Sunday, 11 December 2011

Is Horror Dead or More Alive Than Ever?

I don’t need to be the one to tell you that the horror genre can go through massive dry spells, which the everyday viewer takes and uses an example of why horror is lame, until the new craze, like Paranormal Activity, comes along and everyone is swept away with it. Some people are less inclined to take the good with the bad, but not the horror fan. They will stand by the genre tooth and nail. As with most things, there are ups and downs to the popularity, but a horror fan will never stray too far away from their fix, putting up with the drivel until something good comes along once again.

Drivel. Hilarious drivel.

Contrary to what some people might say, I propose to you that right now, the good is coming along. Not only that, but we have been in the midst of it for a few years now.

There is always a cycle to what horror films are popular, normally marked by the rise of the slasher film (Psycho, Halloween, and Scream) and the decline of the supernatural-themed flicks. The end of the cycle is normally denoted by a complete change of which of the two types of horror is popular. It can be questionable why the bigger impact comes with the more realistic films, but it might have to do with the general public having had enough with the supernatural or the out-there, which always goes from very strong (Gremlins) to ridiculously silly (Critters 4). Look at it yourself; there are plenty of examples of the rule of diminishing returns applying wholeheartedly to horror.

Jason is a ghost worm. This happened.

I wrote a dissertation on slasher films a few years ago (because I’m cool like that) and I came to the conclusion that a certain genre-changing film comes along every 18 years. Hitchcock’s Psycho was 1960, Carpenter’s Halloween was 1978, and Craven’s Scream was 1996. By this conclusion, we should be ready for a new game-changer in 2014. Obviously, it might not be apparent when it is released, as influence is normally only seen in hindsight, but it is an interesting one to keep an eye on.

With this theory in place, there is a definite cycle to films, and we are at the end stages of the cycle right now. As with previous cycles, there is less a focus on realism and more a focus on the supernatural. Well, folks, our cycle started with Scream in 1996, and for almost the whole decade that followed, horror was dominated by slashers that were based in realistic situations. As the craze of the slasher ended, so did the amount of slasher films. 1998 brought the Blair Witch Project as an alternative, doing amazing business and bringing its own line of imitators, and supernatural films started to kick back in to gear from there. We still endured fare like Valentine and the Urban Legend sequels, but supernatural began to infiltrate the genre yet again, with the likes of 2001’s Jeepers Creepers. Any horror fan will tell you that, with exceptions, the genre did lag a lot until this time.

 A film shouldn't anger you like this one.

Obviously it is impossible for any genre of film to continuously deliver films that will stand out, but in the past we had the likes of George Romero’s original Dead trilogy, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Last House on the Left, Hills Have Eyes, Friday the 13th, The Thing, The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Gremlins, Poltergeist, Re-Animator, and a list that goes on. No, in our cycle beginning with Scream, there had not been any standout films. J-horror, like Ringu or The Grudge, made some of the biggest impact, but leading in to 2000, popular Western cinema was awash with bloody daggers.

‘But horror still sucks!’ you might say (especially if I’m trying to make a point). ‘Look at those lame films by The Asylum, or those awful sequels produced only to cash in on their more successful predecessors.’ Well, that is true. There are some awful films out there right now, and owing to the digital revolution, where the cost of making a film was sliced (oh, how witty of me...) thanks to new technology, more and more inferior films were produced. Indeed, there is probably more horror films per year now than ever before, and a lot of it is little more than cash-in waste. Horror is notorious for rip-offs and cash-ins, but is that all there is now?


Actually, buried deep down beneath what is on the surface a floundering genre, we in fact have a fantastic Renaissance for the supernatural and over-the-top film, and horror itself.

Some people will debate with this, but over the last few years, we have been surrounded by films that might in fact be contenders for the slot of classic for future audiences, or at the very least, films that the future will look on with as much glee and fondness as we look at the Evil Dead. I’m talking about the obvious big-boy Paranormal Activity, but other great films that have been overlooked. To name but a few: REC, The Devil’s Rejects, The Human Centipede, Hostel, Piranha, 1408, Mirrors, Battle Royale, Drag Me To Hell, the Masters of Horror series, The Mist, Ruins, Ginger Snaps, the Saw franchise, Silent Hill, 28 Weeks Later, Grindhouse, The Happening, Eden Lake, Cloverfield, Pontypool, Splice, Frozen, Insidious, Red State, House of the Devil, plus some remakes that are actually worthwhile (Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street need not apply).


This list is all that is right with modern day horror, stretching out for the past 11 years. When put like this, it really does show that we are doing a lot better than we were in the 90s. Heck, even look at TV. Walking Dead and American Horror Story are two of the biggest shows out there, and MTV’s Death Valley is a hoot.

It is easy to point and say ‘horror today can’t hold a candle to its predecessors from the 70s and 80s’, but I completely disagree. Apart from Paranormal Activity, nothing has immediately jumped off the page and declared itself the next Dawn of the Dead, but for the true fan who knows where to look, we really are experiencing the golden age of horror.

Eli Roth, James Wan, Darren Lynn Bousman, Ti West, Alexandre Aja, Rob Zombie. These are just a few of the men looking after our interests, the ones who know what makes a decent horror film. There is plenty of crap out there to wade through, but there are also plenty of films to make me declare that now is a great time to be a horror fan.

Long live the new flesh.

What do you think? Do you think horror is better than ever or deader than a door-nail?