Where Have All The Horror Films Gone?



Where as the horror film gone? A few years ago I took part in a panel on the subject at the height of the ‘torture-porn’ cycle of movies. Someone else on the panel regarded films like Inside and Martyrs as transgressive representations of the future of horror, while I saw them as a step backwards into a medieval theatre of sensation. I didn’t like the confusion of disgust with fear. But what has taken their place?

If horror films aim for nothing more than emotional response – shock, terror, misery, sadness – you simply could string together images from concentration camps interspersed with dying cancer patients and fulfil that criteria. You could argue that horror films achieve a level of catharsis no other type of film manages, but I strongly feel that powerful, shocking images can only be yoked within the service of equally strong ideas if they are to find a lasting place in the pantheon of great horror stories.

Visceral violence is most powerful when used sparingly. We remember it most vividly when it comes out of the blue, after a period of calm, as in Pan’s Labyrinth. The alternative is to make a film like Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead, in which constant gore becomes surreal and silly. The problem is that gore has been around for at least forty years now, and shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones have taken the space where old horror B-movies used to live.

I hit my cut-off point in Saw 3, with the extended brain operation scene that first disgusted, then bored me. Hollywood horror films discovered found footage, then a few supernatural puzzlers, then stopped altogether. Cabin In The Woods promised to be the last word in horror deconstruction but turned out to be nothing of the kind, just a shallow TV-show spin on horror. Without the young Stephen King or Michael McDowell, or even George RR Martin (who wrote the brilliant Fevre Dream before GOT) we have no horror novels aimed at adults.

Could we be moving to more thoughtful, subtle stories of the supernatural? I hope so – I can’t see any more films in which five dumb teens drive into the woods and break down. And oddly, the less gore-soaked, more cerebral horror films have staying power – we remember The Others and Julia’s Eyes more than any number of torture flicks.

Usually London’s wonderful Frightfest event reveals some gems, but the best films I’ve seen there over the years have been the thinking horror movies – and that’s not what the public wants. Superb low-budget films like The Glass Man never find release of any kind at all.

I’ve been thinking about this as the release of my own entry into the haunted house stakes approaches. Nyctophobia comes out at the end of the summer, but what sort of landscape will it find itself in? With the exception of The Borderlands I haven’t seen a good horror film for an age (suspense yes, several, but they were all Spanish). I haven’t seen The Quiet Ones yet because it doesn’t seem to urgently requite a big screen. If anyone has seen something we should watch out for, let me know!

4 comments on “Where Have All The Horror Films Gone?”

  1. Wayne Mook says:

    Agreed admin, too much found footage or torture films, there is also a glut of hoodies/wilderness films.

    Kill List was enjoyable, I’ve not seen’ A Field in England ‘ but there has been some good things said about Ben Wheatley.

    Dead Mine from a few years ago was fun, by the same person who made Mum & Dad, set in Indonesia, it follows the plot of a team of people going into a WW2 bunker that was used for experiments, the difference is it’s not Nazis it’s an old Japanese experimental lab and they used Aussie soldiers plus there own troops. Not perfect but a fun piece. This was by HBO Asia.

    Felt the same about the Quiet Ones, I wonder what they will do with The Woman in Black 2, there are a number of versions of Frankenstein in the pipe line, plus a Dracula prequel, Dracula Untold on how the count became a sucker.

    I was unsure with Oculus as well. Nothing has really grabbed me.


  2. John says:

    Last really good contemporary horror flick I saw was WAKEWOOD. Four years ago! The rest of them are copycat thrillers that are way too familiar and paint-by-number gory schlockfests. In fact most modern horror movies are nothing more than grotesque murder stories which I’d classify as crime thrillers not horror. in order for a movie to be called a horror movie I demand some element of the supernatural or weird inexplicable events be present.

    BTW – why hasn’t anyone ever written about how similar FEVER DREAM is the lead vampire in Charlaine Harris’ series of books? It’s almost a direct rip off. The True Blood business is exactly the same idea as the vampire living off of a synthetic blood in Martin’s book. Plus, both deal with a Civil War veteran vampire and both are set in Louisiana. Way too coincidental if you ask me.

  3. snowy says:

    I find it increasingly hard to work out if a films are ‘Horror’ or are just stealing old visual ideas to give their rather lack-lustre plots a bit of ‘glamour’, in the original sense of the word.

    Most people will contend that ‘Alien’ is a Horror film, that just happens to be set in space. A small group of people are stalked by something evil.

    But where does ‘Southern Comfort’ fit? It has a small group of people, under threat in a hostle environment. They are not trapped in a ship, but lost in a vast landscape. The threat they face is not aliens but other humans, But it follows the classic horror arc.

    If we allow ‘Southern Comfort’ does that mean that we allow ‘Deliverance’?

    My feeling is that ‘Horror’ has become just an commonplace ‘ingredient’ in all films rather than a ‘form’ in itself. Blended and homogenized into a form of visual ‘all-spice’, thown into a script in-lieu of original ideas.

    I couldn’t think of any recent films that were pure ‘Horror’ and having stared at the spines of various shelves of DVDs, I was no wiser. The last ‘proper’ horror I saw recently was ‘Ghostship’, but that is over a decade old. [It has monumentally cliched cover art, that put me off watching for years. But it is a decently made film, with a bit of gore as is currently fashionable, wrapped round a fairly solid story.]

    Lurking in the yet-to-be-watched pile is the Belg-Horror ‘Calvaire’ [aka ‘The Ordeal’], but the reviews give no great clues as to the quality of the film, [they are the standard fare, young mostly Americans whose response could be summed up as “OMFG!!!! this film sucked!!!” and others that say the film is great.].

  4. Iain Triffitt says:

    There’s been a spate of “alt-horror” or “art horror” films from the US, like Resolution (which uses similar ideas to Cabin in the Woods to much greater effect), Yellowbrickroad and Absentia. They’re all low budget, with well defined characters and little to no gore (though there is an effectively nasty scene in Yellowbrickroad) and a pervasive feeling of dread. However, because there’s no money for marketing or distribution they can be hard to find – though the director of Absentia seems to have got his next film Oculus a cinema run.

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