While the massive Star Wars machine is just starting to turn and the super hero / comic book bubble is on the verge of bursting with an overfull release schedule, horror fans are feeling a little left out these days.
For awhile there we had a regular spat of entertaining anthologies being churned out, from Trick ‘R Treat to the V/H/S series to Tales Of Halloween and even the tongue-in-cheek A Christmas Horror Story. That trend is now slowing significantly down and there’s a barren desert on the horizon for lovers of all things frightful.
There’s an unfortunate stagnation occurring on many fronts for our beloved genre, with the handful of releases actually coming out typically being reboots, remakes, sequels, prequels, or endless rehashes of a specific overplayed genre. Much of it appears to be tailored towards making a quick buck on a low investment for a guaranteed built-in audience.
Much like the aforementioned comic book movie frenzy, the found footage bubble appears to have finally well and truly burst, which is for the best. While there are actually several movies in that sub-genre that are well worth seeing (and a few that presented the format in genuinely innovative ways), the formula got very, very stale with more trash than gold in recent years.
The most recent trend has been social media-based horror, with a slew of movies involving Facebook or having a hashtag in their title. Although lower budget and not perfect, The Den was one of the surprisingly good entries to squeak out of that fad, while nearly all the rest haven’t been worth anyone’s time.
Horror has sadly hit a rut, with specific concepts getting overplayed again and again. The Forest for instance gave us scary Japanese girls (yawn) and not much else. Hush meanwhile had a fairly unique protagonist, but in all other ways was an incredibly by-the-numbers home invasion flick that felt like half an idea for a movie that was never fully fleshed out. Somewhere along the way the filmmakers unfortunately forget to add in a plot.
Somehow a basic truth of the genre has gotten lost along the way: horror is most effective when you don’t see it coming, or when it is presented in a way that the audience doesn’t expect. I’m still blown away by how that Jessica Biel flick The Tall Man was marketed as just another slasher movie, and then it absolutely defied expectations at every turn, keeping you guessing until the last moment.
The first (and as far as I’m concerned, only) season of True Detective was equally effective on that front. I’ll never forget the moment in the third episode when I realized this was cosmic horror in the vein of H.P. Lovecraft / Robert Chambers that was masquerading as a cop drama to reel in unsuspecting viewers. The upcoming, perennially delayed adaptation of Stephen King’s “It” losing True Dective director Cary Fukunaga was a blow that won’t be easy to overcome.
To be fair, there have been a few twists and turns here and there in horror lately that at least tried something different. Both The Babdook and It Follows took chances and went in interesting directions, although I felt the former ended up being too much style over substance while the latter was a bit of a mess that fell short of the hype. The Witch was another change in the formula even when dealing with familiar ground that didn’t quite match the hype machine. Although it did leave me wondering as the credits rolled if something supernatural had actually gone down or if that family was just tripping on tainted LSD corn.
There have been some shining examples of understated horror as well that don’t always make the best renter wall or remain stuck on VOD for long periods before hitting the public consciousness. The relentlessly uncomfortable atmosphere in Creep was incredibly effective, and that’s a movie that will stick with me far longer than anything involving ghosts or demons. The out-of-nowhere Arnold Schwarzenegger film Maggie also offered a whole new take on what’s horrifying about the zombie apocalypse.
Some of the most interesting horror releases lately haven’t been movies at all, as other media picks up the slack. Gaming, books, graphic novels, and yes, even music, are more at the forefront these days. Lychgate’s “An Antidote For The Glass Pill” album release from this past summer was a more harrowing experience than many of the recent horror flops, and definitely put me on the edge of my seat better than whatever latest Paranormal Activity entry hit the big screen.
PC and console games in particular have been killing it on the horror front, with the acclaimed Outlast sparking a horror revolution. Ditching the gunfire typical of a first person game, Outlast and those inspired by it figured out the scariest situation is one in which you can’t defend yourself. A whole sub-genre of games has been spawned from that concept in which you in the driver seat of the horror movie, but with no way of fighting back against all the axe-wielding maniacs or deadly xenomorphs.
This idea has been twisted and contorted into some truly fascinating iterations, like the psychological mind fuck that is SOMA. If you want to question just what “life” truly is and what it actually means to be alive, give that title from Frictional Games a try and have your whole definition of horror expanded.
On the movie front, horror really needs a spectacular, big budget hit that’s both appealing to the masses and doesn’t pull any punches on the disturbing and dark angles. Crimson Peak was a start, but it wasn’t really a horror movie in the traditional sense of the word. While many were glad to see it get canceled due to the inclusion of Tom Cruise, frankly Guillermo Del Toro’s ill-fated adaptation of At The Mountains Of Madness would have done the trick to re-ignite the genre and get more studios actively involved in horror.
For now, the really great horror will have to remain in the hands of the little guys who truly love the genre and are more willing to try ventures that might fail. The labor of love devoted to all practical effects that is The Void is one to look out for soon, and there’s plenty of other solid material to be found, so long as you know where to look.
From indie directors dropping short clips on Vimeo to crowd funded projects launched by big dreamers with wide eyes, for the foreseeable future horror will remain a genre primarily by and for the diehard fans who won’t give up, no matter how bleak the forecast looks.
About the Author
Ty Arthur has spent the last eight years freelancing for the likes of Metalunderground.com, GameSkinny, and WorldStart. His debut sci-fi / horror novella “Empty” was just released through Mirror Matter press, with a full-length dark fantasy novel also due to drop later this year. Arthur writes to exorcise his demons and lives in the cold, dark north with his amazing wife Megan and soon-to-be first son Gannicus Picard.