Horror is in crisis, but the reviews for the recent movies have been good and so my non-horror friends are confused as to why I think this. With Hollywood taking a new interest in horror, investing more time and money into it, it has been dumbed down and dulled for the masses with recent horrors such as ‘The Conjuring’ and ‘Lights Out’ leading the charge of easily digestible horrors that re damaging the genre I love so much.
When The Conjuring first came out I’ll admit that I was pleased, even though I felt then, as I do now, that it was completely devoid of scares. I thought that anything that meant horror was viewed as a viable option for Hollywood and stars meant that it would get more money put into it and more quality horrors would get made. I realize now want a mistake that thinking was, because basically all The Conjuring did was mainstream horror; which sounds like a good thing, and in some ways it is, but its really a double edged sword. Sure, more people go to see horror, more people are exposed to horror, it makes more money and is seen as a worthwhile choice. However, what it really means is that Hollywood has decided that here’s a place that we can make money.
Horror fans are, and always have been, eager for the next big thing, and will pretty much see anything that falls under the horror umbrella. So these films don’t even necessarily have to be quality for us to go see them, we are always looking out for the next best undiscovered gem. So, Hollywood decided, we have a ready made audience who will pretty much see anything horror related, if we add a bunch of stars and directors who wanna make an easy buck, such as James Wan, we would expand on the ready made audience and make even more money. The only thing is it cant be too shocking or too unpleasant or too ‘horror’ otherwise we are gunna lose the mainstream audience that we are courting to attend our movies.
Therein lies the rub, the whole point of horror is to be something that not everyone embraces with both arms, to be something that pushes boundaries and genres and ideas, to be offensive. The minute you try to make something accessible to everyone, you lose the thing that made it unique.
Horror is a genre that is not loved by everyone and that is something that makes it kinda special.
Horror doesn’t care if not everyone likes it, real horror probably wants you to dislike it a little.
It doesn’t necessarily want you to have a good time, it might want to educate you by holding a mirror up to your most hidden fears, it might want to just shock you, or make you contemplate the evils in the world you live in, but the thing it always has, no matter what the horror, is that not everyone is gunna love it and that’s just fine.
But these new movies like lights out, the conjuring, insidious and don’t breath, want people to like them. They’re like that kid at school saying “its only a little bit scary, it’ll be fine. Like being on a roller coaster, a few thrills but easily forgettable once you leave the theater, its not really gunna hurt you”.
But I think horror should hurt you, at least a little bit; it should, that’s the point.
Horror has always been a a reflection of the things that society is afraid of.
So what is this about? What are these horrors actually about? What do they have to say? It seems nothing but “Boo!”
I’m not saying that every movie has to be about something more, but at its core, most good horror, is.
Some horror is just there to have a good time – childs play, cabin fever, severance, shaun of the dead etc. these films exist cause they are kinda goofy, big dumb fun and there’s nothing wrong with that. Sometimes it’s exactly what you want. However none of these films claim to be the scariest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, the new wave of horror films do.
So, to return to the original line of this article – horror is in crisis. This is not something that’s easy to see from the huge impact horrors have had on the multiplex lately. The five biggest horror releases of 2016 all made the top fifty box office successes of the year – The Conjuring 2, Lights Out, The Shallows, 10 Cloverfield Lane and Don’t Breathe. Each film also scored high marks with critics, all ranging from seventy-seven to ninety percent on Rotten Tomatoes. So why was the horror community not happy?
Horrors, as discussed, are a divisive genre. They are a ‘love them or hate them’ movie experience, and it takes a horror connoisseur to review them. The average person who doesn’t enjoy horrors generally doesn’t just dislike them, but outright despises them and cannot understand why anyone would like them. You can’t expect a regular film reviewer to embrace something that is designed to offend you or shake you up. So for a horror film to be so widely adored by ‘regular folk’, to be so widely enjoyed, it has to have had its edges dulled. Look at the average rating for these films – PG. These are films designed to scare and entertain jaded teenagers and therefore the intelligent slow build storyline, the realistic violent terror and any subversive sub-story has been left behind in favor of cheap jump scares and action from the get-go because Hollywood believes that audiences these days are too impatient to truly invest in something that may pay off bigger later. They want their roller-coaster style horror experience now please, designed to be swallowed whole and forgotten about. The horrors that work their way into your nightmares and psyche seem to be a thing of the past and the more they churn out these critic-friendly McHorrors to good mainstream reviews, the more we will get.
James Wan and Blumhouse Pictures seem to be leading the way in mediocrity – happy to jump onto the coat tails of horror but with no interest in advancing the genre or even celebrating it. Their films a cynical blend of jump scares and cheap tropes that are easy cash cows as they churn out sequel after sequel and start new franchises piggy-backed on the old such as the ill-advised ‘Annabelle’ spin-off from ‘The Conjuring’, the ever-more-convoluted ‘Saw’ franchise, and the newly announced “The Nun’ spin off from ‘The Conjuring 2’; and lest not forget ‘Insidious chapter 4’ heading your way soon.
Where are the true auteurs of the genre like John Carpenter, David Cronenberg, George A. Romero, Mario Bava, Lucio Fulci, Wes Craven, Dario Argento, Tobe Hooper, Ruggero Deodato and James Whale ?
Or even Hitchcock, DePalma, Polanski, Lynch, Donner or Friedkin ?
Lets look back ten or so years to a time when the horrors being released were made more for horror fans rather than their public at large.
2005, Wolf Creek –An absolute powerhouse of a film; a horror that still scares eleven years later and , I suspect, will continue to do so.
When Wolf Creek was released the horror community was thrilled – effective, hard, nasty, well-made and turns horror conventions on their head – we collectively couldn’t have been happier.
The reviews from the horror sites reflected this:
JoBlo.com said “Wolf Creek punished me and had me thinking afterwards (about the ugly state of our society). As a genre fan and a human being, I thanked it for that. Hit this creek and get drowned in pain!”
HorrorReview.com said “A moody, disturbing, and, thanks to the sadly departed cinematographer, Will Gibson, a strangely beautiful piece of horror cinema that still stands as one of the best examples of the torture porn era.”
JigsawLounge.co.uk – “manage to serve up more than enough tension, surprise and grisly nastiness (protracted beyond the point of sadism at times) to make for an old-fashioned white-knuckle night out at the pictures.”
Moria.co.nz – “Greg McLean’s rawness – both in the entirely naturalistic handheld photography and during the brutality of the climactic chase scenes – is commendable.”
Vegan Voorhees – “So it’s a scenically beautiful film with characters sharpened by the long, slow build; gritty and documentarian in feel but also harrowing and depressing with no comfortable resolution or confines of the standard mad slasher opus – but then that’s what horror is, right? The absence of hope – definitively, it should be horrible.”
Compare this to how Wolf Creek was received by mainstream reviewers:
Qaud City Times said “Hey, here’s an idea for the new year. What if a bunch of us get together somewhere and burn all copies of movies like “Wolf Creek?”
Palo Alto Weekly – “Viewers eager to embrace 90 minutes of footage featuring women being brutalized, beaten, stalked and slaughtered may want to consider some serious introspection.”
Modamag.com – “This violent horror picture is gratuitously vicious, gruesome and repulsive. Don’t say you weren’t warned!”
Ebert said “what the hell is the purpose of this sadistic celebration of pain and cruelty? The theaters are crowded right now with wonderful, thrilling, funny, warm-hearted, dramatic, artistic, inspiring, entertaining movies. If anyone you know says this is the one they want to see, my advice is: Don’t know that person no more.”
Cinema Crazed – “I just wanted the damn thing to end…”
Yep, those regular reviewers hated it and I’d have expected little else and though I despaired of one of my favourite horrors being unfairly dragged through the mud (in my opinion) it was not a surprise.
Fast forward to 2016 and heres what the same regular reviewers think of Lights Out-
Time Uk said – “There are scares from the off in the short, punchy horror Lights Out, adapted by the director David F Sandberg from his short film.”
BuzzFeed News – “At 81 minutes, unfolding in a handful of key locations, and opting for practical effects and clever framing over computer-generated imagery, Lights Out is still lean and concentrated, and it benefits from that spareness.”
Common Sense Media – “This simple but effective horror movie seems to do everything exactly right. It’s smart, clever, and very scary, and it doesn’t bother with any of the lazy, cynical stuff associated with the horror genre today.”
SciFi Now – “What makes Lights Out so terrifyingly effective is that it takes full advantage of that primal fear of the dark that almost everybody has felt at some point in their lives. And this time, there really is something under your bed.”
They ate it with a spoon and called it deliciously scary. This, my friends, is mainstream media telling you to go and see this movie which is actually a pedestrian horror that relies on jump scares that any real horror fan could see coming a mile away with a ridiculously overdrawn and over explained plot that just serves to demonize mental health problems.
This is not a good thing for horror.
And while these films make money and garner favorable reviews it will continue down the well worn path of homogenizing and making more palatable a genre that should be thriving on anarchy.
What a pity.