After five days spent under cooling dark with my twisted brothers and sisters at FrightFest 2013 and a slew of back-to-back horror films it’s as good a question as any to ask just where we see the state of horror movies in 2013.
Some background to kick things off.
The best horror films are the ones suited to voicing some collective fear we have of the time we live in.
Nosferatu, one of the earliest incarnations of horror to be put to film, harks to the dangers of diseases foreigners might bring abroad.
The Universal monsters bring pathos to legends and fairytales; man may have mastered the fear of the dark with the lightbulb, but within him there is a darkness he has yet to reconcile. Pity poor Larry Talbot’s Wolfman.
In the fifties, the post-war generation looks to the stars as the lean towards sci-fi based horrors. The atomic age brings with it radiated threats that curl and twist towards the dark.
By the late sixties and into the seventies, horrors have climbed down form Eastern European castles and lie no further than our neighbours’ front door. It’s people, not monsters, who cannot be trusted.
The 1980s is the industrialisation and commercialisation of horror. Horror motivated by quick profit, cheap production values. Time to market, vitality, multiplicity and brutality and tuning of VHS tapes provide a grim and gritty window.
The nineties see the green shoots of psychological horror – we’re all so much cleverer now, aren’t we?
By the late nineties and chiming us in to the new millennium horror becomes reflexive and self-referential in a way that allows us to enjoy the tropes of horror, while denying its power through irony.
September 11th hits and all of a sudden the horror on TV is more real than the ones in multiplexes. Made for TV terrorism provides all the realism we need; is horror still relevant?
Like the roller-coaster ride, we still need to feel the thrill of danger without the threat. The SAW films showcase an altogether existential and yet primal motivation: how do you handle your final hours?
Post-2010 and we see horror falling back on itself and referencing itself. Sequels, remakes and cash cows whose udders are milked use convention and clichés to satisfy the lowest common denominators of horror fans.
Make no mistake; these films would not be made if the morbid curiosity of fans disposed them towards tilling the golden rut that was laid by the film’s predecessor or original.
You’re a horror fan, take what you get because you’re not worthy of any deeper consideration than a tramp looking for his next drink, says Hollywood.
This then is the nightmare scenario: that horror films become about themselves, about conventions, about gore, about tits and about the elements that are replicable by 101 studios and indie filmmakers that have seen John Carpenter’s
Halloween and thought, I could do that. No problem.
I’m writing this at a time of economic uncertainty. The institutions that supposedly provide stability sit idly by while genocide occurs across the world. Population growth is increasing at exponential rates and yet global marketing departments champion the cause of the individual, the offbeat and the supposed special.
The psychopath hiding in the dark with an axe may now be carrying out an act of mercy in dispatching us as the structures and organisations we once felt protected the world are shown to be ineffective.
We’re not promised tomorrow and yet we’re lulled into believing that a world without us is unthinkable. Who will manage my facebook page once I’m gone?
If Western horror is to advance it must, on pain of death, decouple itself from what has come before.
It’s going to take film makers with an axe to grind and not adherence to the turn the volume up, make’em jump conventions that will see truly original and terrifying works produced.
And as horror fans, we’ll be out there, ever loyal, in dark, waiting to pounce.