Growing up at the turn of the millennium, during Generation Y, truly served a definitive purpose in my life. It provided me with the knowledge of a world beyond the Internet, but also, at the start of the century, it allowed me to harness its potential. I was able to expand the borders of a reality I once thought to be limited. Still, aside from monumental technological advances, incredible progress made in the medical field, and the much needed transition between 90s fashion and the style of today, what I am most nostalgic and fond of is growing up in the age of brick and mortar video rental stores.
Yes, it is true, once upon a time in a world before Netflix, if an individual wanted to watch the newest releases they had to inconvenience themselves by driving to an actual physical location to retrieve such films... On VHS no less! Now, I may sound like I am contradicting myself when I mention inconvenience, but that task really was the beauty behind the madness. Whereas today, streaming video services provide a gratuitously quick and almost effortless ability to watch whatever, whenever, the act of watching a movie at home has been rendered completely mundane; meaningless even. Sadly, this only reinforces the idea that in today's fast paced atmosphere, a quick fix trumps anything with true artistic or moral integrity.
Back in the day, taking a family trip to the neighborhood Blockbuster was treated like an event, and it was. Really. Once a week my family and I made our destined pilgrimage to the land of endless possibility, where the anticipation and the hype was absolutely half the reason for going in the first place. There were isles filled with thousands of empty movie cases waiting to be picked up off the shelves and synopses eagerly waiting to be scanned for potential viewing pleasure. Every week was hit or miss, with only our intellectual aesthetic to discern good from bad and downright ugly, but it was in such a place where I first discovered my love for horror movies.
Unfortunately, in the 15 years since Y2K, horror movies, much like Blockbuster video stores, have diminished in popularity. According to an article published in Forbes last year, the originality and conception of the horror genre has been ultimately bled dry and marketed to the mainstream media, creating an influx of films pandering to the bloodless mass catastrophe obsessed, generic run-of-the-mill teenagers that feed their parents' hard earned money to sleazy, unimaginative Hollywood executives in exchange for a forgettable PG-13 movie ticket in order to be alone in the dark for an hour and thirty minutes doing whatever teenagers do in movie theaters in 2015.
With remakes and reboots on the horizon, it is abundantly obvious that in this day and age, money is the sole purpose for creating movies, especially when it comes to horror. What was once a genre carefully committed to the bloodhounds and horror aficionados, the considerate craft of Alfred Hitchcock to the legendary legacy of the late Wes Craven have been tarnished, forgotten in favor of forcibly contrived exposition, slim to none character development, and absurdly cheap jump scares. This decline in passion and creativity in the horror genre harkens me back to my childhood and the hours spent pacing my way down the horror isle at Blockbuster. I can still vividly remember picking up such classics like "The Exorcist" or "Rosemary's Baby," the original "Halloween" even, and fully enjoying delving into the mysterious and macabre, into these fascinating and voraciously complex worlds that although two decades old at this point, with aged special effects, still maintained their soul and purpose. The difference between now and then is that horror had a heart, it had meaning, the scares were not superficial; they embodied real fear, they served as filmographic allegories representing the chaos and uncertainty of real life events, for in that hour and change an individual could replace their problems and worries with shock and scares that had a tangible end, serving as entertainment and fulfilling a desire to conquer the darkness of the unknown.
Truth be told, scary movies just are not scary anymore. But that is what makes it so compelling as a horror movie fanatic to fantasize and obsess over the perfect horror movie, much like the titillation and adrenaline that I felt as a kid when picking the perfect movie at Blockbuster. Without seeing a trailer beforehand and simply having a glossy VHS cover with a stylized font, I had to take an accrued version of events in the back cover synopsis and foretell if a movie would be worth renting. Otherwise I was going to be stuck with a regrettable decision that would make me the laughingstock of my family. That would leave me with an undisputed, terrible taste in movie choices, much like the awful reputation that has haunted M. Night Shyamalan in the latter portion of his film career.
In 1999, M. Night Shyamalan directed the genre defining, timeless tale of a boy who could see dead people. This film was titled "The Sixth Sense" and it spawned countless copies, homages, and parodies that catapulted its creator into scrutinized stardom, but it also launched the horror genre into the next millennium. And that is an undeniably incredible task to accomplish, for more than a decade later when a subpar horror movie comes out, the marketing strategy includes pasting on the DVD cover a margenized review of some schmuck critic claiming it to be "The scariest movie since The Sixth Sense." The only movie to actually accomplish that goal was the behemoth that was 2002's "The Ring," the first of many, and the only actually worthy reimagining in a trend of Japanese horror remakes in the early 2000s. The fact remains that in almost two decades since the release of "The Sixth Sense" there has yet to be another cultural, and critically impacting horror movie that carves a crater into pop culture. Before that phenomena, "The Exorcist" came about 26 years prior in 1973, which has been dubbed "the scariest movie of all time." The fact remains that for every gem like "A Nightmare on Elm Street" there is an alarmingly large ratio of mediocre movies in the the style of 2014's "Ouija."
Despite this fact, I will forever be enthralled with the horror genre. It is a guilty pleasure and a love/hate relationship. I grew up browsing the Blockbuster catalog, ranging from the austere, thought inducing "The Shining," to the gritty, yet powerful "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" to the morbidly fun "Final Destination" franchise. With the recent slew of integral and fulfilling horror films such as "You're Next," and "It Follows," as well as "The Babadook," I am inclined to say that there is still hope for the horror genre. I certainly hope that these new generation of films establish new ground for their successors, much like what "Scream" did for tired scary movie tropes and clichés in the 90's by embracing and revitalizing them.
With a progression in technology, and the well of imagination running dry, the task is daunting, but I believe in the perseverance of the human spirit. We live in fear and it propels us to evolve and survive. It is a primal instinct, and so as long as we live, we will always fear death. And that truly is the premise for a good horror movie; not shying away from the true fear of what lies beyond and replacing it with gimmicky CGI, but producing a thought-evoking film that portrays a live action metaphor for something much grander than itself. So whether you prefer your horror served with a side of Asian ghost girls, deranged psychos, or unstoppable, undying serial killers, the core is constant and it taps into our subconscious. Until that time comes again, when a horror movie actually makes me feel afraid, I'll spend my time reminiscing about the trips to Blockbuster and watching every competent horror movie ever made, first sacrificing myself to the millions of terrible ones that come before it – but that's just me, I am sadistic that way. After all, what is the point of having pleasure without inflicting a little pain?