Let me preface this post by saying I adore horror movies. Scratch that, I live for them, and plan on directing many of my own someday. I watched my first in sixth grade, back when a B-Movie slasher like the remake of Prom Night could scare me, and ever since then I’ve been hooked. But I’ve noticed that as the years have passed, these movies have become less and less frightening to me.
Just as you can build up immunity to the adrenaline rush on a roller-coaster, thus can fear once instilled by horror movies be watered down into non-existence.
I’ve tried to overcome this apathy by perusing as many horror movies as I can, but the majority of the ones being made now do little more than mildly creep me out, and those are the good ones. So I’m wondering, and let me know if you agree, have horror movies lost their edge?
I’ll start with the first horror movie that kept me from sleeping. Back when Insidious came out in 2010, I was a wee lass with only a scarce amount of slashers under her belt. From the ominous, hair raising violin in the opening credits, to the nightmarish Further scenes, the movie terrified me. And I watched it at 10:00 in the morning with my best friend beside me. I couldn’t sleep for a week, couldn’t even talk about the movie, and just imagining it made me feel sick. In an effort to conquer my fears, I re-watched the movie a year and many horror movies later, and couldn’t believe why I’d been so frightened. The score was still frightening- music is always the best part of any movie- but the story was predictable, the scares were mainly played for shocks, and the ghost woman who had so scared me no longer had any effect. And of course when I watched Insidious 2 and discovered her backstory, she (he?) became a caricature.
But since I’d already watched it and previously been scared, I could chalk this new fearlessness up to developed immunity. The other movie that sticks out most prominently in my mind is The Woman in Black, which isn’t so much scary as claustrophobically creepy. The entire movie is dour and atmospheric, but the factor that really killed me was how long the scares took to happen. Most movies don’t spend 1-2 minutes on an empty hallway while Daniel Radcliffe walks slowly towards the mysteriously thumping rocking chair. Just the escalation of it all, the anticipation- I can’t even watch this video I’m going to post.
My immunity theory doesn’t apply to this movie because even though I’ve watched it four times, I still get the same chills. But maybe because this type of movie: fatalistic, slow-moving, unrelentingly ominous and disturbing, is the type that really gets me. The ones they’ve made in the past few years are all too predictable. I found The Conjuring to be merely gross and unsettling instead of truly scary, and Insidious 2 was laughable. I haven’t seen any of those trash movies like Annabelle or Ouija, but from the trailer I can tell they aren’t worth the money they took to make.
And then comes two recent horror movies, The Babadook and It Follows, which critics hailed as a rejuvenation of the horror genre. Both films garnered a more than 90% fresh approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and both were praised for their originality, style, and for being overall “terrifying.”
I really enjoyed both movies from an artistic standpoint (both had gorgeous color schemes and interesting cinematography), but neither scared me in the least. To be honest, I think classifying It Follows as a horror movie is a bit generous- it was more of a supernatural thriller. And The Babadook, which was creepy mostly because of Junior Norman Bates, could be a thriller as well. I think the main problem with The Babadook is that it didn’t embrace the fullness of its horror. Some of the scenes (a bit spoilery), such as when The Babadook creeps up on the mother in her bed, could’ve been extended to intensify the horror instead of being cut away. I personally never would’ve shown The Babadook up close because the scariest monsters are the unseen ones. Also, just a plot note, but I thought the over-explanation of The Babadook metaphor killed the horror-vibe and made it into a drama. Now I’m not saying that a movie can’t be two things at once, but if you really want to be called horror, then focus on the scares, not the explanations
Likewise with It Follows, the director spent too much of his effort on elevating the visuals of the movie from standard horror movie film. He made it gorgeous, but he lost some of the meat of the scare. The electronic score was the most terrifying part of the movie. Not one person screamed or even jumped during the showing I went to. That’s not the only factor in horror-movie qualification, but it does tell you something about the scare level of the film.
If I follow my built up immunity theory, it would make sense why these last few horror movies no longer scare me. But that’s not the case. I saw The Ring only a few months ago- in the prime of my horror-movie days you might say- and I had to cover my eyes multiple times and I didn’t look even once through the Samara and the well scene. One of my favorite horror movies is The Orphanage (El Orfanato in Spanish) which scared the shit out of me the first and even second time I viewed it. The only idea that makes sense is that the majority of horror movies are becoming less and less scary. So why do critics enjoy them so much? My theory is that current horror directors are trying to move beyond plain scares and into art-house territory which the critics lap up. The Babadook and It Follows both fall into that category. Perhaps it’s because horror movies have always gotten a bad rap or because reviewers don’t have the tolerance for really scary movies, but either way it’s diminishing the genre. And the ones that do go for pure scares are mostly gore fests- Sinister comes to mind. That was a scary movie indeed, but in a horribly disturbing, disgusting way. The monster itself wasn’t anything new or frightening-but all that murder-exploitation 8mm makes my skin crawl, and that’s coming from someone who relaxes to Hannibal. It was barely disguised serial killer inspiration board.
Speaking of which, stuff like Saw and Hostel shouldn’t be considered horror movies. They’re torture porn, pure and simple, and I think it’s insulting to the horror genre. Yes, horror is supposed to push boundaries, and yes it’s supposed to tug at your deepest fears, but those types of movies degrade the whole lot of them. How can actors sign up for these types of movies without puking?
Anyways, my point is that I’m tired of the fodder that passes for horror movies these days, and even more tired of the high-art strivers that pretend their movies are scary. I watched an interview of Ben Wheatley, who directed a pretty creepy horror film called the Kill List, and he said something about horror that really stuck with me. To paraphrase, he said that he’d recently watched El Orfanato, and the reason he found it so scary was because it never let the viewers feel safe in their seats. Once they felt comfortable, the movie no longer held the power to scare them. I think that directors have lost this essential part to film making and in order to create truly frightening movies, they need to win this power back.
Let me know if you agree or disagree with my points. I’d love to hear another opinion!
Has anyone watched a Ti West movie lately? I watched The House of The Devil and was impressed, but he totally lost me at The Innkeepers. It got great reviews and I don’t understand why. Boring plot, barely any scares, and a completely inexplicable ending.