Hey, I’m not afraid anymore! I said I’m not afraid anymore! Do you hear me? I’m not afraid anymore! Home Alone
The headache began, as it so often does, with my sister. Her friends were coming over and they wanted to watch a good horror film. I started to rattle of the usual list “The Exorcist, The Shining, Halloween” but was shut down with the response of “no old films”. Switching gears I suggested “Them, Ringu” and my personal favourite “REC”. This was met with “no subtitled films my friends wont watch them”.
After attempting to change her perspective and broaden both her and her friends’ horizons, which was about as successful as trying to have an informed reasonable conversation on a YouTube comments section, she then hit me with the stinger “it has to be actually scary”. My eyes starting dancing around the shelves looking for an answer. 28 Days Later (good film but not really scary), Hostel (gruesome but not frightening), I know what you did last summer (the scariest part of that was remembering I had paid €30 for a VHS copy of that film!).
Having drawn a blank I did what is now the standard response in these situations, I put up a Facebook status asking for help. I had assumed I would be inundated with movies that I had completely forgotten and would soon be cursing myself for being unable to recall such obvious contender’s.
Instead, I was met with a wave of apathetic responses lamenting “There hasn’t been a good horror film in about 15 years” and the inevitable argument about Paranormal Activity which, depending on what side of the fence you land on, is either the scariest film of all time or two hours of staring at a door waiting on the guy with the fishing wire to pull it shut. Not willing to give up my crown as the movie guru of the family I began racking my brain for an answer “the first hour of Insidious isn’t bad before Darth Maul Shows up”, “The clapping scene in The Conjuring was pretty good”, “Watching Denise Richards try to act in Valentine was pretty frightening”, but try as I might I couldn’t come up with one horror film that was genuinely scary from start to finish.
Has there been another genre of movie that has not done what it says on the tin for so long and still survived?
When Westerns ceased to be successful they simply disappeared for years until Clint Eastwood rode in to town to reignite the genre he helped shape with Unforgiven. This brought about a temporary influx of wild west movies before it again rode off into the sunset on the back of a series of box office disasters. Horror movies seem immune to this, primarily because they are cheap to make and they still draw an audience. Anyone who has ever worked in a cinema will tell you there are two days a year you can guarantee every screen will be sold out, Valentine’s day and Halloween.
Horror is littered with the unbelievable budget to box office success stories stemming back as far as the 1978 original Halloween movie. With a budget of $300,000, the film went on to gross $47 million at the US box office becoming one of the most successful independent films of all time. The Blair Witch Project made a mind blowing €140 million on a budget of just €60,000. These numbers are not exclusive to just the stand outs of the genre. The unwatchable remake of The Fog made over double its €18 million budget and sub-par remakes of both Amityville Horror and A Nightmare on Elm Street both cruised past the $100 million mark.
It is hard to imagine any other genre of film surviving such an obvious lull in quality. Comedy is the only other type of movie that elicits such a visceral reaction from audiences and I find it impossible to believe that audiences would let five years pass without a genuine laugh out loud comedy and still flock to the cinema in droves. Horror seems to have stumbled onto a seemingly unfathomable business plan that should not work but has somehow become a licence to print money. Have one successful film, then churn out sequel after sequel, each one worse than the last until the franchise has no resemblance to the original. The first Saw film was a masterful thriller before the series was run into the ground as it switched to torture porn. Walk away for a few years and then reboot with a younger cast “promising to stay true to the original” and somehow we believe this every time and reward awful dross like Rob Zombie’s Halloween movies with almost $100 million of our hard earned cash.
Horror films and their characters are softening in order to draw in the much coveted 12-18 crowd, not just at the screen but also with its merchandise. A prime example of this was a few years ago when I noticed a mother calming her screaming child by giving him his Freddy Kruger plushie. The mother, I would hope, was unaware that before Freddy was starring in MTV videos he was a paedophile!!! The Child’s Play series started off as a proper horror film, albeit one with a killer doll, before eventually becoming a comedy. Now Chucky’s image can be purchased on everything from replica dolls to condoms!
The only way to ensure a return to form for Horror is to vote with your wallet. The next time you see a 12A rated remake of The Exorcist or a Halloween sequel with Vinnie Jones playing Micheal Myers just say no. The only time I can recall being scared in the cinema in the last few years was during the terrifying opening to Gravity were I found myself taking shallow breaths in order to not blow through all my oxygen. It has been a long time since a horror movie gave me such an immersive experience and I really miss it. When it is at its best there is no greater and more reactionary experience then a horror film. Gripping the sides of the chair, the tension during a seemingly endless build up to a jump scare. It is also one that can stay with you long after it has ended. Action films don’t make you afraid of the water like Jaws did to an entire generation. No comedy can have you sleeping with the lights on to try and ward off unforeseen ghosts. A horror genre without scares is a prospect terrifying enough to leave even Hitchcock peeking through his fingers with fear.