Now that we’ve finished another season of horror movies, it’s fun to look back (unless you’re running from something, then you’re just asking to trip over yourself.) But if you’re not, you may find it interesting to see how much horror has evolved after the turn of the new century. In fact, there may be no others genre that’s as fun to look back at in retrospect than horror. Unlike other movie genres, horror has to constantly rethink itself because we so easily grow tired and familiar with old tropes and spooks that don’t scare us anymore.
How quickly an audience can go from screaming in their seats to making obnoxious jokes at the screen trying to be more entertaining to their friends than your movie. Face the hockey-masked truth! It takes more guts to be a director in the horror genre than everywhere else!
What was once the house (haunted of course) that Dracula built is now the genre of contorted bodies bend-over backwards scurrying across the floor (The Unborn), fingers crawling out of throats (The Exorcism) and rusting ticking bear-trap-like machines latched onto peoples heads threatening to rip them open (SAW.)
Horror is really exciting for a lot of folks because the good films always try their best to surprise us with what we’ve never seen before. It’s a genre that’s constantly in evolution (or should I say mutation?)
But in no other decade has horror jumped ghost-ship as many times as it has in the first decade of the twenty-first century; and in no other story have I been more in the mood for puns. (Oh the horror!)
Coming out of the 1990s, it was all about a machete-wielding slaughter machine in a hockey-mask (Friday the 13th), a sadistic murderous stalker in our dreams (Nightmare on Elm Street) and an unfeeling doll intent on stabbing the life out of everyone (Child’s Play.) Slasher and Horror were synonymous with other.
But with the turn of the new century came a new clammy-fingered foreign touch straight from Japan. Horror, like a zombie with dreams and ambitions, was given a new breath of life here in the States.
We were then introduced to a faceless, long haired girl crawling out of our TV’s after watching a disturbing VCR tape (The Ring) and a croaking Japanese woman with a broken neck and a limp head crawling down the stairs (The Grudge.)
We also saw a slew of other less successful new concepts from Japan: a dreaded phone call where you got to listen to your very moment of death (One Missed Call) and a viral plague of ghosts that infected the internet and drove masses of people to commit suicide on their webcams (Pulse), etc. The point? Horror was getting creative again.
Then came a new pioneer from the Sundance Film Festival that chained us to a pipe in a disgusting bathroom until we were forced to saw off our own foot (SAW.)
Dividing the horror-curious in half (literally), half of movie-goers felt that horror had taken a gross-out turn for the worst while others saw it as a shocking new way to make us face our ultimate fear of pain.
Others followed suit, exposing us to levels of fearsome brutality, ransom and torture that made us tense, cringe and keep our appendages accounted for at all times. Films like The Purge also helped introduced new political undertones and philosophical themes that were certainly not there in the 1990s.
We saw chainsaws cleaving through people (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), silent but murderous faceless families holding victims hostage (The Strangers), brutal mutated people capturing back-road travelers (The Hills Have Eyes) and movies that took inspiration straight from SAW (Hostel.)
This is also when one of my favorite franchises jumped on the bandwagon and killed everyone on board in a gruesome predestined death no one could avoid (Final Destination.) A series about a group of people who manage to cheat and avoid their pre-destined deaths making the universe come after them using their every action against them leading to a self-caused demise. (It is the ONLY franchise that made me shake with animal fear from beginning to end!)
In a way, the cold hearted slasher era found its way back into the genre with new faces and paces. But just when we thought we were safe in bed after the movie, another film followed us directly to our bedrooms and into our heads; making us wonder what exactly happens while we sleep? (Paranormal Activity.)
A new type of horror brought to us by The Blair Witch Project finally broke into the mainstream: The “found footage” sub-genre; made to look and feel as real and grounded as a video you would tape at home. Movies that plagued us with paranoias about what really goes “bump” in the night. Indeed, films done to look like credible recovered footage was cruelly indigenous and revolutionized the genre yet again.
Other great flicks and even copy-cat films followed: Paranormal Entity (which I thought was really good), REC (which made us scared of zombies again), Apollo 18(this time in space!) and Cloverfield (an incredibly intimate story during a crazy otherworldly attack on a city.) One of my notable favorites was called The Fourth Kind that uses alien abduction as it’s premise in the most subtle unnerving way (a personal fear of my own.)
But also what Paranormal Activity started was an explosion of films that played on people’s religious fears and sensitivities: demonic possession and ghosts were never so popular (The Exorcist would be so proud.) We saw Jewish demons that sought be born by possessing unborn fetuses (The Unborn), another world of spirits and demons that sought to possess children who slept too deeply (Insidious) and a demonic apocalypse that sought to throw all of humanity into chaos (The Devil Inside.) Others would follow: The Last Exorcism, The Conjuring, etc.
I can only imagine where else horror will been taken by the time this story is read. In no other genre has the mutation been more apparent and fascinating; and where it’ll take us in the future remains to be seen — until it can’t be unseen. But whatever may lurk in our nightmares for future nights, it’ll likely be as morbid and mysterious as the deepest, darkest parts of our human psyches, and yes, the unknown itself.
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