I love Halloween. It's my favourite holiday, sharing the top spot with Christmas. For the past week and a half, I've been taking small steps towards decorating the house to prepare for our Halloween party next weekend: I bought balloons, I stuck a bloody "Keep Out!" sign on the kitchen door, I placed skull-shaped tealights on the kitchen table and my next plan is to maybe print out A4 posters of horror films and blue-tac them on the walls. All my flatmates, along with our landlord, find my little obsession with Halloween amusing, and they're curious about how the house will look by the time the party comes along. Who knows, they might even be slightly concerned about my sanity.
("Sure, Noel, decorate all you want while we slowly back away and lock ourselves in our rooms!")
I've also resolved to watch a horror film per day until the 31st of October, starting with films I've never watched before I resort to horror films I know and love, since I already did that about two or three months ago. For the past two days, unfortunately, I stupidly decided to watch recent films, released in the last decade; obviously, they sucked.
Now, I do not pretend to be a horror film expert. I am a horror film fan, and I do have some knowledge in the area, but there are plenty of (supposedly) good horror films that I haven't watched yet, and I look forward to doing that. There is no denying, however, that there has been a steady decline in the quality of horror films since the late 1990s. In the last two years, I doubt I've watched more than two or three (recent) films that I found enjoyable and/or scary.
(Toy Story 3's ending doesn't count.)
So what is it that makes so many of today's horror films suck? Here's my opinion:
#1: There's too much gore.
Forget the subtle terror of Black Christmas or the collected creepiness of Silence of the Lambs. In today's mainstream horror, it's all about the gore. Saw, Hostel, Wrong Turn, Turistas, these are all bright examples of a new-found obsession with torture, excessive blood and... well, little else.
(Because nothing is scarier than the prospect of vomiting.)
I don't get the point of "torture porn". According to Wikipedia, Stephen King has defended the genre by saying that "sure it makes you uncomfortable, but good art should make you uncomfortable."
I don't know which dictionary Mr. King uses, but I think there's a point where splatter stops being art and starts being "oh my god, what the fuck is the director's childhood trauma?!" The very reason Funny Games (one of my favourite horror films) worked was because they didn't show us what was going on. Every time something horrible was about to happen, the camera panned out and we were left to stare at something else, someone else, and wonder what kind of awful things the killers were doing. I think I bit my lip so much while watching Funny Games that I could've used the shredded skin to sew a glove. Hostel, on the other hand, just made me regret having eaten before I popped the DVD in.
#2: I'm sick of remakes.
Just an hour ago, I discovered that The Thing's remake is coming out later this year. This was the second strike for 2011; the first one was the remake of Fright Night, which I refused to watch because, well, I've already seen it.
I don't know how many of the last decade's horror films are remakes of old films/foreign releases, but I can name at least 20 at the top of my head: The Amityville Horror, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Halloween I & II, Funny Games U.S., My Bloody Valentine, Friday the 13th, The Ring, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Let Me In, The Crazies, House of Wax, The Eye, Dark Water, The Grudge, Quarantine, The Last House on the Left... OK, so I can name 18. Still impressive. And if you add the two I mentioned in the beginning, you get to twenty.
Some of these are actually enjoyable (e.g. Last House on the Left, The Amityville Horror). Others are just bloody horrible, and an insult to the original (*cough*Black Christmas*cough*). Regardless of that, the fact remains that we're riddled with remakes of classic or foreign horror films. And there lies the eternal question:
("Pay £2 at the video store to watch the original or pay £7 to watch a poor remake?")
If your answer is the second, see the badge on the left side of this blog.
#3: They're just not as good at making fun of themselves.
If there was one thing 1980s-1990s horror films knew how to do, that was self-parody. Braindead is one of the worst horror films I have ever seen; it's also one of the funniest. What's not to love? Kung-fu priests? Zombies spitting body parts into each other's bowls? A giant mother-zombie trying to stuff her son back into her womb?
Unfortunately, where the past decades excelled, the 2000-2010s fail miserably. Attempts at humour or self-parody in recent horror films result in confusion (was Drag Me to Hell trying to make fun of anything, or was it just that bad?) or outright scoffing (as was the case with most of Scream 4).
Excuse me while I go vomit a little.
OK, I'm back.
#4: If something works, you gotta milk it dry.
As the string of Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th sequels from the 1980s prove, this is not a recent trend. Studios know that familiar will always win: so what if you just know that the 5th Final Destination will suck bollocks, just like the 4th, the 3rd, the 2nd and the 1st did? You're still very likely to watch it. Cinema-goers have always been this way, and we always will be.
("Hmmm. Saw 387 is not as bad as I expected.")
Still, just once it would be nice to watch a brilliant horror film and not have it ruined by the dozens of inevitably inferior sequels/prequels/parallel universe explorations of the same events.
A Disclaimer Before I Sign Off:
So... I know this list is not extensive. I also know there are many recent horror films that are actually good (The Descent, Paranormal Activity, 28 Days Later, El Orfanato, Trick 'r Treat, REC, etc.). If you look hard enough, you'll find them. Hell, there are even recent films that are excellent at (self-)parody (e.g. Shaun of the Dead, Lesbian Vampire Killers). As the title clearly states, I'm not saying the horror genre is a lost cause. What I am saying, however, is that I'm sick of the 80% of new releases being bad, or remakes.
As a horror film fan, I think no one can blame me.
(Well, you could, but this would have to be my response:)