Horror Movies: Do They Still Scare You or Just Gross You Out?
I read in this week’s Entertainment Weekly that the majority of horror movie patrons nowadays are women. This comes as no surprise to me, because my wife is a huge fan of the horror genre. She and I often talk about what we consider to be the best scary movies. Many horror films today, however, seem to miss the key ingredients of a good fright flick and resort to blood and guts instead of true suspense and chills. The problem with lots of horror movies today is that they don’t scare me, they nauseate me.
Masters of the genre, like Alfred Hitchcock, John Carpenter, and Wes Craven, knew that it was what the audience didn’t see that often sparked the biggest fears. The build up is sometimes more fulfilling than the climax – when done right, a lot of folks watching the movie will have their eyes closed in apprehension of their worst nightmares by the time the gruesome money-shot arrives.
Today’s “torture porn” trend doesn’t seem to bother with suspense or subtlety. It just hits you over the head with a constant barrage of torn limbs, mutilations, and carnage. It reaches a point where the audience is numbed to the bloodshed it's beholding.
Classic horror seems quaint by modern standards. Bela Lugosi as Dracula, Lon Chaney Jr. as The Wolf Man, Boris Karloff as Frankenstein’s Monster, Vincent Price as the mutated Fly, almost seem tame when compared to contemporary slasher icons like Friday the 13th’s Jason Voorhees, Halloween’s Michael Myers, Nightmare on Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, Saw’s Jigsaw Killer, Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface, or Hellraiser’s Pinhead. The early monsters aren’t necessarily better or worse than the horror villains of today. It’s just that the ways their stories are told have changed.
Alfred Hitchcock often said that suspense is the key to bringing out the fear in an audience. People like to escape the horrors of reality and get their chills and thrills from fictional tales. It’s the filmmaker’s duty to push the right buttons to raise those goosebumps, get the hearts racing, and instill the desired panic and terror in the viewers. Nowadays, though, some screenwriters, directors, and producers seem to have forgotten the lessons that Hitchcock and others established.
My favorite horror movies include Bride of Frankenstein, The Omen (1976), The Exorcist, the original Halloween, Silence of the Lambs, Se7en, The Blair Witch Project, 28 Days Later, and Pan’s Labyrinth. My wife loves horror flicks like The Ring, The Others, The Sixth Sense, Identity, Disturbia, and The Grudge.
Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer made the horror genre self-referential. Recent movies like Hostel, The Devil’s Rejects, and the Saw franchise seem to celebrate sadistic violence. All have justifiable themes that arguably reflect the times.
Whether or not they’re legitimately scary or just grossing out the audience is debatable.