Classic Horror – Dessita Petrova
As my mood for carving pumpkins and fancy dress parties starts slowly to settle, my list of horror movies to watch on Halloween has remained unaltered for an alarmingly long time, and most of these are old classics. In the battle between old and new the latter is certainly losing – what has happened to good horror?
What makes classic horror films so effective and so much better than more recent releases is that they are clearly responses to what was happening in the real world; harrowing events such as World War I, The Great Depression, World War II, and the Holocaust caused universal unease and provided a powerful backdrop to the fictional events in horror.
In the 1920’s the monster in horror movies was the mutilated person who had returned from the war- isolated and despised by society for its body defects, and later on something more was added to the characteristics of the outcast: an inward monstrosity, for example in The Phantom of the Opera (1925). The gothic period is considered to have laid the foundations of horror, interestingly combining love story and terror (for example Dracula, 1931). There seems to be a lot of sense in the way horror film monsters acted back then, their inward ugliness a result of the cruelty and bitterness of man, displayed in the story of Frankenstein.
I believe that the turning point in the horror movie industry is Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960), which set the boundaries for a whole new type of horror and undoubtedly influenced later films in this genre. It introduced a new face of the monster- the sympathetic and quiet person who “wouldn’t even harm a fly”, exceeded all other movies produced at the time in shock value, and pushed at the limits of onscreen violence. The movie upset the audience to a new level and put forward the idea that things are not always what they seem.
Movies from 1970 and onwards brought the naked ugliness of violence to the fore. They were reflection of the anxieties within society and taught the audience that evil was unpredictable and most of all, unstoppable (for example in Halloween 1978, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in 1974). The ‘bad guy’ could be the recently moved in neighbour next door, or the kind shop assistant in the store. Some of these movies represented the shattered American Dream and the brutality of the past that could not be escaped and came back to haunt people. (The Amityville Horror 1979, Poltergeist 1982, The Fog 1980). The ‘slasher’ movies of the 80’s produced some of the most iconic movie villains of all time – Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, each of them having an entire different background and drive for killing that provided some truly formidable storylines.
It seems to me that the number of actual good horror movies made in recent years has dropped significantly. Admittedly, there are examples of great horrors, such as SAW, which undoubtedly deserve a standing ovation for originality and bringing something new to the screen, but unfortunately, since the start of the new millennium, Hollywood has rushed to recreate the old in order to make a profit without a lot of creativity and effort. It looks as if sequels and remakes are released every weekend, all of them dependent on the popularity of the original. Most contemporary horror films rely a lot on ‘jump moments’, gore or special movie effects, rather than the kind of suspense that messes with your mind. They make the mistake of not engaging the audience and not letting people step back, think and look for the answer themselves. Has the kind of horror that makes you check under the bed or turn on all the lights before you go to sleep disappeared completely?
From a different perspective, maybe this might not be due to directors’ lack of creativity. Maybe it is me, you, the audience, who have been over-exposed to violence. Is the terror around us in the real world more disturbing than the one depicted on screen?
Either way I am still going to re-watch my list of horror movies this Halloween, hoping that next year it will have some new additions.
Modern Horror – Rachel May Quin
As a 90s kid and a person that was made to watch horror films from a very young age, thanks to a tormentor of an older brother, I find classic horror films somewhat lacklustre. Perhaps this is because the modern generation has become somewhat immune to what I personally feel are somewhat ‘quaint’ horror films. In a world of CGI and mind-boggling special effects, classic horror films of yore seem to pale in comparison, and things that horrified our ancestors now barely evoke a scream.
For example, vampires. Come on now. Who is seriously scared of vampires these days now that Twilight has turned them all into glittery irritating, hopeless romantics? Dracula may well be a little more sinister, but most of the time the idea of a vampire attempting to scare me is downright ludicrous. I’d probably be too busy trying to gaze into his eyes and see if his eyes are a lovely, warm butterscotch as Meyer so eloquently describes it.
Further to this, I personally find myself terrified by horror films that portray realistic scenarios. For example, Saw. Now, whilst your chances of being kidnapped and tormented by a tiny clown puppet on a bike are probably relatively slim, you can never be quite sure. The problem with modern day horror is, what if some psychopath IS influenced by a slasher flick and decides to re-enact it in his basement? You all know you’ve secretly watched Human Centipede 2. That stuff is terrifying. What’s worse, all the Saw scenarios inevitably end in someone’s grisly demise – there are jawbones and torn out veins all over the place. If that doesn’t keep you awake at night, I don’t know what will.
Another sort of horror that really tend to frighten me are ones that involve mysterious paranormal activities. In short, I love a good ghost, and not the Patrick Swayze kind. The Others, with leading lady Nicole Kidman, is one of the first horror films I ever saw; I won’t ruin the ending for you but safe to say it was jumpy, AND it blew my mind. Two birds with one stone. I’m also a fan of Paranormal Activity, since watching it I try to stay as far away from stairs when I’m sleeping as possible. The Ring made it virtually impossible for me to answer an unknown caller and gave me a grave fear of TV static – if a TV is fuzzy and making a horribly crackly noise, by first instinct to run.
I guess one of the only classic horrors I truly adore is the Omen trilogy, and even then the CGI in the modern remakes is so much better. After all, I can’t really take a church spire spearing a man to death seriously when it, quite frankly, looks plain old ridiculous. And dogs, really? Are we really going to be scared of some sinister looking Rottweilers? I don’t think so, classic horror. If anything, classic horror films trying to convince me that a dog is scary raises questions of stereotyping poor dog breeds that are harmless when cared for properly – an argument for another section of SCAN, perhaps.
Anyway, my point is that for me, modern horror will always win. A sign of a good horror film for me is one that will keep you awake all night wondering if there’s an restless spirit haunting your bleeping fire alarm (I actually just need to change the battery, but whatever), or taking great care whenever you look behind a door (because god forbid that mutilated corpse from The Ring is lurking there). All in all, modern horror will probably the underlying cause for my phobia of the dark – that will inevitably one day be discussed with a bored looking therapist at £300 an hour.
Thanks for that, every horror film director EVER.