By Andrew Herold
I've loved horror most of my life, but I don't expect you to take my word for it, so let me give you my credentials: I love horror so much that if I could marry horror, I would. If I could slather horror in butter, wrap it in bacon and deep fry it with mozzarella and eat it, I would. If I could chain horror up in my basement and gloat over it from now until the day it escaped, I would. If I could freebase (or inject, snort, or smoke) horror, I would.
Can I get away with one more?
If I could knock horror up and have hundreds of tiny little mewling grotesque horror babies, I would.
I told you my credentials were in order.
And based on that rousing testimonial, you'd probably think that my love of horror is pretty much total and unrequited. Sadly, this is not the case. Lately, I've been forced to question my acceptance for all things dark, evil, and disturbing because of recent terrible, sophomoric horror film trends. I know that horror has always had a somewhat spotty reputation, much like the porno industry (which I have to admit a deep amount of love for also, but that's a whole ‘nother article).
But to my mind, people expect more out of a horror film than something which will hold their attention for fifteen minutes (or five, whatever). They're looking for something to scare the shit out of them, something to get their adrenaline pumping, something that sticks so far into their imagination that it becomes lodged there for years. And if it can't, it'll wind up in the five dollar bin at your local Walmart, which is just a really disorganized movie purgatory.
I know this is all just philosophical posturing (and vague at that), so let me give you just a few examples of the trends of newer horror which is sending the whole genre in a disturbingly non-disturbing direction.
How many times while watching a scary movie have you heard a character say "Someone's probably fucking with us," or "It's just a sick joke!" If you watch horror as often as I do, I'm guessing that number is somewhere in the thousands. Yes, I understand the sentiment behind the idiotic statement--the characters are in such disbelief about the situation that the only way they can interpret it is by thinking someone's fucking with them. Well, I'm sorry, but when your beloved grandmother has been decapitated in front of you with a wooden spoon and then force-fed to a pack of wild rats on PCP, I think your right to say someone is just fucking with you is gone... much like grandma.
And that's always when this happens in horror films--no one ever says that when they hear a noise in the woods or when they get a call from an unknown number. It's always after a member of their party disappears and is discovered, missing teeth, fingers, eyes and organs. That's some elaborate fucking joke, I'll tell you. The pure idiocy of this statement discredits what could otherwise be a great film and is the result of nothing more than laziness. But maybe I'm being too nit-picky with this complaint, I admit that (though I won't concede that I'm wrong), so let's look at the next flaw.
Emotion, or more appropriately a lack thereof. Just because what you're watching is horror doesn't mean that it's the only emotion filmmakers should be trying to elicit. There are a whole range of other emotions which are generally ignored because directors/producers/writers are trying to amp up the fear, and even that is poorly executed.
For example, let's say that your dear old grandma hasn't yet been decapitated. In fact she's just been introduced and she's knitting a sweater for Sasha Large-Tits (our heroine). Now, in order to portray grandma as a grandma, they've made her short, slightly stocky, and gray haired, with owlish glasses. Fine, I can live with the visual stereotype if I have to. The problem, though, is that in addition to being a stereotype, grandma is also two dimensional. Why the fuck is she knitting a sweater? Why is she baking a pie? These aren't activities that every grandma does. Why isn't grandma watching an action film, or taking walks at night around the rambling farm house, or cracking jokes about wanting to shoot grandpa in the balls, or coming up with new and exciting names for her vibrator? It would make her a little bit more real, and it would make her inevitable death a little bit sadder.
It's harder to watch unique characters who you genuinely like die. It's not at all difficult to watch some bleach-blonde, tanned, and waxed forty-something twenty-year-old get a hatchet through the face. But because all horror characters are becoming stock characters, there is no emotional connection between you and them and the horror movie just becomes a portrayal of your most violent fantasies. You root for the killer, you cheer when Blondie-McDyeJob (Sasha's BFF, I'd bet) bites the big one, and as a result there is no fear, sadness, terror, horror, surprise, disgust, or anger.
All you have is joy, and violent movies that produce joy aren't horror films. They're snuff films.
Finally, we come to perhaps the biggest problem with the horror genre that I can see, and that is the rash of recent movies that try to explain a situation which should remain unexplained. Horror isn't the only genre guilty of this annoying device, but it is certainly the genre in which it's most noticeable and most unforgivable, because within the context of a horror movie, over-explanation of a supernatural situation destroys credibility and believability instead of cementing them.
An example: There is a movie called Insidious. Why? I couldn't tell you. The plot was non-existent, which isn't a problem for me as long as there are interesting characters and something of a story, but instead of just letting the movie be creepy and disturbing (which a few parts had the potential to be), someone decided that they needed to tack on an explanation to lend to the credibility of this absurd situation. It didn't. The movie would have been much more terrifying had there been no explanation at all, especially one which sounds like it was made up by a third grader.
This isn't a new concept, either. There are plenty of movies and TV shows out there which don't pander to the unintelligent viewer, and won't try to cram explanations down your throat to enhance marketability—two that I can think of off the top of my head are David Lynch's Mulholland Drive (a darkly disturbing movie without the flash and gore of a traditional horror film) and Courage the Cowardly Dog. Yup, that's right, a fucking Cartoon Network show has more truly disturbing moments in it than Insidious. Ponder that shit for a while. Don't believe me? Watch ‘em and tell me I'm wrong.
So what's the common denominator between all of these things? Hollywood? Perhaps, but even more unsettling is the public behind the Hollywood industry which continues to lower its standards of horror until they're almost nonexistent and then clamors for a sequel to Anaconda. If people stopped going to watch this absolute dreck, paying their hard-earned cash to see the same story told with a new cast of plastic characters, the movies would change and horror might actually be horrifying again. Maybe there isn't actually a problem with horror after all, maybe the fault lies with the public who continues to watch movies because they don't make you think (and let's face it, after a hard night of drinking, racism, homophobia, fast-food dinners, gun-ownership and smoking, who can think?) These people need splashy, flashy gore every three and a half minutes to hold their gnat sized attention and will accept it in any form in which it's presented and that's an abomination—it's true perversion.
That being said, you should definitely buy my first horror novel when it comes out. There'll be plenty of gore, raunchy sex and disgusting situations, and in the end, isn't that worth the twenty-two dollars?