Everyone who knows me can tell you that I have a passion for horror films. I love watching Michael Myers terrorize Haddonfield on Halloween. I love watching Freddy Krueger rip into teenage dreams and Jason Voorhees- well, sad to say I'm not really a Jason fan.
Lately I've been thinking about modern day horror verses old school. Halloween is over thirty years old, Psycho is fifty plus and Jaws is still the most terrifying shark film on the market. But why are these films still so popular? I can only think of two things: Suspense and character development.
Suspense is what makes horror, well, horrifying. Whether it be something as simple as the score (Come on, how many of you would be pissing yourselves if you were in the ocean and someone started humming the 'Jaws' theme?) or shadows, suspense is the reason that old school horror, like that of Psycho, will remain timeless.
Modern day horror seems to focus on the gore and sexual prowess aspect of horror. How much blood can we throw at the screen? How many naked people do we need in this shot? Has anyone seen the fake detached limbs?
When the Saw series first began, I had high hopes for it. It was original (and disturbingly came out of the mind of two boys from my home town) and it focused on suspense with a bit of gore thrown in for good measure. By the time the fourth film came into play, I was over it. Forget the suspense, it was just a simple blood bath. Needless to say I didn't find it scary as much as stomach-churning. I walked out of Saw 4 midway through because I hated what I was watching. To this day, I still haven't seen the seventh installment, nor do I really want to.
Which brings me to Paranormal Activity. Suspenseful? Yes. Gorey? No. Boring as all hell? Definitely. I watched Paranormal Activity on television and ended up fast forwarding 98% of the movie because I was bored to tears. The only part I actually watched was the end and even then I was asking my friends, "Wait. Was that it?"
The Blair Witch Project, which, for those who don't know, was the 90's version of Paranormal Activity. It was terrifying. It was suspenseful, it wasn't boring and most of all, it actually had characters that we liked. (For me, and I'm not asking you to agree, Paranormal Activity was that dull that I was considering sorting out my sock drawer) The Blair Witch Project came into the market that was dominated by big baddies - Not the baddies of the 80's (Freddy, Jason etc.) but that of the 90's. The Fisherman and Ghostface. The Blair Witch Project succeeded and remains to be scary because it was different. It followed a different path to most horror and yet managed to keep the basic horror elements that have made movies like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence Of The Lambs iconic.
Character development seems to be the other issue the horror genre has. Scream has been the only modern day film where you're not actually rooting for the killer because the main characters are pissing you off - OK I admit that I'm still waiting for Gale Weathers to die but I'm not the only one. We feel for Sidney, we laugh with Dewey, and we all hated Wes Craven when Randy died. Scream is the golden example of what characters should be like.
Jaws is another movie with character development. Think back to the film. We got chills down our spine when Quint told us why he'd never put another life jacket on. We chewed our nails in fear as Matt Hooper climbed into the anti-shark cage. We agreed with Martin Brody when he said "You're going to need a big a boat." We even cheered when Brody finally blew 'Jaws' up at the end. If we didn't like the characters, then we wouldn't have these kinds of reactions.
Are these types of movies long behind us? Are great stories that combine fear, blood and character development long gone?
If I could write horror I would be doing my hardest to return to the years gone by when it comes to stories that truly terrify. Alas I cannot. I tired and created the funniest comedy known to man. I actually think I spent more time on the blooper reel then on the movie itself.
If you are a writer and you're wanting to branch out, have a stab (no pun intended) at a horror script. Bring some fresh ideas to the table. Who knows, in thirty years time we could be discussing why your idea simply won't die.