The Positive Evolution of Horror in Cinema

Nothing epitomized past feelings of horror films more than having a scene properly build up to a terrifying moment, only to get a cheap jump scare. However in the last decade I really warmed up to the genre. I always felt that horror was something that benefited being told through novels and videogames. As a kid I loved the Goosebumps series, silly as they were, for having these fun moments that surprisingly cut deeper into the psyche of children’s fears (Monster Blood being one of my faves for that reason). Resident Evil 4 is a great horror action game that equally balances out its creepy atmosphere with incredibly well paced sequences.
There are obviously more detailed and deeper horror novels, as well the videogame medium has the luxury to put the player in a personalized experience that one cannot get anywhere else. Horror films on the other hand have a trickier objective, which is to put a set of characters who you care about in a situation that they can possibly escape (or the illusion of escape whether it be from a physical or internal conflict).

Then again that’s how conflict works, right? Protagonist shows up and has to acquire a MacGuffin to defeat the villain. However there seems to be this cynicism that easily creeps up in the bad ones. Mostly the ones that feature teenagers as the heroes, and when I mean heroes — I mean huge assholes. This has always been a big trend with Hollywood films that I am sick of, even in better horror films it still bugs me that we have to create these incredibly unlikable characters only for them be morally decent in the end. Watching a film should always come with the suspension of disbelief, however even that has a limit. Characters should be relatable, not in terms of seeing yourself in their shoes, but in terms of faults.

Someone could lose a pair of keys, and it’s not at all a screenwriting problem unless it becomes one. Either making the character a complete idiot, forcing the plot to move forward, or some weird case of symbolism…maybe? There are always those problems that are there to illustrate flaws, but when clumsily done they just become a bad horror trope. And what better way to lazily do this then by making archetypal teenage characters as your protagonists. How about following a group of characters who belong in individual cliques yet they all secretly hate each other?

As of the last decade now we’ve seem somewhat of a decline in those films, and more of a rise in psychological horror. Films like ‘Get Out‘ and ‘The Witch‘ that take more of a risk in their own genres by having a mix of family and psychological drama. It also helps that performances in both of those movies serve toward the main theme and elevate it. It’s like removing limiters off a talented actor can make them…do a good job.

The Conjuring films take on more of the family drama than horror. Because of that sacrifice in genre to make the characters better, it makes the movies much better. It also proves that you don’t need a set of teenagers to tell a story about being succumbed to their own conflicts. If you have a solid atmosphere and the willingness to set up your characters to be likable or condensed with fascinating attributes, then that’s really all you need. It’s why some of the most interesting horror movies released recently have the most buzz going on.

So for the longest time I always saw horror as a lesser genre because I was imprinted with the idea that it was very limited. A genre filled with typical ‘slasher’ films or gratuitous ‘torture porn’ films (and to some others ‘found footage’ could also fit that threshold). This was my gaze of the genre during high school. Things are different now that I’m older, more attentive, and willing to try out new things. Although I do get enjoyment out of watching a really bad horror film, which you read more about my fascination with bad films here, I can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that the horror genre can grow and mature.

Diving into the Cinematic Dumpster Fire

I spend a lot of time wondering about the mistakes behind some of the biggest flubs in cinema. Sometimes it all comes down to reckless egotistical decisions from the director or the studio overdoes it with test audience screenings. Even in the worst of failures there is always something to be learned. Such as why a specific character performs an action that’s completely out of character. Perhaps the film retreads familiar grounds that we’ve seen way too many times in other films.
There are many questions like these that are bottled up in my head. Also why isn’t the family dog playing a more important part? Is there a specific law preventing canines from climbing the ranks to become the next ‘Pawson Welles’?

See, that was pretty bad. Creative writing is all about the freedom of weaving words together and then breaking them apart like a piece of stuck bread in a toaster. However why is it that these mistakes happen in the world of cinema, and why are these disasters so fascinating to me? Some consider me a masochist, but I enjoy the thrill of putting a quarter through the capsule machine to see what I’m going to get. Sometimes it’s an army man with a goofy face and then other times it’s a dead moth.

Yes it’s gross that a dead moth got put in there, but why was it there? Who left it in there and thought that a child would assume this was something worth having fun with? That is ultimately my reasoning for why I watch something like a Troll 2 or a Winter’s Tale, it all lies in the questionable decisions behind these films. Could be that this sheds some light on why I find the process enjoyable, or maybe I’m a weirdo. Either way I’m going to delve into what I gain from these dumpster fires.

Let’s start with the mundane example, The Snowman from 2017. This film stars Michael Fassbender, Rebecca Ferguson, and has J.K. Simmons in it doing a British accent (strange, I know). The film itself is incredibly boring, and is chopped together worse than the time I tried chopping lettuce and accidentally chopped the board instead. It’s a slog, however it’s a slog with a troubled production history behind it. This film went through many different directors, like Martin Scorsese at one point (although still has an executive producer credit).
Later on Tomas Alfredson fulfilled the role as the unlucky director who was tasked to make this mess come together. The film was shot in two separate locations, Norway and London. Although the transition between the limited amount of time in Norway to the main bulk of screen time in London proved to be problematic. Not to mention Val Kilmer’s lines had to be dubbed because of his swollen tongue, which was caused by a type of cancer being healed at the time. While it is understandable why Kilmer’s lines had to be dubbed over, that still unfortunately added more issues to the movie itself.

While The Snowman was an example of a behind the scenes failure, something like 2004’s Torque was a film that was all about chasing a trend. That trend was Rob Cohen’s unrivaled magnum opus, The Fast and the Furious. Was that an overly grandiose way of phrasing that sentiment? Yes, but apparently the studio behind Torque felt the same way — so shush! Torque is about an early 2000’s film as you can get. Everything from the cheesy romance angle revolving around motor bikes to the edgy yet fast-paced shots were reminiscent of the era it was made in.
The lead stars in the movie were Martin Henderson, Monet Mazur, and Ice Cube. While Ice Cube is already a big staple for this movie’s dated nature, Adam Scott also appears in this film as one of his very early first roles. Not to mention Jaime Pressly is also in the film and has a motorcycle fight with another of the lead characters. When I mean motorcyle fight, I literally mean a ‘MOTORCYCLE FIGHT‘.

There are countless films that have different issues when it comes to their execution. However I don’t look down on them, unless they’re ripe with offensive material or an insane amount of cynicism. The Snowman as a film doesn’t bother me because it was already doomed from the start. Torque, while obviously riding off the coattails of The Fast and the Furious, was made through the honest lens of a director who thought this was cool. To be fair there is some merit in that while accepting the flaws within Torque as a whole.

Whenever I watch a bad film nowadays there’s usually an earnest reason as to why it turned out the way it did. However this is very subjective, as is a lot of stuff in the field of art. There is a person out there who genuinely thought that Torque was really cool without noticing any of the silliness. To that person I want to ask why they feel that way, and how many copies can I smuggle off of you?