By Matt McIlnay
Horror as a film genre is dead. That might seem like a gross exaggeration considering how many horror films get released each year, but let me explain. Horror has never been particularly known for its quality, but the last decade or so has seen the genre crumble even further under an onslaught of passing fads and abysmal writing and acting. At the moment, the genre has a grim future and will continue to deteriorate if it can’t find a way to reinvent itself.
Schlock like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 3D and VHS gets released on a regular basis, but innovative and exciting horror films are rare at best. As a result, even generic and forgettable films such as Mama or Carrie are praised by horror fans based solely upon the merit of not being utterly terrible. What would be considered painfully mediocre in any other genre is praised by fans who have been forced to lower their standards after years of poorly done remakes and endless series.
The saddest part is that the genre can do so much more when given the chance. Although horror is traditionally looked down upon as trash, the genre has birthed a variety of wildly inventive and critically acclaimed films across its history. Films such as The Others and The Mist have gone beyond just being good for horror films—they were accomplished pieces of filmmaking by any standard. Sadly, very few horror films come even close to those levels.
Is Hollywood itself to blame? In some ways, yes. Thanks to shoe-string budgets and a general disdain for the genre, it is difficult for horror films to acquire talented actors, directors, or writers. Even worse, the screenwriting process appears to involve picking a subgenre (be it ghost story, slasher film, or even home invasion) and then following an exhaustive checklist of clichés. Nowhere is this seen more than in the ghost story and haunted house subgenres, which have become so standardized that it’s possible to guess most of the twists just by reading the premise.
However, as easy as it is to shake one’s fist at Hollywood for their apparent disregard for quality, it is also important to remember who pays for these films at the end of the day. Despite the appalling standards of writing and acting in these films, audiences are still supporting them to the tune of hundreds of millions in box office receipts. Why on earth would a studio want to invest in original films when they could spend practically pennies slamming together yet another Paranormal Activity sequel and pocket a cool $200 million? If the public puts their dollars behind endless sequels and homogenized horror films, then the industry will gladly follow—which is precisely what landed the genre in its current predicament.
The other and more difficult path is for audiences to become more discerning when picking horror films to watch. Instead of buying tickets to Chucky VII and the latest “something terrible happened here a long time ago…” haunted house film, film-goers should save their money for films with a little more quality, such as The Conjuring and Sinister. Although neither of those examples are particularly original, they both are well-made and represent a step in the right direction for the genre. If audiences demonstrate that they desire well-made and creative horror films and won’t accept anything less, the studios will eventually be forced to adapt.
If audiences will raise their standards and start supporting better horror films, then perhaps the genre will one day realize its full potential. Potentially superb films like At The Mountains of Madness won’t languish in development hell for years because of studio fears over marketability. Horror could expand into more creative subgenres such as surreal horror (Jacobs Ladder) or even cosmic horror (In The Mouth of Madness). Perhaps one day horror films will be able to stand head-to-head with the best of other genres, but it all rests on us horror fans making wise decisions on which movies we support with our ticket money.