Modern Horror

Modern Horror

Modern horror films bore me. There, I’ve said it. They really do. And I’m going to tell you exactly why in this here blog. So strap yourself in and hold tight. This might be a bumpy ride.

So, as you can probably guess, I love horror films. I’ve loved them ever since I was a small boy and I first saw Abbot & Costello Meet Frankenstein at my grandparents. Throw in copious hours watching Scooby Doo, and a life long attachment was formed. But in the last 20 or so years, I’ve found that the new material being made for the genre just doesn’t excite me anymore.

Now, 20 years ago, I was just graduating from university with a degree in Film, Television, & Radio Studies. Naturally, that makes me a “film bore”. I can wax lyrical about the work of Eisenstein and his theory of montage. I can discuss the merits of Italian Neo-Realist cinema. And I can dissect pretty much any genre of cinema you wish. But it isn’t this that started to turn me off modern horror films. Oh no. You see, I accept that many of my favourite horror films are, by mainstream standards anyway, poorly made. The acting is often sub daytime soap opera level. The camera work is often flat and basic. The scripts have more clichés in them than your average Oscar winner speech. Yet they still appeal to me on a deeply visceral and emotional level.

Some background:

Horror films helped get me through my awkward teenage years. I spent many an hour ensconced in my room, with a VHS tape flickering away on my 14″ portable TV. I watched the Friday The 13th series. The Nightmare On Elm Streets. The Halloweens. A hell of a lot of Full Moon productions. Countless DTV “epics” that would never have made a cinema screen no matter how desperate the cinema was for product. And each one of these comforted me. There was something about the cheap looking effects and bad acting that reassured me. These films were not perfect, and neither was real life.

Halloween. A true classic.

The New Breed:

Flash forward to 2001. Horror had been undergoing one of it’s periodic renaissances at the cinema over the last few years. The “Scream” franchise had done big money. Halloween had returned to a decent box office return. And of course The Blair Witch Project had been massive and scared an entire generation of film fans. But a change was coming. First up, Blair Witch inaugurated a cycle of “found footage” films that still goes on to today. Yet none of them (no, not even the Rec series) managed to create the same feeling of reality. They felt like what they were (and still are): no budget knock offs made to cash in on a craze. How this craze is still running today mystifies me beyond all belief.

Modern Horror
The Blair Witch Project

And subsequent to that, we got “torture porn”. Now, the original Saw, and Hostel as well, were both well made, creative films. They took the over the top gore of the 1970s & 80s Italian exploitation knock offs, and added a bit of Hollywood sheen to them. And it worked. They were popular, they looked good, and were actually quite well written and made. Hell, Saw had Danny Glover and Cary Elwes in it. That’s 2 actual name actors in a low budget horror film. And like all successful horror films, they spawned franchises. And, like all franchises, they succumbed to the law of diminishing returns.

Modern Horror
Saw (2004)

Now, to my mind, the “classic” franchises of the 80s (F13, ANOES, Halloween) at least tried to have a different feel for each entry. They allowed a certain amount of leeway for the filmmakers to individualise their entries. Sure, they all eventually lost there way somewhat (especially the Halloween franchise. I mean kung-fu Busta Rhymes beating up Michael Myers? Really?) The new franchises? Nothing of the sort. The Saw films are all fairly indistinguishable from each other. They have the same “beats”. The same meter to their progression. You could cut them all into each other and not even notice that they were pieces of different films. And the Hostel films were even worse for this.

Modern Horror
Halloween Resurrection. Just no.

Remakes? Rehashes, more like…

Then there was the (ongoing) trend for remaking/reimagining classic horror films. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday The 13th, Childs Play, A Nightmare On Elm St, Dawn of The Dead. All of them unwanted and terrible. Yet they too have been (mostly) popular. Indeed, the Texas Chainsaw remake has spawned an entire series of sequels/prequels that are still being made to this day.  Now, to me, this desire to remake films that are barely 40 years old at the oldest shows a distinct lack of creativity on the part of the film makers themselves. Sure, you can put some new stuff in there, but come on, build an entire new title, don’t rely on a recognised classic to prop your script up.

Dawn Of The Dead 2004.

Tellingly to me, it is the modern horror reboots of the biggest 2 franchises from the 80s (Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm St) that were the ones that failed. Their fanbases didn’t want or need them rebooting, and it told at the box office. Plus, they were both truly terrible films. They lacked the nuance and feel of the originals. They were actually too well made, if we are being honest. Both franchises revelled in their grimy, dark atmospheres. They took pleasure in being a “naughty” and “illicit”.

Friday The 13th 2009

There is some hope for modern horror…

Now, that isn’t to say that there haven’t been a few modern horror films that I haven’t enjoyed. The Cabin In The Woods was an excellent “meta-horror”. A real love letter for fans of the genre with all it’s references and winks. Tucker & Dale vs Evil was another fun romp, which subverted a few tropes nicely. The VVitch ploughed similar territory to the all time classic that is The Wicker Man (not the god awful Nic Cage version). Halloween 2018 successfully updates the mood of the 1978 original for a modern audience. But outside of them… well, it’s slim pickings as far as I’m concerned.

I have some hope for the forthcoming 2 Halloween sequels. It’s the same people involved as with Halloween 2018. They clearly respect the franchise, and were even willing and able to get John Carpenter back onboard. But outside of that, I’m just seeing more of the same. And it saddens me greatly. Maybe we will have another renaissance soon. Lord knows we are due one. And It can’t come soon enough for me.

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