Billy's Film Reviews.

A series of film reviews and opinion pieces from a film student and all round movie lover! Happy reading!

Why Horror Has Lost It’s Mojo…

c32037f06b35081dd175c8aa0e7d4a1e-d61lju3Quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet, quiet BANG!!!!!
That is exactly what the problem is with modern films today, particularly from the horror genre of course. It is such an obvious topic to discuss, but it has gotten to the stage now where it must be stated that this ‘formula’ is getting out of hand, and does not look to be changing any time soon…

I’m not a fan of horror films in general, I simply don’t enjoy being frightened and spooked. This doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate them and marvel at their craft.
There was a time where the horror genre treated us to some absolute masterpieces that transcend time and don’t lose their flare; this period was known as the 20th century.
It’s a long time period, and of course it’s generalised completely, however the classics all fit into this window of cinematic greatness.
For example, the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, has treated us to some absolute gems when it came to horror and tension. To this day, ‘the shower scene’ from “Psycho” is as equally frightening as it was when I first saw it. There is such an incredible atmosphere surrounding that timeless, iconic and avant-garde moment in film, that it is able to have the same punchiness to it, not matter how many times it is viewed.
What Hitchcock did for films such as this, or any genre he tackled for that matter, was unmatchably groundbreaking, it’s a shame how we are lacking this ingenuity in modern horror films. 

Scene From 'The Exorcist'Skip forward in time and you have yourself some classics like “Friday The 13th”, “The Exorcist”“Halloween” and even “The Thing”. Films such as these were able to generate true dread and shock in their audiences for countless reasons. Basically, we can reflect not he horror genre chronologically and appreciate some of the past classics, but at the same time, shake our heads in disappointment at the way they are going.

1999 brought us an iconic picture that shaped the of horror films to come. That was “The Blair Witch Project”, a pioneering and original film that was unique and pivotal in the modern horror genre. It was made on a shoestring budget and grossed over 230-times it’s original budget.
This of course would generate immense buzz around the filmic community and the general public, but at what cost?
There is no doubt that this film was ‘genuinely scary’. Most audiences had not scene anything like it before, and to witness such a ‘realistic’ looking film, it was immediately hailed as one of the scariest films ever made.
Now, it seems the genre in general has not latched off “The Blair Witch Project” and has pumped out countless inspired Found Footage-inspired films; the fact is, they’re getting old, and fast!

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 4.11.52 pmWhat “The Blair Witch Project” did to the modern horror genre was very similar to what “Jaws” did to the horror genre back in 1975. To put it simply, “Jaws” reinvented the genre and literally turned it on it’s head.

Breaking the genre conventions down, we usually see a list of standard features in the average picture. They are:

  • Darkness
  • Nighttime setting
  • Confined spaces
  • A small cast
  • An unknown monster (ghost/ghoul/spirit etc.)
  • An elaborate, punchy score

What “Jaws” had was literally the opposite.

  • It was set during the day
  • On an open beach
  • With hundreds of people
  • With a large shark (nothing ‘unknown’)
  • And it had a score consisting of two notes (the most well known piece of the score that is.)

Not being “the next Jaws” in any way, “The Blair Witch Project” did however have a similar effect on audiences as “Jaws” did all those years ago; they hadn’t seen anything like it in the horror genre.
History has repeated itself. Back in ’75, Hollywood corporate cronies said that every film had to ‘be like Jaws” – that way, they’d make more money with a proven, guaranteed filmic formula.
Now, the Found-Footage sub-genre of horror has dominated our screens for far too long, eliminating the true essence of what horror actually is. 

Why did we get scared by the older films?
The simple answer is because they knew how to make them properly back then.
The sense of dread, anticipation and ‘the fear of the unknown’ is something that has not changed throughout the genre, it’s just that it is now being executed in such a lazy fashion, the actual ‘scares’ have become meaningless.

Screen Shot 2014-11-12 at 4.13.26 pm1922 brought arguably one of the scariest films I have ever seen; “Nosferatu”. The trailer on iMDB (commemorating the ‘Masters of Cinema’ collection) is proof that it was a film that simply understood what suspense, tension and ‘proper horror’ was all about. Whether it be the gloominess of the film stock, the incredible makeup, or the marvellous accompanying score, this 92-year-old film is simply harrowing, I highly recommend it.

There is an underlying theme in horror films that regards the aforementioned ‘fear of the unknown’.
Like I said, that hasn’t changed a bit of the years, it’s just that ‘the unknown’ usually becomes ‘known’ either very quickly or at the completely wrong time in the form of a ‘jump scare’.
Basically, a jump scare is a brief moment in a tense scene that follows a moment of extended silence. We’ve all seen them, we all know how they work, and for most of us, we hate them!

quarantine-1024x576‘The jump scare is the least creative form of craftsmanship when it comes to respectable horror filmmaking. Sure, there are times and places for ‘jump scares’, but only when the scariness can carry on well after the “BANG” moment. If you need an example, take the “Sloth scene” from David Fincher’s “Se7en”; chills are guaranteed.

Nowadays, trailers for contemporary horror flicks are as formulaic as the films themselves. We start off by seeing a happy group of explorers/vulnerbale teens/happy family members being jokingly filmed by someone; “oh my god, turn that camera off, hahaha”, is basically what they’re all saying.
Then the title appears, saying something to do with “just when you thought…”; this is followed by an initial alert scare – a bump on the roof or a creaking in the ceiling.
Then a series of fast cuts and fades ensue, all leading up to a big, grandiose “BANG”, “ARGH!” moment.
This is followed by the title of the film, which then fades away into darkness and is closely followed by one final jump scare, which then leads into the credit titles of the trailer. Again, we’ve all seen it, and we’re getting sick of it. 

paranormal_activity_2009_1024x768_588118“As Above, So Below”, “VHS”, “Grave Encounters”, “REC.”, “Quarantine”, “Evil Things”, “Atrocious”, “Willow Creek”, “The Bay”,  “Vlog”, “Skinwalker Ranch”, “Banshee Chapter” and of course, “Paranormal Activity” are just some of the examples taken from the endless list of Found-Footage horror films, and when broken down, they’re all the same film.
I’ll give the last title some credit, “Paranormal Activity” was commendable in the way that it built up suspense and tension, without actually showing a ‘beast, monster or ghost in the form of a series of violent and in-your-face jump scares. However, the spawn of sequels and money-grabbing spin-offs of course detract from the original and make me lose almost very ounce of respect for the original.

So ultimately, the jump scare is here to stay, but the next time you see an intriguing horror film poster hanging up, ask yourself, “Do I really want to see this? I know what I’m in for already. Maybe I should just rent any of the other identical films from the store and save myself $10 in doing so.”
The same of course goes for gory films that attempt to scare us by simply grossing us out. That’s something for another day, but it should be said that that particular formula is wearing off fast as well.

babadook

Now, on a lighter note, there are films being released that still understand the true essence of horror, and I wouldn’t mind seeing them (that is, when I muster up the courage).
For example, many critics are raving about a recent Australian release called “The Babadook”; a film that plays on mystery and an impending, lurking feeling of the unknown to perfection. I’ve heard it’s original and genuinely ‘frightening’, not just momentarily stimulating. 

I have faith in filmmakers, but not the industry when it comes to horror. In their minds, if a film can generate over 10 times it’s budget and be made for less than $1Million, you’ve got yourself a green light, but if it requires a bigger budget in order to create a genuinely unsettling, creepy and affecting horror flick, reminiscent of the past classics, forget it!

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2 comments on “Why Horror Has Lost It’s Mojo…

  1. Noémie
    November 12, 2014

    Very interesting post. I’ve been a huge horror move watcher from an early age (seen Scream 2 at 8yo and couldn’t stop after that). In France you can watch most of them in theatre when you’re 12 or older. You should have seen how excited I was when I got that age ! At that time I didn’t really care if the story was great or not, if it was well made…As long as I was scared enough to give bruses to my neighbours’ arms, that was good for me haha. If it was not scary but ridiculous enough to be actually funny, that was still good for me (gore genre mostly). Then I guess I got older and didn’t find it as funny or scary anymore, but I like those great memories.

    I get what you mean about how great older movies could be. I haven’t seen many because I usually find them more fun than scary. (The Exorcist being a bit of both).
    And regarding Psycho, I do not consider it as a horror movie. Excellent movie but I don’t remember being scared or un-at-ease once. If the movie would have been made today, it would probably not be considered as one anyway.

    Even if I stopped watching this genre, I still enjoy it once or twice a year. I’ve heard about the Babadook and will probably watch it before the end of the year. And I quite liked the conjuring last year. I found [REC] pretty good (but why showing “In quarantine” in your pictures ?) actually. Yes there is a scary creature at the end but I loved how the story went.

    Another movie with scary creatures that I absolutely loved is “The Descent”. The cast is 100% made of women, with no sexuality matters. Also, it doesn’t only focus on those girls being chased by creatures but on human survival instinct and paranoïa. I remember watching it with my friends, very very late night and I think nobody said anything or moved at all during 2 or 3min after the movie ended because we were all still affected by what did just happen.

    I agree about the horror industry but what can you do. Sometimes it’s actually good to turn your brain off and anjoy a stupid movie with friends!

  2. wmsteele
    November 12, 2014

    Interesting response, it seems we’re sort of agreeing but kind of not?
    I’m not sure, haha!
    I would classify “Psycho” as both a horror and a thriller as more often than not, they can go very easily hand in hand. There will always be a thriller element in horror films, and even vice versa, but to a lesser extent.

    And oh, the Quarantine picture is only for the ‘jump scare’ paragraph haha!

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