As viewers, we like to be thrilled. Any film where you are capable of merging into the seat and becoming one with the furniture is a film that, frankly, is not worth watching. Relaxed? Yes, relaxed is acceptable. But I draw the line at catatonic.
Which brings me to the horror genre. I will freely admit that I used to despise this section of film. Why anyone would pay money to be terrified and have a Mexican standoff with their own bladder was beyond me. I blame Jeepers Creepers, and myself as a child, for deciding that with a name like that, it couldn't be that scary. I was wrong and it put me well and truly off seeing people being used as discount wallpaper.
I've matured and realised that the occasional thrill is, well, thrilling. But as I've matured, I can't help but feel that the horror genre hasn't. Stagnation has had its claws deep into this genre ever since the days of Hitchcock and that iconic shower scene. Yes, the horror keeps coming, but how much of it is recycled from the old?
The found footage trope has been consistently used and has seemed to come into a revival in recent years. From Paranormal Activity and its CCTV-esque recordings, to Sinister and the quaint use of movie reels, or even to the social networking horror of Unfriended, we seem to draw thrills from the sense of realism that comes with documentary style films. But this isn't new. Rewind back to 1999 where The Blair Witch Project made its debut, and even that was recycled from the innovation of Ruggero Deodato's Cannibal Holocaust in 1980.
Gore is never in short supply with horror and the gore fests are, perhaps, the types of horror films that will never lose interest. Does there need to be much of a plot to see someone being hacked up by a chainsaw-wielding maniac? Not really. Besides a premise, do we need a lengthy back story to explain why death decides to stalk the people who evade it in the Final Destination franchise? No, and quite frankly, thank God. Nobody goes into slasher films expecting to exit with a new perspective on life. No, we go to see amputations, disemboweling, and usually something retch-inducing involving eyes, tongues, or Achilles tendons.
I will always, always, argue that the best horror films are the ones without jump scares or blood splattering against the camera. Case in point, It Follows (dir. David Robert Mitchell) was one of the first horror films in an excruciating amount of time that genuinely gave me chills. Yes, there was some violence, but I would never say it was gratuitous. It was the menace and the pervading threat of a demon that never stops following you, but always moves at the same pace. What could possibly be more horrifying than that? It was one of the first films in said excruciating amount of time that had me suspecting every member of the public around me; not great for my social skills, but fantastic for the after-effect of horror.
Then of course we have the golden trio of supernatural creatures. Vampires, werewolves, zombies. Dracula, The Wolfman, Dawn of the Dead. Not necessarily the films that began the supernatural creature trend, but perhaps the most iconic. But, this trio all rotate around and around in relevance. In the 2000's, there was a vampire invasion from Blade to Underworld, to the remake of Fright Night. Now seems to be the age of the zombie, mostly promoted by the ABC series The Walking Dead. But my point is, how is this anything new? Haven't we seen vampires sucking on peoples' (usually moaning women's) necks hundreds of times in the past? Werewolves are, perhaps, the least recently updated trope, save for MTV's Teen Wolf which skimps on the hairy aspect and substitutes for waxed abs heaven. If I want to get all metaphorical about it, I'd find the zombie burst poetic; we've become the blundering undead with horror films, gawping at screens open-mouthed and becoming numb to any plotline or 'thrill' that follows.
It's not to say that horror is obsolete. Horror is horror and the next generation will view their first horror film with the same mixture of trepidation and delight that others have experienced. Which is perhaps how it has survived and endured by regenerating (Doctor Who style) to redirect its focus at a younger and more gullible audience.
The problem is, for those of us who have seen our fair share of horror, it becomes easy to recognise the blueprints. Creepy abandoned house, car breaks down, frequented by killer. Meet someone with a stalker-esque vibe, pale skin, seems to hate sunlight (not because it makes you sparkle, Edward) and boom, you've got yourself a vampire. Anything with young children in. In the case of horror films, children are the furthest thing from our future; find a childminding service with good insurance is my advice.
Ultimately, if we like to be thrilled as viewers, horror becomes something to look at through tinted glasses. We have to train ourselves to ignore the blatant déjà vu and just pretend like it's something we've never seen before. To practice, try watching The Empire Strikes Back and rewatching that moment as though for the first time.
Yeah. Not easy.
I wouldn't say horror is disillusioning. It is what it is: escapism. I just feel that I'm waiting for that gem of innovation, that film that isn't recycled from bits and pieces of what came before, that gives me chills and thrills and any other 'ills' you can think of to make me convinced that I've just watched an outstanding horror. Until then, I'll make do with the eco-friendly versions.