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!