of the movie, we know more about the "scary subject" than we do any of the characters we traveled with on this one-and-a-half-hour-journey. We gain so much knowledge on the history of the ghost, or the haunted house, or the doll, or the blade-wielding serial killer. While I watch, I get to know the "big bad" whom I am supposed to fear will come and get me in the night as I drive home on a lonely road or lie in my bed staring at the closed closet door. I sympathize with them - and suddenly they aren't so scary.
Instead, the viewer should empathize with the protagonist, the character(s) we meet in the beginning who are forced into a fight for survival through no fault (well, maybe some fault) of their own. We don't see them as tortured souls with something to lose. We don't see their motivation. We don't see them change. Ultimately, we don't care about them, and when/if they die. we think, "eh... one less person to keep track of." This is where the fault in horror movies today lie. It isn't that we leave the theater fearing the monster, but we watch fearing for the characters.
We empathized with the little girl in The Exorcist who writhed in pain as the demon tore her from the inside out, and we cheered for the priest who sacrificed himself to save her. We sympathized with the pot-smoking parents of Carol-Anne, who was held captive on "the other side" in The Poltergeist. We cheered for Ellen Ripley when she sent the Xenomorph into the vacuum of space after becoming the last surviving member of the Nostromo in Alien.
Yes! Blood, guts, gore (grits and gravy) are all necessities in a good horror movie, but no movie is complete without the characters - real characters, ones with emotion and depth and the motivation that causes us to fear what the "scary subject" or "big bad" will do them should they falter.
What do you think is lacking in good horror movies today? What do you think makes a good horror movie?