Aside from a few holdouts, Fantastic Four was panned universally by critics and audiences alike. Regardless of one's position on the film, it is abundantly clear that the movie had two different visions. 21st Century Fox, the studio responsible, had a more standard hero film in mind. However, the (relatively) small time indie film director they hired, Josh Trank, aimed to take a horror twist on it.
Whether you blame Trank, Fox, both, or neither, the failed film does raise the question-is superhero horror really feasible? After all, comics are a medium currently characterized by bright colors or heroes so powerful that it seems impossible for them to truly be terrified-and as a result, so powerful that it's hard to be terrified for them. With that in mind, can a superhorror film even work?
Trank's attempt likely leaves many doubting. Even focusing on his "half" of the film, the half that was supposedly more to his vision, it was lackluster and awkward. The forced horror cliches combined with science humor and superheroing cliches (along with numerous other issues) did a number on the audience's ability to suspend disbelief, a key aspect of any story. Suspension of disbelief is even more important in horror, a genre that relies on its ability to grip people and make them experience the characters' terror.
The part that really killed it, though, was the combination of superhero and horror cliches. The steadily increasing tempo of a violin leads up to Reed sitting up in the back seat of a car, which isn't even remotely startling, is a weak attempt at the false jump scares common to horror. Later, Doom's over the top violence loses its impact due to poor acting, special effects, and the fact that he just doesn't use his powers to instantly kill each of the Four. Why does he let them live? Because it's a superhero movie, and the heroes always win. Johnny, Ben, and even the scientifically minded Reed and Doom are full of witty lines and comebacks, because every hero film needs witty lines and comebacks. It's this odd combination of cliches that really dooms the movie, because instead of making a good superhero movie with horror aspects, or a good horror movie about superheroes, Trank and Fox tried to make a movie that was fully horror and fully superhero. Instead, they got an incomplete mess of the most common aspects of both.
So yes, the first real attempt at Superhorror was an utter failure. What, if anything, could make it work?
First off, the right hero must be chosen. Doctor Strange, Zatanna, or Doctor Fate are all primary choices, because their connections to magic, demons, and the supernatural offer many choices for forays into more traditional horror films. Other heroes could work as well, mainly street-level heroes like Daredevil or Batman who regularly deal with psychotic serial killers.
As I mentioned before, though, the most important aspect is avoiding cliches. A good director could tell a proper superhero story through a horror aspect, provided they stay true to the character and don't try to be too many things at once. Directors with horror-infusion experience, like J.J. Abrams, would be perfect. It's extremely important that the studio and director are on the same page from the get go, too.
Hopefully, with the right directors and proper communication, a truly great superhorror film will grace our screens soon. It's been reported that Doctor Strange might take this approach. Will Marvel be first to succeed, or will the Sorcerer Supreme be dragged to the realm of Mephisto?