As time goes on, sometimes it seems that Hollywood begins to run out of ideas. This is to be expected – when there is high demand for movies and a lot of things have been done before, sometimes it becomes necessary to repackage old material in a new way in order to keep the masses entertained. But the horror genre is something that has always thrived on originality and a lack of predictability in order to keep the tension. So as the genre loses originality, I’d say in many cases, it’s losing its effectiveness too.
It’s difficult to say what an ‘effective’ horror movie is though, because people usually associate the genre into a few different categories. One of them (and probably the most common and least respected) is what many unkindly refer to as ‘torture porn’ movies. These films, such as the Hostel movies, merely run on the adrenaline of seeing characters go through incredible pain, and are often more disturbing than frightening. Some moviegoers enjoy this, and some don’t. Other categories are slasher films, which merely task some form of killer against a bunch of innocents with gory results (like Friday the 13th), and more cerebral horror films with intelligent and disturbing plots (like many of the entries in the Saw franchise). But with the release of films like this, and constant remakes of old movies, it seems that horror keeps growing into sub-genres, and, it that less and less of the movies themselves are actually scary, which is something that I feel horror movies truly used to strive for.
I will say though, some modern horror movies still do strive for it and absolutely hit their mark. Some notable examples are the recent Paranormal Activity, The House of the Devil (which came out almost right alongside Paranormal Activity, but gained much less attention from the public), and little foreign movies like the French film Them. These movies, for the most part, capitalize less on gore than on tension, and the way they’re shot, they show the viewer very little of what he or she is so afraid of. I feel like that’s how to create scares, but few horror movies try to do it anymore. But there’s one thing that these three actually scary horror movies have in common – they aren’t particularly original. Paranormal Activity is ghost story shot like a fake documentary, The House of the Devil is a story of a babysitter who goes to babysit in a large, creepy house in the middle of nowhere, and Them is a home invasion story. These premises have all been done before, but they aren’t trying to be original – they’re merely trying to scare. And in that sense, I feel as though they are some of the best horror movies out there.
However, when I see ‘Scariest Horror Movie’ lists online, I usually don’t see these films. I see films like The Exorcist or A Nightmare on Elm Street most commonly. And when I watched these films, I didn’t think they were scary at all – I honestly thought they were kind of funny.
This bring me to another conclusion – in most cases, horror doesn’t age well. When I saw a demon possessing a child in The Exorcist or a girl being thrown all over her room by Freddy Kreuger from A Nightmare On Elm Street, I didn’t feel scared, but rather, noted that I had seen it all done before. I can absolutely see how that must have been scary a long time ago, but as production values increase and people become accustomed to different scare techniques, I feel like these classic horror movies are more fueled by nostalgia (of which I have none, having not seen them when they were first released into theaters) than any real sense of fear.
Horror is not the only genre that’s losing originality. All movies genres in general are losing it – but my argument is that horror doesn’t necessarily need it. A lot of effective horror movies feed off tried and true premises that are merely altered to fit different scary scenarios. And they can be extremely effective! Though I consider nothing to be wrong with more intelligent horror plots and the occasional gore-fest, many of these films sacrifice fear for a different agenda, and I would argue that these are more like thrillers than actual horror films. I consider actual horror films to be scary, and they still are out there, albeit in smaller numbers. So is the genre dying? No, I wouldn’t say so. It’s populated with junk sometimes, but as long as there are a few truly scary horror movies out there, the horror genre is alive and well.