According to one prominent online critic, the modern horror movie is
“down for the count.” I think that’s overstating the case, but the fact
is undeniable: the industry is in a slump. This is confirmed by the
disappointing box office returns of recent horror releases like THE
WOMAN IN BLACK 2 and THE LAZARUS EFFECT. Ditto the hotly anticipated
indies IT FOLLOWS and UNFRIENDED, both of which, while diverting enough
on their own terms, fell short of the genre apotheoses they were said to
What exactly is the problem with today’s
horror flicks? Here’s my six point diagnosis:
The Blumhouse Effect
You’ve probably noticed those “From the makers
ACTIVITY, THE CONJURING and THE PURGE” claims that
accompany so many current trailers. That refers to the Jason Blum run
outfit Blumhouse Productions, which produced those movies. Hollywood
loves Blumhouse, and no wonder: they specialize in cheaply made scare
flicks that often spawn lucrative franchises.
Unfortunately, it seems the law of
diminishing returns has set in big time. Given that seemingly every
other horror movie these days is a Blumhouse product, they’ve clearly
overextended themselves, which is reflected in the quality of their
| To be fair, there are a few decent films in
Blumhouse’s recent roster, which includes PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE
MARKED ONES, OCULUS, 13 SINS, THE PURGE: ANARCHY, MOCKINGBIRD, OUIJA,
JESSABELLE, THE BOY NEXT DOOR, THE LAZARUS EFFECT and UNFRIENDED, but
for the most part that line-up is pretty sorry (have you even tried
sitting through PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE MARKED ONES or THE BOY NEXT
DOOR?). Ironically, the finest of Blumhouse’s recent releases, and
indeed possibly their best film ever, is the non-horror themed WHIPLASH,
suggesting that maybe they should cut back on the scary stuff.
I know the anti-remake stance has become something
of a broken record with me, but come on: do we really need new
versions of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR,
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE and
Hollywood apparently thinks we do, even though the primary appeal of
those films, as with most every other great movie, is that they were
fresh and original (yes, even POLTERGEIST).
Audiences, at least, appear to know better. While a few
successful remakes have appeared in recent years, including the 2013
EVIL DEAD and the ‘14 GODZILLA, there were also the recent CARRIE,
SILENT NIGHT, THE
THING and OLDBOY redoes, which failed to connect either
financially or artistically. This means the
we’re-just-giving-the-people-what-they-want excuse won’t wash.
Derivative Subject Matter
The torture porn and found footage cycles have
thankfully run their course, and even zombie gorefests and TWILIGHT
wannabes have been lessened (though not entirely staunched). In their
place we have a slew of equally undistinguished horror films that differ
conceptually yet all feel the same.
This was evident in the string of horror movie trailers
that showed before a recent L.A. area screening of UNFRIENDED, during
which the audience grew inpatient with the cookie-cutter sameness of
what we saw (including INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3 and the aforementioned
POLTERGEIST remake). All those trailers were marked by overdone CGI (see
below) and seemed to feature haunted houses and curses, certainly
two of the most hackneyed tropes in the horror lexicon.
Another feature of those trailers that has become
endemic to modern horror movies were the tired “shock” effects,
involving sudden leaps out of the darkness accompanied by blaring music
cues. During one trailer, depicting a terrified girl crouched in a movie
theater exit amid a noticeably quiet soundtrack, audience members began
shouting “Boo!” and “Gotcha!” in full anticipation of the
indistinct-figure-jumping-out-of-the-darkness “shock” we all saw coming.
The Decline of Horror Fandom
Say what you will about the horror fanzines of the
eighties and nineties, but their proprietors weren’t afraid to bite the
hand that fed them by calling out horror movie makers on their missteps.
Contrast that with today’s online horror scene, whose participants by
and large seem more interested in getting free swag from the studios or
DVD cover blurbs than in offering up honest reviews.
Here I’m referring specifically to a writer for a
popular horror site who made a royal ass of himself by blathering to a
Yahoo reporter about the greatness of the CARRIE remake, and also the
countless webmasters who have turned their sites into free publicity
arms for the major studios. Such sites tend to favor phrases like
“Kick Ass” and “Cool as Fuck,” which are invariably bestowed
upon any movie that a). is martial arts themed, b).
purports to pay homage to the splatter or grindhouse flicks of old, or
c). has Quentin Tarantino’s name attached, which is absolutely no
help to the website in question, the movie being promoted or the
industry as a whole.
Too Much CGI
CGI overload isn’t limited to horror movies, of
course, but it has lessened, if not completely ruined, many a recent
scare-fest (VAN HELSING, anyone? How about DARK SHADOWS, MAMA and
BATTLESHIP?). Moviemakers don’t like to hear this, but CGI is for the
most part obvious and unexciting, and has yet to replace the charge of
practical special effects--and indeed probably never will.
Mind you, I’m not completely against CGI, as when done
right it can work wonders. See last year’s French version of BEAUTY AND
THE BEAST and the currently-in-release EX MACHINA for examples of
quality CGI. In both cases the effects were utilized with enormous care
and inspiration, and not as a substitute for those things, which
is the case in far too many modern horror fests.
I hate to sound like an old fart, but I
miss the days when horror fans were proactive about the films they
wanted to see. I’m referring to the greymarket scene of the nineties,
when movie buffs actively sought out the films of idiosyncratic auteurs
Jorodowsky, Jean Rollin and Lucio Fulci, most of which were
commercially unavailable back then. Now it seems that unless a movie is
dropped into one’s lap, and is accompanied by untold millions of
dollars’ worth of advertising, horror fans just aren’t interested.
Fact: there are unique and interesting films
being made, films I believe are fully capable of elevating the genre
like those of Jodorowsky, Rollin and Fulci did in their day--and best of
all, you don’t have to resort to bootlegging to see these films.
BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY’S
TEARS, KILL LIST, THE LAST CIRCUS, BLUE RUIN and
How may of those have you seen? Not too many,
I’m guessing. On the other hand, there’s a good chance you have
shelled out for the likes of OUIJA, ANNABELLE, I FRANKENSTEIN, DELIVER
US FROM EVIL, INSIDIOUS CHAPTER 2 and DRACULA UNTOLD. Hence our current
horror movie slump.