Like many of you, I am a huge horror fan. Since I was a kid I always loved the maniacs and monsters of the screen. The suspense the fear and the fun. Jason, Freddy, Chucky the whole lot of them each had a place and a story that captivated my mind as I know it did you.
We loved the fear, we loved being grossed out and we loved the danger.
So, what happened?
Like me my kids also like horror movies, I watch with them and can’t help but be disappointed the stories are weak the fear is missing and the feeling that the big bad is a threat to life is almost nonexistent.
I started to think about the basic components of the horror movies of my childhood. This is what I came up with.
The anatomy of horror classics.
The monster: From Candyman to Dracula, from critters to leather face, there must be a threat. An adversary that is scary not only because of vicious actions but because of their total disregard for life.
The motive: Whether the motive is deep or simple ravenous psychosis, we must be able to understand why the killer is so driven to kill. Jason, Mike Myers, just kill they don’t care or think and there is no reasoning with them. Vampires and Zombies kill to feed. Freddy and Chucky were murderers because they liked it. Whatever the reason it had to be present and understandable.
The Mythology: Every great horror movie has that one scene when the group of would-be survivors bring their own pieces of the puzzle together and discuss it together as someone produces or finds a book or newspaper clipping that brings the history and the legend together with the current experiences and provides the ominous sense that our antagonist is not confined by the normal limitations we all share. They won’t simply die on their own they won’t age out of an effective murderous rampage they won’t fade away they have to be dealt with.
The Environment: This is a big feature that I think is the issue with more modern horror movies, the place. Camp crystal lake, the Dream realm, Haddonfield, all places of isolation. Even big cities like Chicago can be isolated when the victim is separated by the insanity of their story. The key, however, is that ability to be isolated to be alone against the big bad.
The Good Guys: The group of would-be survivors has to be diverse. There needs to be a wide array of skills and weakness all expressible in short order to allow us to connect briefly before they are partially or totally torn to little pieces.
The plan: This is the part that normally has the musical montage as everyone readies their portion of the plan feeling prematurely triumphant even though a good portion of them won’t make it to the end.
The death: The bad guy has to go hard. There has to be an inventive brutal and ridiculous way for the bad guy to die. Why? Cause we want satisfaction. The killer tore up 30 people and they can only die once so we want a death that is like 30 deaths rolled into one.
It’s all pretty standard really. As a viewer of literally hundreds of horror films over 30 plus years, these are the basic elements of a satisfying horror movie. So again, I ask the question, what happened?
I believe the answer to that question is technology.
Several of these key elements are rendered moot by something so simple as a cell phone. It’s hard to be isolated with a cell phone. A cell phone, a charged one, with good signal at least lets one communicate, it’s a GPS and can get you out of almost anywhere, it has the internet so you can do all your bad guy research while your hiding, you even have the ability to video and photograph you’re your monster attacker and the damn thing even has a flashlight.
It may sound silly, but if you think about a great older horror movie for just a moment you see that about 3/4 of the struggle could be accomplished with a cell phone in 5 minutes. No wonder all the good horror movies of modern times are not set in modern times.
Some of the most popular horror offerings of 2017 were actually set in the 80s because it offers the perfect setting for horror. We have some anomalous movies here and there such as Cabin in the woods, one of the most innovative and clever stories in the anoles of horror. To be fair, however, one of the main reasons it was so good was that they touched all these points mentioned above and purposefully imposed them on the story.
So, what will the future of horror be? Will we have to rely on a weak cell signal to deprive our protagonists of an unfair advantage?
My hope is for some out of the box thinking.