Undead: What’s Wrong with Horror Nowadays

Horror movies have always been a niche thing. Sure, everybody went to see Ford Coppola’s Dracula and horror movies briefly rise from the dead every year round Halloween but as a rule horror movies are low budget, low attendance and limited release. The phenomenon is quite visible in the fact that some of the low budget good horror movies often fail to make it into mainstream audiences. This January’s John Dies at the End is the perfect example.

The real problem with horror movies is that they’re considered second-rate productions compared to any other movie. I’m not referring here to Oscar-worthy films but, for instance, the Expendables 2 has more appeal to the masses than any given horror movie, even outside its key demographics. The reason? Partly it’s the fact that many people don’t want to be scared (and that is perfectly understandable). Mostly it’s sequelitis.

Horror movies have always been infuriating in this respect. Instead of releasing new and clever movies along similar lines studios prefer to rehash an already successful or mildly successful movie in order to draw half or less than half of the original movie’s audience with a quarter of the production costs and none of the actual appeal. Check out the Friday the 13th series on demand online (it’s part of your Charterinternet specials package) for one of the worst offenders.

In recent years this type of sequelitis and prequelitis has spread to other types of movies than horror ones and has become increasingly annoying for mainstream audiences as well (who nonetheless watch the sequels and perpetuate the cycle). Consequentially, better movies don’t get the shot they deserve due to studios picking the low budget, rehashed version of a movie that audiences are familiar with (see the recent Texas Chainsaw massacre 3D reboot) over the bold, challenging movie that people are unsure about (see Guillermo del Toro’s decade long fruitless quest to produce an adaptation of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness). Horror is considered a ‘genre’, and while in other genres people are not afraid of innovation in horror they are notoriously attached to formulaic approaches.

Another thing that is slowly destroying the horror genre is the continual push of the ‘found footage’ sub-genre. The idea behind is that audiences need to be absorbed by a movie and consider it ‘believable’ in order to be scared by the action. They need to suspend their disbelief to such an extent that they equate the movie to reality. This isn’t something new, it is one of the basic tenets of horror, especially Lovecraftian Horror. The downside is that because any truly frightening things (like monsters) would break suspension of disbelief nothing really happens in these movies and they are utterly boring.

Horror is a broken genre. Between the studios’ unwillingness to greenlight creativity and trite formulaic found footage sequels it is possible that we won’t see a truly good horror movie for a long time. Let’s hope that’s not the case.

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