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My Problem With Modern Horror


Fuck Horror.

As grandiose as a statement that it is, I hate most modern horror films. Not because I intrinsically hate the genre, nor because I am a cynical, hate filled cretin. No, I hate modern horror because it categorically spoils the things necessary for horror films to work.

To be blunt, horror has always been somewhat of a second string cinematic genre. With it’s central aim being prick-teasing animal instincts, it’s no wonder that most horror films have been the kind of cheese ridden b-movie that one associates with Hammer and Christopher Lee. For the greater part of cinema history, horror has been the bastion for every idiot with a camera and a desire to make a quick bit of cash. But, somewhere between the mid 1960s and our modern stream of arse gravy, something happened. Directors with visions and ideas and things to say started to make horror films. Friedkin, Scott, Romero, they made films that had something to say about our fears of the young, rape, and the loss of individuality. They used the genre as a tool and a platform and they did it with gusto. Alien, The Thing, The Shining, The Exorcist, Halloween and many more all appeared under the steady hands of some of the best directors that have ever put a film to celluloid. So what do these films lack now? Budget? Can’t be that, Alien was made on a shoestring and Halloween was dirt cheap. Gore? Most certainly not that, some of the modern gore-fests take sadism to a level that Genghis Khan would have blushed at. Is it the lack of originality? You-betcha, but that isn’t the whole story.

Modern horror looks slicker than ever, but as a result of the ability to deliver CG scare after CG scare they have forgotten two important things that are crucial for a good horror. Pacing and atmosphere. Everyone who has seen the Texas Chainsaw Massacre can remember the violence of it, despite the fact that literally nothing happens for the first 40 minutes. The film is so impactful, because for close to an hour, nothing out of the ordinary rears its head. After that, we get people on meathooks and chainsaws and as a result the film has a clear crescendo that it built on the back of good pacing. Similarly if we consider the Shining, the scares are outweighed by the banality of their situation, but they are infinitely more impactful as a result. Every single shock of that film can be recalled almost instantaneously because of the films relative paucity of them.

Atmosphere is the other major lack in the modern horror and, the budget may be more of a hindrance than a help. Take the recent slew of exorcism films; they have all the things that the Exorcist had, but they lack the spirit of the film. They may have demons, shocks and priests, but they are in such a rush to make use of all their toys that they forget to give us a reason to feel fear. As a counter example, take 28 days later. It is incredibly atmospheric; its score, the setting and the characters are both atmospheric and three dimensional, we care about the characters involved and we are pulled into this world. The modern slew of stuff is in a hurry to make me jump, and as a result misses the build up that makes such things impactful.

These culminate into a simple sad truth: We have no patience. 10 years ago it was annoying to see a single person on their phone in the cinema, now you’re in luck if there is only one. We want the satisfaction but don’t want to have to wait. Why sit through 40 minutes of atmosphere creation when you can just watch the best bits on YouTube? If you’re bisecting your attention between the film and Facebook is there any real point to setting the mood? Why bother when your audience isn’t? That’s why I hate modern horror, because we fucked up. We could have it so much better and we chose less. Mass cinematic apathy; isn’t that a scary story? Garrett Eastwood