For the first time in nearly a decade, I’m actually excited to see horror movies again. Since I started as a film critic years ago, there was always a sense of dread when it came to the genre, and not in a good way. Now it’s almost as though there is this reinvestment by Hollywood to make movies scary again. It’s a welcomed relief since the genre has been so disappointing for so long. These days though, it’s almost as if horror movies are seeing some sort of new renaissance. What a time to be alive (and reviewing new movies no matter how bad they might look)!
Horror movies have been a huge disappointment (at least in a commercial sense) since the new millennium started. The trend started with The Blair Witch Project, which was an incredible film in and of itself, at least conceptually. It really introduced the idea that a found footage film could be a box office success. With an estimated $60,000 budget, it managed to make over $140 million. Unfortunately, that led to an oversaturation of horror movies using that filmmaking style (think Paranormal Activity, V/H/S, The Pyramid, etc). There was suddenly this reliance on using shaky camera work and first-person perspective to create tension. This quickly became more of a crutch than a useful cinematic tool.
It all boiled down to being able to mass produce cheap flicks guaranteed to make at least some profit. Creativity was shoved in the corner and it became a game of paint by numbers. Hollywood chose quantity over quality, which is an excellent business decision. But really sucked for horror movie fans.
The other crutch studios have been leaning heavily on is the idea that gore is an acceptable substitute for horror. This notion is probably best traced back to Cabin Fever, in which Eli Roth made his feature directorial debut and inspired the beginning of the so-called splat pack (including the likes of Rob Zombie, Alexandre Aja, Neil Marshal and others). This created a sort of escalating game in Hollywood of who could get away with the most grotesque, stomach-churning sequences and still maintain an R-rating. Needless to say, the result was a sequel-heavy focus on horror movies like Saw, Final Destination and Hostel (to name a few).
Hollywood had forgotten the true essence of horror. Stephen King is famous for saying, “Nothing is so frightening as what’s behind the closed door.” Now, he was referring to the unknown, but I propose that nothing is quite as frightening as the moments before the closed door opens. It’s that build up that is essential to the payoff and for the longest time, Hollywood, like a guy at prom, kept trying to rush the payoff.
It wasn’t until 2012 when Sinister hit theaters that suddenly there was the notion that horror movies could be more than just a shaking camera and torture porn (of course Sinister still managed to play with both of those ideas). However, it was actually James Wan— an original member of the Splat Pack—who seemed to cement this idea with The Conjuring. The film was met with tremendous reviews from critics and audiences alike (still “certified fresh” on Rotten Tomatoes), and made over $318 million (using $20 million budget). Since then horror movies like The Babadook, It Follows, Green Room, and 10 Cloverfield Lane have managed to rest comfortably with critical scores of at least 90%, and others have maintained fresh ratings based off of critical reviews.
It seems over the past few years there is a genuine movement to make horror, well, scary again. The crutches have fallen away and Hollywood seems to be interested in new and exciting ideas (though there are still a few sequels and reboots lurking in the background, Like Jigsaw and more Insidious films.). In general, though, there seems to be an actual investment in giving horror fans flicks they can be proud to love. They no longer only have to rely on film festivals to see something besides the same old tired tropes recycled over and over again.
As a new found fan of the genre (thanks, Netflix!), I couldn’t be more excited to see studios attempting to take pride in the horror movies once again. Directors aren’t afraid to experiment and Hollywood seems content to take risks by releasing films that aren’t “sure things.” It’s an exciting time for horror movies and for audiences in general. It still feels strange to actually be excited to see what horror movies are coming next to theaters, especially since I’m kinda obligated to see them no matter what.