These days, it's hard to come across an original horror movie and that's mostly because the genre demands risk-taking and a lot of creativity. It's an old argument by now that movie studios have lost their creative energy and are churning out cash-grabs through lazy storytelling. Only a handful of horror films in the past five years stand out to me, many of them being indie or foreign projects. So how can we find a middle-ground between Hollywood making money and audiences getting what they deserve?
Six Things We Should See Less Of
1. Forced Jump-Scares
Sitting in a dark theater, I watched the trailer for Lights Out. Well, more like trudged through because that trailer was chock-full of tired jump-scares. It's a problem when A) a few audience members laughed at the end of the trailer and B) there are already several YouTube videos that parodies the concept idea. While the movie hasn't been released yet as I write this, so I can't judge it fairly, it does show that if your trailer relies on creepy, long-haired Sméagol-creatures jumping at you, then maybe you should go back a decade or two when that was actually scary and innovative. But right now, it's just a snooze-fest.
2. Ghosts, Zombies, Home Invaders (and Clowns)
Okay, in all fairness, we haven't seen a whole lot of scary zombie films since...World War Z...?. Today, they're more a hybrid of action-horror films then pure horror. Nevertheless, I'm tired of seeing ghosts fucking with people, "infected" running around and biting people, and masked killers crashing through windows. If Hollywood is going to continue with these horror villains, then I pray they do something new with them because I don't think I can handle another exorcism. I'm also starting to feel a little sorry for clowns for the way horror movies are portraying them. Yes, Pennywise scared us in the past, but stop trying to tell us we should still be terrified of clowns by constantly reinventing the stereotype.
One of the most impressive things I find in horror movies today is their use of practical effects (which I'll get into more in the second half of this article). But what doesn't impress me is when something that's supposed to creep me out ends up looking too digitized. One of the greatest things about the horror genre is that the audience is supposed to be terrified of whatever is plaguing the main characters. No matter what it is, it should look real and tangible. The horror factor goes away when it's obvious the monster was made by a computer.
4. Remakes and Sequels
Watching The Conjuring for the first time absolutely scared me and left an impression as I walked out the theater. Watching Annabelle left me with feelings of apathy towards the previous film's scary doll. When the trailer for The Conjuring 2 was released, I had a pretty low expectation towards it. It's not that I'm against sequels to good films, as long as they match or exceed their predecessor, but don't blatantly force them, especially if the end product does nothing for the franchise. Fortunately, The Conjuring 2 has been garnering positive reactions, unlike many other horror remakes and sequels (I'm looking at you A Nightmare on Elm Street).
5. Lazy and Stupid Characters
This trope can be forgivable if it's a horror-comedy or a nod to slasher flicks. It's not forgivable if it's an honest approach to pure horror. There's a difference between characters being understandably human in their decisions and characters being completely dumb or ignorant. One of the things I hated about The Forest was the protagonist's approach to Japanese culture and customs. How about you not criticize the natives and act like some stupid American tourist and actually listen to their warnings instead?
6. Ruining Tropes and Genre Conventions
I admit, even though I enjoyed The Cabin in the Woods, it kind of ruined certain horror movie conventions, especially when Evil Dead was released a year after. While I do enjoy the occasional satire poking fun at the horror genre, like Scream, it's a whole other thing when multiple horror films use typical conventions and tropes. If there's an overabundance of them, the genre itself could turn into unintentional self-parodies.
A lot of these are avoidable things that Hollywood can easily work around. Unfortunately, we probably won't see the end of creepy ghosts and masked assailants any time soon.
Six Things We Should See More Of
1. New Monsters/Villains
The biggest reason I enjoyed It Follows and The Babadook is because they both introduced familiar, yet new horror creatures. And you know what? Both films showed their respective monsters in affordable ways and they still ended up being very scary. I would love bigger productions to just be creative and think up new boogeymen for audiences to lose sleep over. Hell, I'll even take a new slasher!
2. Practical Effects
As I mentioned above, I'm not a huge fan of CGI, especially when it's blatant. When it comes to practical effects, however, I absolutely find them effective in terms of both terror and entertainment. The Evil Dead remake did a fantastic job in balancing out CGI and practical effects, making the film one of the scariest I've seen recently. Another horror film that I found very enjoyable was Krampus and that's mostly because of the practical effects. The fact that the evil toys were animatronics upped the horror and fun factor. When you get a chance, check out the behind-the-scenes making-of each toy.
3. Balance Gore and Terror
I still remember the relief that swept over me when they announced the final Saw movie. I gave up on that franchise after the third film because it relied way too much on disgusting the audience rather than scaring them. Even though I praised Evil Dead previously, a film that is incredibly gory, I will argue that the movie also did a great job in making the violence a companion to the genuine scares. Honestly, if movie studios want to make a bloody horror movie, then by all means, as long as it's not shallow and it's effective with the terror. Jeremy Saulnier's Green Room did a great job at presenting realistic levels of violence as well intense, non-violent scenes.
When it is done effectively, horror films should keep you on your toes and leave a lasting impression once you walk out of the theater. Once the movie gets the ball rolling and places their protagonists in terrifying situations, then it shouldn't stop rolling. 10 Cloverfield Lane is a great recent example of a film that has both heart-pounding moments and very quick "downtimes." When the characters feel a little too comfortable, then a new, more horrifying situation needs to arise. Modern films use jump-scares as a means to provide adrenaline, but they're almost always hollow and short-lived. Effective jump-scares should be like car crashes: sudden and heart-stopping when it happens, and then it follows you around for a very long time.
This one sounds a little confusing, but bear with me here. As I stated briefly above, there is a line between characters being human and characters being stupid. When the former happens, audiences are given a connection and when that connection forms, we are brought into the horror immediately. The last thing we want to see is someone we can sympathize with to go through excruciating amount of pain and torment, and at the end of it all, we want them to come out on top. There lies the appeal of the genre, the sheer entertainment of it, to bear witness to events that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemies (or maybe we do?), which brings me to my final point:
6. More FUN!
This sounds incredibly obvious, but I wouldn't have put it here if Hollywood was already doing it. Horror, like action, gets a bad enough reputation for being easy cash-grabs. I find myself rolling my eyes at almost every trailer for a new horror movie, even though it is becoming my favorite genre. Let's face it, there's not going to be another The Shining or Psycho for a while and that's perfectly fine with me as long as the genre stays fun! The huge appeal behind the slasher subgenre is that they are stupidly entertaining, even the dumbest slasher movie can be memorable (Jason Takes Manhatten, anyone?). When studios rehash formulas and concepts, then it starts to get boring.
I hope you guys enjoyed my list and if you disagreed with anything, then by all means, share your thoughts and comments!