Why Horror Isn’t Doomed!

Horror_Not_Doomed
By Brad Miska and Evan Dickson

What’s happening in the world around us strongly influences what kind of entertainment we consume, especially when it comes to cinema. While the majority soak in multiple screenings of Frozen, we’re sitting on pins and needles for Godzilla to take our minds off every day life. Nearly everyone looks to film as escapism but, as horror fans, we search for escapism in a very different place.

With Lionsgate’s The Quiet Ones bombing at the box office and Oculus not performing as expected, people are once again running around screaming “horror is dead” like the sky is falling. It happens way too often (especially near summer), but it’s such a fallacy that it’s insulting to us who live and die by the genre.

Recently Brad reviewed Greg McLean’s Wolf Creek 2 and noted that McLean understood what kind of horror we want in 2014. Even if that particular film doesn’t float your boat, it displays a conscious decision to move away from what hasn’t been working. Things have changed drastically since 9/11, a time when anger, rage and fear were filling our hearts. There was a time and a place for films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jeepers Creepers, Wrong Turn, Martyrs and Saw – and it’s not now. Nobody wants to spend $8-15 and walk out of a theater feeling like they were in a boxing match. It’s interesting to see this shift not only in the work of a filmmaker (several of them have smartly changed gears), but within a franchise itself. Wolf Creek 2 is, tonally speaking, miles away from the original Wolf Creek.

Generally speaking, regular horror fans and the casually genre viewer don’t want to feel like crap when they see a movie. It’s just a fact. Sure, hardcore vets love a good gut-punch now and then, but ultimately our hearts always stick to films like Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2, Drag Me To Hell and other movies that make us feel good when we return to the well. Admit it, you’re rarely just sitting there tempted to pull Martyrs off the shelf for the 30th time.

Feel-good horror isn’t the same as a horror comedy. Let’s get that straight. The best horror films, in our opinion (though Evan loves horror comedies), are the ones that manage to play it straight and have fun with the viewer. And to land box office gold, there should be a sense of trust between the film and its audience. It may seem like a tired axiom, but you truly do need to “connect.” The Conjuring, Insidious, Mama and most of the Paranormal Activity franchise are all films that connected (as fans of the Evil Dead remake, there’s an argument to be made that it connected as well – though some wound up preferring the trailer to the actual film). They played it straight but implored the audience to give themselves over to a ride. And since they were largely successful in validating that trust, a few of them wound up being pretty damn fun.

It’s always important to ask, “is the film punishing its characters or is it punishing the audience?” There’s a distinct difference between the two. If your desire is to punish the audience, fine. That’s your right as an artist. Just be aware of the choices you are making in this regard (and their potential consequences).

Another question worth asking is, “are we boring the audience to death?” Earlier this week The Wrap published a panicked piece about the state of horror. Especially at the box office. But they’re putting the onus of failure on the genre, ignoring the fact that most of the films they cite either weren’t that great or were commercial disappointments whose downfalls are easy to pinpoint. The Quiet Ones, Oculus, The Marked Ones and Devil’s Due. It gets on our nerves when publications take jabs at our genre, predicting its downfall without understanding what the problem is.
Quiet_ONes

Lets start with The Quiet Ones. It’s not a great movie. Full stop. Even the trailer couldn’t cut around the frayed edges. We would never pay to see the movie they were selling, so how can we expect an audience to pony up? Oculus? Some of us here loved it, some of us didn’t. But it’s a film with a decidedly indie aesthetic. It has no stars and it doesn’t exactly look like a good time either. It’s not actually even doing that poorly, having grossed $27 million on a reported budget of $5 million. Yes, there’s a P&A campaign to pay off, but it has a chance of going into the black eventually. Also, how much did you expect this film to make? It doesn’t have the character work, relatability or mainstream appeal that catapulted The Conjuring to a $318 million global take.

A few of us here liked Devil’s Due but audiences didn’t respond to it. Fair enough. Studio found footage shoots itself in the foot by mandating an overabundance of camera references because they can’t trust that the audience “gets it” by this point. Also, if you shove enough crap like 2012’s The Devil Inside down people’s throats, they’re going to start rejecting similar looking fare (or films marketed in the same manner). Think about it, two years ago millions upon millions of people crowded into theaters to give The Devil Inside – a godawful movie – a massive opening weekend. Then they were all given a URL instead of an ending. This is an especially egregious act of poisoning the well and an argument could me made that studio found footage horror hasn’t been doing as well since.

This extends to the failure of The Marked Ones – universally praised as being among the better Paranormal Activity films – to live up to commercial expectations. The reasoning here is so simple it’s blinding. People hated PA4. It didn’t help that they were confused as to what The Marked Ones even was. A sequel? A spin-off? But it was mainly PA4. Why even bother when the last one was awful? Franchise fatigue is a real thing even before you factor in diminishing creative returns.

It’s not horror that audiences are rejecting, it’s bad movies. Boring studio-made found footage has been run into the ground. Even if you make a good one, the target audience is so sick of being burned they’re going to avoid it. There’s no sense that any of these films are pushing the envelope, which is the most interesting part of the FF aesthetic.

There’s a ton more horror coming this year. On the studio front there’s Scott Derrickson’s Deliver Us From Evil in July. There’s also The Purge 2: Anarchy and The Green Inferno hitting this summer. Annabelle comes out in October. New Line has October 3rd pegged for a surprise. On the indie front we have Starry Eyes, The Sacrament, Late Phases, Creep, The Babadook, Faults and all sorts of great films. If all of those flop, then maybe we should freak out.

A studio can spend as much as they want marketing a horror movie but, unless they establish a sense of trust with the audience, the turnout is going to be disappointing. If horror is to thrive once again (and it will), writers, directors, producers and studio execs needs to get their collective heads out of their asses and understand the people they are selling their movies to.

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  • VictorCrowley

    Horror’s health is in the hands of studios who want to take the time to deliver good films. As much as we love it, we also don’t waste our $$$ on garbage. They do their part, we will do ours’.

    • Full Frontal Squashing

      I thought you hated this site? We will call you CrowleyTwo-Face

      • Lemonade

        Hey, Brad? Evan? We need to get rid of this awful, wicked, nasty troll^^. Is there a block/ignore option for members on this website?

        I can’t stand to see this vile parasite trolling every comment on every post.

        • Full Frontal Squashing

          Again, another douchebag upvoting himself! The issue with this site is allowing silly rabbits like yourself to get your panties in a wad when you get called out for ignorant post! Mind your business and you will be left alone! Believe That!

  • Tom

    Good piece guys. Lots to agree with here.

    • Full Frontal Squashing

      The Douche has returned!

      • Tom

        I am gay and am so flattered you would like to get gay with me.

        • Full Frontal Squashing

          ~blushing~

  • DeputyDewey

    I’ve never really enjoyed all of these dark and gritty supernatural horror movies. I prefer horror movies that are fun, have a likable, well rounded cast, and have an interesting story to tell. In all honestly, I’d much rather get another Nightmare on Elm Street or a new Scream sequel than another found footage or possession flick.

  • Jon Phil

    the problem is that studios don’t want to spend a lot and they don’t care about making a good movie. They just care to make a movie as fast as they can for as cheap as they can while expecting “Paranormal Activity” money and hoping that people are gullible enough to go see them.

    • EvanDickson

      I think that many indie horror producers today are just as cynical as the studios. In fact, the studios probably care more about quality because they have more to recoup. A lot of the indie guy just skim from the sales money and keeps things low cost enough so they’re fine as long as they have a poster and an iTunes release.

  • Boonraiser

    I can’t remember the last horror movie I saw in the theatre that wasn’t part of a festival. Even here in Toronto they barely play any indie films at the smaller theatres. The multi-plex’s only seem to show ghost/possession crap which should have been done with some years ago, but they keep turning them over like disposable pop music. Hopefully a studio will take a chance with someone’s good idea and make a good movie that can also be successful.

    • Jarek

      I live in Toronto. If you haven’t noticed the absolute flood of indie genre content in theatres around here on a regular basis, you may not be paying close enough attention. The Royal regularly plays indie horror, Cineplex has Sinister Cinema playing something off the radar every month, Rue Morgue does a screening every month, there’s Little Terrors, a bunch of festivals, and regular programming of indie stuff at Y&D. I’d say we’re spoiled for content.

      • Boonraiser

        I know of a lot of that stuff, but it’s still once a month and sometimes the choices don’t grab me as much as the movies playing Midnight Madness or After Dark. You definitely have to stay on top of it as movies come and go quickly. Thanks for the heads up.

  • harrynico4

    Totally agree with this article! I know this might be weird for a horror fan, but I just hate it when horror movies feel the need to kill off every single character (though there are exceptions) cause I always end up feeling like crap at the end of them. That’s why I love movies like Scream or The Conjuring where I can get my thrills and scares in, but then still feel good leaving the theater and not feel the need to have to cleanse myself. Sure, sometimes you’ll want to go and watch a real dark, gritty movie, but I feel like I’d end up really depressed if I did that all the time. Life’s stressful enough as it is.

  • Jonny_anonymous

    Horror movies need to find a new trend. Found footage and ghost stories are done and dusted.

    • Ian August

      I think this is generally true, but I saw Rigor Mortis, a Hong Kong ghost/vamp movie, and loved it.

      We just need new blood in the genres that are good..and different to what we have seen before. While I don’t like found footage that much, Ti West’s “The Sacrament” is a good way to show how it can be done.

      • GothicGuido

        Shiiiiiiiiieeettt… You just reminded me to that Rigor Mortis existed. Love me some Chinese vampire (jiangshi) action. Hollywood can keep doing ghosts and vampires just give us DIFFERENT ghosts and vampires. Not to mention all the vampire (but) movies, where they add some ridiculous new rule.

  • Nite Owl

    CGI and horror don’t mix. The quickest way to kill any sort of tension, is for a bad CGI effect to be the pay off shot. Horror needs to be visceral, and raw.

  • http://UserName high-rise-rat

    I liked a couple of the paranormal activity films and i liked the conjouring but i doubt i will watch them again. Certain horror films i will watch again and again,halloween 1 2 4 5. Jason 1-6. Hellraiser 1-3. Freddy1 and 3. Ive bought many many horror films over the years and most of them have been watched and then put back on the shelf to gather dust but then you stumble across a little gem of a film(no one lives being a perfect example) There are so many horror films out there that you have never even heard of. Who gives a shit if the film makes money. There will be someone somewhere with a fuckin shit hot idea for a movie, at least Adam green tried it with hatchet And said here you go heres a new horror character. Horror will never be dead. One of us out there will come up with a new sweet idea for a film one day.

  • Tishauna Starr

    I have said that horror fans cant get into distilled stark horror films. If anything poisoned the well it was the campy slasher flicks. They are the ones that redefined horror as teeny bopper gag fests. Old horror was dark too before the 80′s. Different strokes for different folks I guess.

    • http://UserName high-rise-rat

      No no. In most cases it was the teeny bopper gag fests that introduced us to horror films. I have a deep love for all the horror that came before it. Watching those campy slasher flicks made me want to watch the classics ( the sentinel, the legend of hell house, psycho, to name but a few). Once you start watching horror films you need and want to see where they began.

      • Torre Sims

        She’s right about general audiences shunning dark horror films though. Dark horror films almost always bomb at the box office. People like shit like prom night (which people went and saw over the ruins). Horror fans are just soft now, or they let their personal lives stop them from enjoying dark horror.

        • http://moviepilot.com/desolateearth K. Lee Adams

          I don’t think it’s horror fans that are soft but rather the mainstream movie-goers that make a movie like the Prom Night remake successful. They’re the kind of people who don’t embrace the genre as a whole (like an actual horror fan) but rather just want a “good” scare every once in awhile. I mean, The Conjuring’s box office obviously wasn’t just the result of only people who proudly call themselves horror fans but casual movie fans who thought “ooh, that looks good and scary” and turned out in droves for it. I do agree with the first part, though. The type of movie-goers mentioned above are the ones who shun dark horror films.

          • Tishauna Starr

            There lies the problem though, the amount of true fans been dwindling since the 90′s. The 90s had good horror films, but not enough to sustain the base. And the softcore fans filled the void thanks to films like scream, I know what you did last summer etc..not to say anything bad about those films though

          • http://moviepilot.com/desolateearth K. Lee Adams

            True. I guess for some horror’s not a lifelong thing. It is for me, though, and probably yourself and a large number of the people who comment here. It’s interesting because horror is seemingly bigger than ever but it’s a result of both hardcore and softcore horror viewers, more so the softcore ones who will embrace something like The Conjuring but steer clear of anything too dark and horrific. I mean, Evil Dead 2013 made almost 100 million but as violent and nasty a movie as it was it wasn’t what I would call dark or truly disturbing at all.

          • Tishauna Starr

            Its funny you mention evil dead cause I found it delightfully dark. In fact some hated it because I wasn’t like evil dead 2 in tone. It al had a steep drop off during its second week at the box office

          • http://moviepilot.com/desolateearth K. Lee Adams

            Oh, it was definitely darker than previous entries like Evil Dead 2. I just mean in comparison to really dark horror films it wasn’t that bad. It was violent as hell and played it seriously but I don’t find it dark in comparison to something like Inside, which is really grim. I had fun with the new Evil Dead. It was a fun ride instead of something that hits you in the gut and gives you a down feeling. That’s what I associate with dark. My mom saw the new Evil Dead and even though she found it gross she had fun with it. But stuff like Inside or High Tension is too dark and grim for her. She’d watch it if I asked her to but after one viewing I know she’d never watch either again. And personally had no problem with the new Evil Dead not having the tone of ED 2. I enjoyed the hell out of the movie.

  • Ciristhan

    I wholeheartedly disagree with the general line of argument of this piece. I don’t think that horror fans are first and foremost drawn to ‘fun’ movies. If that was the case the success of the French Extreme, which is by no means limited to Martyrs but also includes Haute Tension, A l’Intérieur, Livide, Calvaire and so forth would be completely inexplicable. I don’t think that the emergence of bleak horror movies has has anything to do with 9/11 (yawn!!!) either. There were tons of excellent bleak horror movies and thrillers before 9/11, think e.g. of Seven, Silence of the Lambs, Event Horizon.

    • ThunderDragoon

      Completely agree. I’m definitely not one of those horror fans who keeps going back to horror comedies. Those are actually my least favorite. And I’d much rather watch Martyrs over Evil Dead 2 because I don’t even like that movie lol.

    • Torre Sims

      Agreed I prefer real pure horror and dread. Not some teen friendly slasher with intentionally unlikeable characters.

      • EvanDickson

        Again, we’re not saying a movie has to be “lighthearted” to be “fun.” By fun we simply mean it has to be an enjoyable experience.

        • Full Frontal Squashing

          That is stretching it a bit

        • Sutter Cane

          Do you mean something along the lines of Slither?

      • Full Frontal Squashing

        Agreed

    • Full Frontal Squashing

      Even though you are a douche, and need a avatar, I agree with you. Horror movies at their finest, are not fun movies! They are horror movies, and to be able to elicit a true “horror” response/experience from the audience, how can you make it ‘fun’? I am sick an tired of the big studios thinking we need more humor (fun) in our horror films. The Thing did not need fun. Your above is a great example of true horror films. The big studios think movies like the Cabin in The Woods is horror, which it is not! That is Buffy Horror, horror for 10 year olds!

      • EvanDickson

        You’re missing the point. John Carpenter’s THE THING is incredibly fun.

        • Full Frontal Squashing

          Then you are not making your point very well, and the definition of fun must be very subjective, because the thing was not fun, except if enjoyable is your definition of fun which would make martyrs fun!

          • Mitchel A. Jones

            I have to agree with Full Frontal here… your comments make no sense Evan… you listed the “Fun Films” as Dead Alive, Evil Dead 2 and Drag me to Hell, which are films with ACTUAL comedic timing written into them and then say, “The Thing is incredibly fun.” Two vastly different uses of the word Fun as previously pointed out. You later go one to say, “By fun we simply mean it has to be an enjoyable experience.” If that was your intent than perhaps you should have first clarified that in your article and secondly chose a few examples that reflect that rather than the one’s you chose which clearly allude to fun as being comedic timing with a horror setting.

          • Chrissie-Watkins

            I agree that Dead Alive, etc, were bad examples to make the point. But I do agree that whether a film can be called “fun” really has to do with the experience of watching it. You can’t sit around with your friends and watch Martyrs and expect everyone to have a great time. But something like The Descent- there was no comedy written into that script, but sitting watching with a group of people and being able to safely speculate what you would do “in the same situation” – that’s fun.

  • Ricardo Sousa
  • Krug09

    They should try to make new horror icons.

    • Eyz

      You don’t make “new” icons. Cult characters become iconic.

      They should simply focus on making fun memorable new characters

  • Chaybee1

    Great article guys! Agree or disagree, it’s refreshing to have more pieces like this on BD. Keep ‘em coming!

  • http://moviepilot.com/desolateearth K. Lee Adams

    I personally like both the fun side of horror movies (stuff like Scream) and the darker side of horror movies (Inside, High Tension). I’m not going to turn my nose up at either kind but embrace the good on both sides of the spectrum. It’s the same with sub-genres. I’m not a huge fan of zombies or torture porn (Slashers forever!) but I can and have enjoyed movies that come from those sub-genres. It’s more so about execution than tone for me. If it’s light-hearted, fun popcorn horror but it’s good then I’ll embrace it. If it’s super dark, bleak and brutal but really good I’ll embrace that, too. And horror’s not dead at all. It may not be looking that great right now (2013 was a good year for horror, in my opinion) but we still have a number of movies on the horizon that could change things up for the better. And I’m not being a smart ass when I say this, but seriously, if you have such a strong problem with the current genre output then why not attempt to go out and do something of your own? It seems that anyone can make a movie these days so if you have the means you should attempt it and see what you can come up with. Some of the best movies come from people who are tired of the current popular trends and set out to make something unique or at least put a new, interesting spin on something we’ve seen before. The original Nightmare is a good example. Slashers were all over the place and Wes Craven came along and elevated the slasher movie with his unique take on the sub-genre, something he’d repeat with Scream (I know he didn’t write that movie, though). Wow, I just realized how long this is. Sorry, everyone.

  • darth_balLs

    awesome article

  • Foamy Darkale

    they left out Afflicted which I have to say was honestly pretty good, even if it was a found footage.

  • dman99999

    yea i def enjoyed afflicted but yea last horror movie i saw in theaters was cabin in the woods gotta great reviews to get my 12$ or whatever

  • shelly84

    Horror is a restricted genre, as Heavy Metal it is for music, it is not for everyone, and it will always be like that. I think everybody should embrace that, and give up on trying to widen the genre with stupid remakes and exaggerated sequels. Or is it for the money?

    • Chrissie-Watkins

      Yes, its for the money.

  • http://mitchmacready.blogspot.com/ Zombie-Killa

    Yeah, I guess I’m one of the few people, who will defend it, but Devil’s Due is nowhere near as bad as a lot of people made it out to be. I’m not saying it’s some great, underrated Oscar worthy film, and yeah, you could say it’s a quasi remake of Rosemary’s Baby, but it’s not some unwatchable piece of crap, that’ll stick with you for years and years.

    The problem with Devil’s Due is it’s caught in the never ending yearly cycle of found-footage and possession horror films……….. and people are beyond burnt out on found-footage and possession horror films.

    Oculus? Eh, when you compare it to other WWE films, it’s not as terrible as See No Evil, but overall, it’s still a mediocre film. And the ending is mind numbingly stupid.

    The Quiet Ones? Yeah. The trailers didn’t help, and I almost fell asleep 3 or 4 times in the theater, because the movie was so damn boring.

    If we’re talking about panicking over poor box office results for mainstream stuff, look at all the big name horror releases last year. We had Evil Dead, The Conjuring, the Carrie remake, Mama, Texas Chainsaw 3D, and Insidious: Chapter 2. That’s a STACKED list of highly anticipated horror films. What do we have to look forward to this year? Two unnecessary Paranormal Activity (although, I’ll admit, I actually enjoyed The Marked Ones) films? So of course, we’re not going to feel the same amount of anticipation or excitement in 2014.

    Oh, and this is spot on:

    “A studio can spend as much as they want marketing a horror movie but,
    unless they establish a sense of trust with the audience, the turnout is
    going to be disappointing.”

  • Tishauna Starr

    There’s nothing wrong with light horror like drag me to hell, the problem is that bleak horror are no sells. Thus making them kinda rare. That kinda pisses me off honestly. They’re treated like redheaded stepchildren of horror, which is fuckin crazy. I notice this with every medium. You have to water it down so it can be a appealing. This is what killed mainstream hip hop and hard rock.

  • Travis

    I really liked this article. I never really feel bad or anything at the end of a horror movie. I watch them to experience something I wouldn’t be able to otherwise and can usually appreciate where the director wanted to take it. I just hate being bored, pointless gore and bad acting. I love the feeling and visuals you can get with horror films. I like all kinds of horror films and I’m a huge fan of where horror has been heading. There has been awesome directors making cool movies. I gotta say, I don’t hate found footage, just most of the movies made in that style. I like PA 1, 3 and The Marked Ones, they all have such natural dialogue. I also really like the way Oculus was told. Characters weren’t the best. Kill List was a pretty new horror movie I thought was great. Actually, Ben Wheatley has been pretty awesome to the genre, A Field In England was very interesting. I think the problem is that horror is so big now that the mainstream is picking up on it and we all know that mainstream movie goers aren’t into daring movies.