It’s horror movie season again! But with new films pouring out of the cinemas and so many old classics around, how can you possibly choose what to watch? Horror films have been around for almost as long as there have been films and there’s so many different types ranging from the silent, black and white classics like Frankenstein, to the modern day blood baths like Saw. So, what is it that makes a good horror film? What separates the films that make you cringe from the ones that leave you sitting up all night, clutching a crucifix?
As well as being one of the first notable horror films ever made, Nosferatu, the telling of the classic vampire story of Dracula, happened to be one of the first horror films I ever saw. And for a twelve year old, it was pretty scary. Granted, on watching it again a couple of years later it didn’t have quite the same impact, but none the less there is something that makes it stand out, something that’s kept it famous for so many years. The film creates a tangible sense of dread, and you can really see how it was the beginnings of a new type of cinema.
Moving on a few years, another fantastic and memorable horror film came in the original Psycho. Again black and white with no special effects and only a small amount of grayscale blood, but the shower scene is both iconic and ABSOLUTELY TERRIFYING. The soundtrack and the gracefully set scene builds suspense, and then stabs it to death in just the right way to make you never want to take a shower again.
So where did the modern blood lust come from? It seems a lot of horror films that come out now are obsessed with creating a shock value, so much so that they’ve given up on actually being good films. The first time I saw one of the many Final Destination films it took me a good while to figure out it wasn’t actually meant to be funny. The mixture of horrific acting, ridiculous plot, and so many spilling innards it feels slightly like you’re watching an educational anatomy video, make the films oddly enjoyable, but for all the wrong reasons. The over use of gore, and witnessing a death every 20 minutes, kills any suspense the film could ever have created.
This is something that people in the film industry have picked up on, and has ended up creating its own strange and relatively new genre: comedy horror. These films take the growing desensitization to violence and turn it into a joke, which seems to be where it was going on its own anyway. This new genre has come up with a lot of odd films, but also some extremely highly rated ones, proving that people appreciate the ironic take on the current state of the horror genre.
All this begins to make it seem like truly scary horror films are a thing of the past, and that too much gore has somehow managed to ruin its own industry. In some cases, I guess this is true. But, if you think about it, there are still so many great horror films that DO go all out on the gore. The Shining, for example, obviously is a psychological horror, but at the same time it doesn’t hold back on the blood at all, in fact there’s literal rivers of the stuff running at the screen. And it’s an absolute classic. In fact there are loads of films like this, Let the Right One In and 28 Days Later to name a few. The trick, I think, is all in the suspense. What makes a good horror film is what makes any film good. If you’re engaged, rooted in the story, emotionally invested in the protagonist, then any film can make you terrified. What pure gore films miss out on is the tension. The covering your eyes and clenching your fists because you’re genuinely worried about what will happen next.
Since its beginnings, the horror genre has opened up to include such a variety of films, so there are no excuses. There’s a horror film out there for everyone so this Halloween, instead of going out and enjoying the beautiful Scottish weather, find a stupid, hilarious, gory or just plain terrifying film and have a horrific night in.