Why do we like being scared? Why do we keep going to the cinema to scream? To experience what the characters on screen do. That familiar fear that someone is behind us — someone with a knife or a chainsaw, someone wearing a hockey mask and holding a machete, someone who wants revenge for his dead mother, someone who is going to attack us and make us pay for our recklessness and our desire for sex in the forest under the moonlight.
Horror films offer us a unique experience. The exhilarating experience of surviving the unsurvivable, while being safe. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre director Tobe Hooper described them as a catharsis, as a way for us to let out all the energy we have. Fear — much like joy, anger and grief — is a feeling that needs to be expressed. We empathize with the victims, we realize that the world is not as nice and peaceful as we'd hoped.
If we were to examine horror flicks of the last 10–20 years, we would reach the conclusion that the majority of them have lost the charm possessed of older films. Actually, many fans speak of the death of the horror genre, disappointed with the "torture porn" trend taking over.
The main problem with today’s thrillers is that many are based on a safe and predictable formula. These basic concepts vary: possessed child, haunted house, serial killer who stalks his victims with a lethal weapon, a relentless and foreboding apparition. We’ve seen them a million times and it seems that we’ll keep seeing them over and over again. Today's horror films are borrowing many elements from the past, without adding something original and creative. They’re relying on those easy-to-make, predictable, cheap jump scares, without providing us with an interesting concept to keep us on guard for the duration of the movie.
And Then We Have Creepypasta
These horror short stories and images, created mostly by fans. And some of them are great. Really, really great. Their concepts feature a ton of originality that have managed to keep me awake for many nights.
As a trend, Creepypasta enjoyed something of a peak around 2010, with Jeff the Killer, Slender Man and other characters becoming pop culture icons. To get an idea, check out the below sneak peak of another creepy character, Goatman:
Many of these stories and legends can be found on YouTube, with talented horror fans using the Creepypasta texts and combining them with a thrilling musical score. These videos are unpredictable, atmospheric, and manage to play with our emotions and imaginations without using a huge Hollywood budget, special effects or CGI.
Perhaps these Creepypasta videos could become an example for Hollywood. With little more than $2 and a Snickers where the check book should be, most of these budding auteurs actually manage to do that which many horror films fail to. We don’t always need a ghost that suddenly jumps into view, but an interesting story, a climactic musical score and the priority of entertainment, not profit.
I’d prefer to see an anthology of different Creepypasta shorts as a small movie, rather than go see yet another sequel to The Purge. And many people seem to share my opinion, with Machinima Inc. announcing plans for a live-action Creepypasta web series.
I think it’s time to see something different, with the fans taking the initiative. The last time someone did this, we got Saw, an interesting movie with many surprising twists, which actually created its own franchise (that's slowly dying, because, well, sequels). The first Saw film was actually pretty solid, mainly because it chose to focus on the fear of the unknown and not on the complicated traps and death machines.
So Where Does That Leave The Horror Genre?
It’s time for the studios to move on to different forms of art and leave out some old-fashioned elements that haven’t aged well. The genre must evolve and the producers must look into the future, using the past more as a compass to guide and less as a raft to grab and never let go of. Stop making remakes, reboots and sequels! Stop recreating the already-perfect movies! Be more original and listen to the fans! And enough with those jump scares! Focus more on building tension, be more unpredictable, make the difference!
My advice? Take after Scream and The Cabin in the Woods, which are both scary, but at the same time included satirical jokes, making fun of stereotypical characters, the motives of the killers, and much more. Remember: Clever satire never harms, it only enriches.
What's your opinion on the state of modern horror movies?