The Problem With Horror Movies
With Sinister 2 opening this week (and at a whooping 6% on rotten tomatoes), I wanted to take some time to talk about horror movies. Now if you know me, you know that my favorite actor is Vincent Price. I love all of his old movies and he basically defined what horror used to be. Along with him we had Boris Karloff, Peter Cushing, Bela Lugosi, and Christopher Lee. With the recent passing of Christopher Lee, we have now lost the people that made horror movies what they used to be. These old movies relied on an actual story and amazing actors, who at the time were the outcasts if the acting world, to frighten you without unnecessary gimmicks and jump scares.
The easiest place to start in fixing the genre is in the scripts themselves. Starting on the late 80’s to early 90’s computer animation and effects actually started to become pretty decent and could be used more and more in movies. Horror used this to really change the scope of their movies. They could now show things they could never show before. More realistic creatures, more blood and more gore. While this should have helped it ended up being a double edged sword. Suddenly we could make things look more real and that meant it would be scarier. So this became the focus, let’s work on the effects and forget the ultimate story. Make the characters one dimensional and a story that people really won’t care for at all. They seemed to believe as long they throw in a jump scare and some blood that would be than efficient and it wasn’t.
To prove this point in actually going to go to a non horror movie but one of the most beloved movies all of all time, Jaws. Jaws is one of the most suspenseful and frightening movies made even though it’s not a horror film. After it came out people were legitimately afraid to go to beaches for quite a long time. Many of you film buffs may know that shark was supposed to be shown a lot more in the movie. But because the mechanical shark they were using wasn’t very reliable they had to find new ways around it. This led to a lot of scenes coming from the sharks point of view. Several underwater scenes where we see the shark swimming up to people just before the attack were added because they couldn’t physically show the shark in that scene. This helped build the tension for the viewers and made it more frightening without ever having to show the shark itself. So just because we can show something doesn’t mean we should.
To combat the problems with the script writing, we need to pretend these effects don’t exist anymore. We need to write a movie and script that is truly horrifying and get that done first. A story that people can watch and be scared at just the premise. A killer who can kill you in your dreams, being the last man on earth and constantly being attacked by zombie creatures, or just classic vampires and monster stories. We write the story first then the effects gore come second.
As I mentioned earlier there were only a handful of actors who helped define horror in its earlier days. I think this is another problem with horror movies today. If you look at pretty much any other genre we have to directors and actors. Want a good drama? Go get Leonardo DiCaprio or Matthew McConaughey. Want a comedy? Pick up Seth Rogen, James Franco or Will Ferrell. You want to make a horror movie? Pick up some b list actors who will be forgotten and never return again. These old guys were the horror lords back when they acted. They may have been outcasts for whatever reason (Vincent Price was actually considered to tall for drama) but they stuck with what they did. They mastered their craft to the point they were recognizable and scary just to see walk on screen. Modern day horror doesn’t have any singular go to actor or actress. They go in and do a movie or two and are forgotten. They either use it as a pedestal to get into bigger roles or just to do a couple movies. We need people to come back and learn the craft of horror. Someone who can make scared just be walking on screen and talking. Not countless jump scares and a semi creepy voice.
This next point is actually a pretty old problem, countless sequels. So yea his has been around as early as the 60s and 70s. Movies get countless unnecessary sequels. There are something like 13 or more Friday the 13th movies, several Psycho movies, 7 Nightmare On Elm Street movies and the list goes on and on. We have come to the point where we try so hard and build franchises that we forget that we don’t need them most of the time. And I understand this isn’t just a problem for horror but for all movies but I think it’s the worst in horror. How many horror movies can you think of are just a stand alone film? Almost none are now. They take what could be a decent one off movie and run it into the ground. Take saw for instance. The first Saw was a new breed of horror. It was a low budget thriller that basically centered around two people talking. Every once in a while they would show some gruesome scene but it wasn’t the biggest draw. Then the franchise started and it went down hill fast. It became a parody of itself rather quickly and just became a generic blood and gore fest. They took an interesting concept and ruined it by trying to up the blood and gore in every movie.
The last and most important is one that I kind of touched on a couple times, jump scares. I hate jump scares. They are a cheap way to get someone scared that only last for a couple of seconds. They make you scared in the theater but after that you forget and move on. This isn’t how a horror movie should be. It should effect everything around you. Play off your fears and make you paranoid for several days after seeing it. Or make you cringe every time you think about it. I have said this before, the worst saw trap for me comes from Saw 2. It is their tamest trap and doesn’t kill anyone and doesn’t even show blood or gore. I am of course talking about the pit of needles. I am very afraid of needles and that scene still haunts me to this day. I can’t think about it without cringing. That’s how a horror movie should make you feel. Not just a couple of seconds or quick terror.
I could go on and on about what all is wrong with this genre as a whole but I am going to leave it at these basic things. We need to go back to the roots and take lessons from the original masters. We need actors who can perfect their craft, we need writers who can focus on terror and that haunting feeling first. And not worry about special effects. Let’s make a movie first and not just a semi coherent story strung together with jump scares. It’s time to make modern day horror lords and claim back what used to be a legitimate genre that wasn’t a parody of itself.