Last week I went to see the forgettable The Forest when it occurred to me, there’s been no genre with as high a disappointment ratio as horror. In the last two years (or since I started getting a cineworld card), I’ve only seen two very good horror films: The Babadook and It Follows. It’s probably the only genre with more films I’ve disliked (Annabelle, Poltergeist, The Gallows, Unfriended) than liked. I’ve figured out that I dislike most of the films for the same reasons, so I looked at those reasons and list them here.
1. Native Americans/Japan
So what’s the cause for this demon that’s haunting everybody? Well, you just need to go for either Native-American or Japanese. The Japanese one is simply the fear of the unknown, but it’s not really unknown anymore. This isn’t the 70’s anymore, we’re aware of Japan etc and we’re no longer ignorant of their culture. So it’s weird that we do seem that a lot of modern horror films just go “because Japan has ghosts” as an acceptable answer. But that’s nowhere near as one that’s almost become cliche: Native Americans. This is a lot simpler, it’s to make do for the guilt of the genocide that took place hundreds of years ago, so we imply that they were a noble people with power beyond our grasp,bestowing upon them a knowledge and power that makes us feel okay with almost wiping them out. There’s not many modern American horror things in real life, there’s not many countrywide urban legends and rituals, so using Native Americans or the culture of the Japanese is just lazy shorthand.
Quick, what do the following have in common: The Exorcist, Halloween, Psycho? Well, they’re all horrors which have stood the test of time. But try to remember something about this films, odds are you just had the soundtrack to one of them in your head. Which makes me feel sad that this sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore, It Follows is the only horror with a really good original soundtrack I’ve seen in seemingly forever. Most films just go with filling their soundtrack with rock music so they can make more money from the soundtrack. The trouble with this is that familiarity makes you feel safe, so when you’re watching a film and you’re sitting there and you recognise the music then you automatically get taken out of the film, you’re no longer scared. It’s like my nan used to say: Its impossible to be scared whilst listening to Creed. The only exception is if the characters themselves are listening to music, then you’re allowed to have familiarity. But if you’re having a horror chase scene to a song by P.O.D, then I won’t be scared, I’ll be wondering why the hell you chose that song. Please note: I know that Tubular Bells is a Mike Oldfield song that does exist outside of The Exorcist, but there is a difference between the way that the film used that, and the way that modern films use music.
3. Lack Of Originality
Yes, I know there’s been a Point Break remake this year, and there will soon be a Ghostbusters one. But no film genre is as incestuous and mastubatory as horror. Look, I know why this happens. It can be hard to market horror, it can be difficult to make people feel scared in a 30 second advert. So it’s tempting to just do a familiar concept so that people think “oh, that’s another film about killer t-shirts strangling people, I love them!” and go to see it. Companies want to showcase the best moments in the trailers, this is why you get the best jokes from comedies in the trailer. But in horror that’s different, you can take the scariest scene from a film, but take it out of it’s context and it’s meaningless. The best adverts I’ve seen for horror over the last few years have been It Follows and The Gallows. Because they showed absolutely nothing. You left the trailer with more questions than when it started, you wanted to see it to find out what happened. In this sense, less is definitely more. Ok, The Gallows ended up being a dire pile of faecal matter, but the trailer was superb.
4. Final Jump Scare
I blame Paranormal Activity for this. That film (apparently) stayed relatively restrained throughout, but then ended with something jumping towards the camera, thereby making it a feature length version of one of those videos that asshole at work always shows you. The reasoning behind this was that it would mean the audience would leave the cinema still shaking, otherwise, you know, they might have forgotten it was a horror movie and think they just watched P.S I Love You (which is a film which inspires horror and despair, but for a different reason entirely). The trouble with these fourth wall breaking scares is they break the story. By this point the ghost or demon or cannibalistic giraffe has already been destroyed and everyone lives happily, but to then have the thing leap at the audience at the end just means the story isn’t over. And if there’s no sequel then the film is completely pointless as nothing changed, it’s just a story of a demon that kills then kills again. Now, this is different from a downer ending where you feel an unending sense of doom, as they’re usually set up well so you’re walking out scared of the world as opposed to just the tiny amount of fear that jump scares inspire.
Worst Offender: Unfriended
Not only was this pointless, but it ruined what would have been a fantastic ending that almost saved the film.
5. Jump Scares
If you’ve seen a horror film lately you know what this is, quiet quiet quiet, sudden loudness and something happens. This scares the audience. But it doesn’t, not really. It doesn’t fill you with terror and make you scared outside of the film. It won’t effect your life once you’ve left the cinema. Basically; they don’t last. You don’t walk around afterwards with that sense of genuine terror. Look, we get it, being genuinely scary is hard, but if you can’t do it, don’t bother attempting. I don’t want to be fine after your film, I want your film to fuck me up and leave me unable to sleep. And jump scares don’t do that. You can have a few of them, but they can’t be the entire modus operandi.