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Sunday Discussion: The Decline of the Horror Genre?

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April 6, 2008

Sunday Discussion: The Decline of the Horror Genre?

It's getting kind of hard to write these discussions. All I can think about is the summer. It's only four weeks away and there's nothing but mediocre crap (give or take Smart People and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) for the next few weeks. However, I thought today would be a good time to discuss the horror genre. I just watched The Ruins a few nights ago and was merely satisfied - that's the most I can say. I'd never watch it again, I won't buy the DVD (and I usually buy everything), and I won't be putting it on any best of lists. Is this the beginning of the decline of the horror genre?

The world of "torture porn" and everything horror has been under attack for a few years now, at least since Saw originally hit theaters in 2004. However, it really struck me this year when I started thinking about the summer (because I can't get it out of my head). I remember publishing an article last year called the Top 5 2007 Horror Films To Look Out For that mentioned five great horror movies, four of which hit around the summer time frame. I know there weren't an abundance of horror movies last summer anyway, but compared to this summer, there were plenty. In 2008 we've got nothing! Well, wait, we've got The Strangers, but that's it!

Lionsgate used to have Midnight Meat Train scheduled for May, but since moved it. And The X-Files 2 could technically be called horror, but I think it's more of a dramatic thriller than horror. My point is that horror movies seem to be getting more and more sparse. Both The Ruins and Shutter performed pretty poorly at the box office, which is expected for March and April, but it's still proof that horror doesn't perform well. It seems that it's becoming more and more of a small niche - something that only the folks who frequent Bloody Disgusting and Dread Central will end up seeing. And they do, but that doesn't account for much money. These horror movies would be better off playing in small art house theaters than taking up precious screen space at the big cineplex.

I'm actually a bit worried. I used to hate, absolutely hate, horror movies. It wasn't until recently that I began to appreciate them and walk out without being scared shitless. After achieving that kind of bliss, I began to enjoy them, even the fun ones like Saw II and Saw III. Then the crap started to hit, whether it was The Hills Have Eyes or The Grudge or Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning or any number of these pointless overblown horror films (usually remakes). They began to water down the genre and turn off people like me who genuinely wanted to have a good time. Now it seems like the studios are going the other way and dumping anything horror. They're not even giving it a chance anymore.

So my question still remains - is this the decline of the horror genre? Are there any original stories left to tell or are we just going to see remakes from now until forever? Is the lack of horror movies this summer saying something about the studios, or is it saying something about the moviegoers? I know that there will always be a majority of horror haters who will outweigh those that appreciate it, but if you're a fan of horror in the slightest, please speak up! Now is the time to speak your mind about all things horror.

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  • E
    Alex, I think what you are talking about might also have to do with the state of the world ... I think people really have enough stress, horror, pain, and such that they really don't want to see more of it on the screen. Also, people don't have the kind of money they use to have. I think that a lot of it is social. Things seem to come in waves. That wave of horror porn back in the day was bizarre ... and it got milked and milked and milked until people were tired of it. The wave of Japanese remakes also came in a wave. Now its a wave of remaking old American films and remaking things that aren't so old - what is it called now - re-envisioning? I think the horror wave has a lot to do with social aspects and who is spending money at the movies now. What's the main age group? With everything going on in the world and the state of the world ... do we really need more horror? Do we need more hopelessness, violence, needless violence? I mean, is that really a good time? I mean now? I think there will be an upswing of horror again that comes in another wave when the world alters again.
  • wm
    Horror is still alive, but i think it's being made by the wrong people. If we could just fire everyone from Hollywood and give all that money wasted on remakes to every single independent filmmaker who still makes movies for art sake and love of the genre, I think we could see at least 3-5 years of purely original films. That's just a little tip of the iceburg for me on this subject. Although, naked chicks getting hacked by a chainsaw is still pretty awesomein the summertime. ha
  • Cory
    I'm glad to see some people have the same views as I do. At the time when horror really scared people was around Jaws and the Exorcist. These new horror movies seem to use the wrong scare tactics or maybe just misuse them.
  • Quanah
    I think that horror has always attracted a specialized class of folk. Unfortunately, the film industry itself thinks that they all want gore and not intellect. We all know better. ;)
  • jaq
    I think one of the things we need to do to fully appreciate this is to look at the difference between a "horror" film and a "scary" film. What's been coming out recently have been scary films, where the main point is to make you jump. True horror films, like Cory (#3) mentions - Jaws, Exorcist - these were not built around moments of "boo" but around terrifying events happening to real characters. Even The Ruins could have been much better if the characters had been more well-defined and we, as an audience, cared more about what happened to them. If that were the case, it wouldn't matter what the "evil" was, we would be scared because of what was happening, not what was attacking them.
  • Stabmaster Arson
    Every year I always read a couple of these "The decline of the horror genre" articles and I'm always confused. As a die-hard fan, I would say that the genre is better than ever these days thanks to foreign films such as Inside, REC, Frontiers, ILS etc. The thing is, Hollywood just wants to make money. End of story. Why take a chance on a new idea (The Signal anyone?) when they already have a finished product? That's where remakes come in. Tone down the violence a bit, throw in a WB star and slap a PG-13 rating on it. It may not make $50 million, but it will pull in more than what the studio made it for. It's like a guaranteed moneymaker. I agree with #4 as well, but I have no idea what Jaq was talking with his first paragraph....
  • Joe
    Horror films suck because no one cares about the characters.
  • John
    There will always be room for good horror films. People over-react about these things far too much. A few weeks ago, Semi-Pro opened poorly and the whole town screamed: "Oh my God, is Will Ferrell not famous anymore?"
  • http://www.firstshowing.net Alex Billington
    John #8 - Actually, you're right, but that's what these Sunday Discussions are for - to see how real a concern each weekend is... We talk about Will Ferrell after Semi-Pro because it seemed maybe he was not liked as much, but in all reality we have to wait until Step Brothers. Same here... But it's fun to discuss things for the sake of discussion. :) Stabmaster #6 - You're actually right, about those smaller indie / foreign horror movies. But, that its somewhat my point - that they're still small, they're only a niche. Whatever it is, the idea of mainstream horror being embraced is dying. Why can't REC of Inside or Frontieres, if it's so damn good, play at the same level as mainstream horror across thousands of screens? Jaq #5 - Actually, I really liked the characters in The Ruins. I thought they were very real and life-like, I don't know why everyone else doesn't think that. To me it was still, after seeing that, that the story and plot didn't continue on a course that made it incredible. I thought the locals keeping them in was cool, but the plant was actually rather harmless... I don't know, it didn't blow me away, but I can say it definitely wasn't because of the characters...
  • chrisg
    I don't think the horror genre is dead in any way. It's a shame that so many shitty horror movies are released because there really is no better genre for exploring issues and ideas in a digestible way. The best horror always breaks boundaries and invades the audience's personal space in some way. That's why stuff like Night of the Living Dead and Halloween, while not "shock value" films, are unsettling and disturbing. Halloween brought pure evil into our safe, suburban homes and Night put tons of taboos on the screen (necrophilia, patricide, matricide, racism, heresy, government corruption, etc) in a way that made the film haunting in a subconscious way. By being complex and relatable the films let the audience have a cathartic experience and sometimes tells you what kind of person you are depending on how you react to certain films. I think when directors combine complex issues, psychological undertones, and just plain good scares they have a really successful film. The Descent and The Mist are two current examples of near perfect horror films. Even Romero's Diary of the Dead did a good job of this, if it was all a little over the top. I think the horror genre is alive and well... with The Happening and Blindness coming soon true fans of the horror genre and those who believe it is capable of great things know there are things to look forward to.
  • http://afrazier.blogspot.com Adam Frazier
    Having just seen "The Ruins" I can agree that this film failed in every way, and was completely predictable, derivative and underwhelming. I liked the concept, but the real story was w/ the villages, or the contents of said Ruins... meanwhile the babysitter's club is sitting on top of the thing crying the whole movie. "The Mist" is by far one of the best horror films I've seen in years. Absolutely loved it!
  • SP
    "Why can't REC of Inside or Frontieres, if it's so damn good, play at the same level as mainstream horror across thousands of screens?" Easy, first Frontieres got NC-17 so it's out. Second all of them are foreign films, my mom will not watch a foreign film (and not even from the horror genre) unless it's dubbed into a language she understands. I suppose others don't like reading subtitles. Honestly don't know how less known/unknown actors affect movie goers either, can't really say. But all together I think it comes down to low profits from showing these movies on thousands of screens. Certainly there have been horrible movies released that barely anyone went to see, so maybe I'm just wrong; or whoever is in charge of releasing movies is. [Rec] is all ready being remade into an English movie. Not sure why that is, since releasing it would make more sense to me. Guess we'll see how Quarantine turns out. It seems like there's not enough good horrors out each year, but at least there are some. Let's just not forget that making these films takes some hard work, and appreciate them more for it.
  • Frame
    chrisg, #10, I agree with you 100% when you mentioned that the best type of horror film is the type that 'disturbs' rather than 'shocks.' The good ol' zombie genre is among my favorites in the horror label because of its ability to instill claustrophobia in its audience. I, personally, am always immersed in these flicks, imagining a world where you're outnumbered by an enemy that can't even feel pain. Even the idea sounds fun and frightening at the same time like the peak height of a rollercoaster. Supernatural horror is fun when executed correctly and can bring a similar type of mood. Ghosts are a bit more unpredictable. Yeesh. Is the genre dying? As far as Hollywood is concerned it's looking that way. Even the best reviewed horror films lack the "horror" element, having their best traits attributed to character and ideas. The Mist is an example of this, a movie I really like but I find not at all frightening on any level. The original Terminator was more of a horror film than this one.
  • http://afrazier.blogspot.com Adam Frazier
    "The Mist" used other-dimensional creatures as metaphors for the real horrors of our world - wars, politics and fundamentalist religious nuts like Mrs. Carmody.
  • http://movieguyreviews4u.blogspot.com Ryan
    I dont think Horror is dead at all. Shutter, making only about $30M, STILL will make a profit being made for about $20M or less. The QUALITY of horror today is another story. The business of it being dead? As long as Hollywood can make dirt cheap remakes? Not at all.
  • Jessy Scholl
    The only thing that was horror this past weekend was the looks on studio executives faces as George Clooney's acting career just about ended, along with stillborn writing and directing careers, with the fumble of Leatherheads. If not for that film, The Ruins would have opened much better. Regardless, Horror is dying. The main release in the genre, next week, is Prom Night, and that movie is close to a remake of a 1980 effort that was banned overseas and made only $14 million stateside. Translation, Sony better hope that it doesn't get buried at the Box Office. The chance of that happening, however, is about 95% with a lot of wives and girls begging their husbands and boyfriends to go see Smart People because it looks like a romantic comedy, and I haven't even factored in Ellen Page's exploding fan base on top of that. My prediction: Prom Night will not make it into the top ten, and we will see an explosion of Romantic comedy due to the success of Smart People.
  • Stabmaster Arson
    SP, I agree that foreign films are off-putting to some people, which is an absolute shame because they're just robbing themselves of great films, but Frontiers actually had a theatrical release date until After Dark got scared and yanked it last minute. As for Jessy's prediction: Prom Night will make it in the top 5, and that's not saying much.
  • maxxx
    I think it done for it the final moments where the the young boy is walking up to the shed to put down old yeller you know it coming but can't seem to turn away. But then again there are horror great occupied with other projects like sam Rami with spiderman Peter Jackson (dead Alive) with lord of the rings and carpenter where has he been and even wes craven all the horror genre needs is the old folks to show what making horror is all about it not just blood guts and gratuitous nudity well all those things but what set the horror greats from today is believability and it makes you leave the theater like what the hell just happened did i see that correctly.
  • Anthony
    I saw this movie thursday night at a free screening. I am so glad i didnt pay for it. I really didnt care for this film at all. It was almost comical some of the events that took place. It was like the characters were saying "Hey i'm going to cut myself. Wanna watch?" I mean to me there was almost no substance to the plot. The characters were introduced well but didn't seem real. I have to admit though that the aspect of them being trapped in by the natives with no escape was interesting, but thats about it. The whole vine "creature" was not very scary. A little frightening at best. All that said and done...I think this movie is another pure example of a poorly adapted movie from a book. Yeah that's right it's based off a book; shocking and original! Just google it. It was written by Scott Smith. I havnt read the book but from what I have been told, the theme of the story is to show what horrible things people will do to survive. I think it showed that in the film but just came across as senseless violence and blood. I agree very much with E #1. I think it has a lot to do with who is going out to pay to see these movies and how large this group is. I can see where your coming from Alex with your theo,ry but i also think that many are too quick to judge when there is simply a 'low tide' persay. I think time will tell.
  • John
    I *do* think that the Asian remake trend is finally drawing to a close. God knows it didn't happen fast enough.
  • harrison
    the only thing on the decline is amount of horror in "horror" films, i dont remember the last time a movie scared me, most so called horror movies i laugh straight through, the Saw series i thought was terrible, and a 5th ones on the way for october. the grudge 1 and 2 were hilarious, i almost died laughing. i think it was silent hill that got scary but really only the first time you see it, are they still supposed to be making a sequel? i didnt even bother with the hills have eyes, texas chainsaw beginning or whatever, and after seeing previews why would anyone see the ruins? also the time of year, they should reserve horror films for mid september to november, i have no interest in watching a horror movie any other time of year, i want somethin scary around halloween hollywood needs to slow down, stop pumping out crap and take a step back and think up something somewhat original, mix a few ideas if you have to as long as they work, and get a decent script and storyline instead of remaking something
  • chad
    @ Jessy Scholl Prom Night is being released at around the exact time that a HUGE majority of high schools hold their prom events. The movie is being marketed immensity towards not only teenagers, but female teenagers. The amount of awareness is incredible, it seems as if wherever I go, chicks are making plans around them seeing this film. It will be opening huge, and... sorry to say, it will most definitely be within the top ten, if not, #1.
  • Birdwatching From Mars
    As far as MOVIES are concerned, YES, the horror genre is declining. Not even declining, really..more like decaying. I have been very vocal about how all of these remakes of classics would be the first punch to the face of horror, a punch that would lead to its eventual ass-kicking. By remaking classics into new less-original works, you're not only crapping all over CURRENT horror, but defiling the legacy of horror. (Rob Zombie should be shot for what he did to Halloween). The second crippling blow to the horror genre came in the form of torture porn (and I don't want to blame Eli Roth solely, but he's the first that comes to mind.). This garbage is NOT horror, plain and simple. On the coat tails of torture porn, we have tons of American "film makers" adapting Japanese horror films. This is also unoriginal and yet another devastating blow to the horror genre. Here's what sucks: the 8 Films to Die For concept (the ones that are supposed to be too terrifying for audiences yet we are spoonfed torture porn, go figure) hold some of the best horror movies of the last 10 years or so. And they are no getting exposure. And why not? Well, because audiences that know NOTHING about horror thinks that remakes and torture porn are COOL. This is an audience that identifed with the NEW Texas Chainsaw Massacre but have probably never seen the original. (The same can be said of The Hills Have Eyes). Anyway, as far the Ruins, I won't see the movie. This is because the book is effing BRUTAL..easily the best horror novel of the last 10-15 years. But this leads to another travesty in the horror field...adapting books rather than WRITING YOUR OWN SCRIPT. The Mist is an example of how badly things can get turned around...skewing the ending helped a bit, but the creatures and the play on the religious zealots was overdone and RUINED the story. Anyway, that's my 2 cents. Yes, the horror genre is declining and it is not for lack of good ideas, it is because Hollywood and its pawn film makers are getting lazy and, much like radio, are bending backwards to appease an audience that knows SQUAT about the product.
  • interl0per
    It has all been the same sh*t for years. Most of these "horror" films are outright bad and/or pointless. I hope the genre dies and goes back to hell where it belongs for a while. Hollywood has been beating that dead horse since I Know What You Did Last Summer. Now, hopefully this "reboot" trend goes with it...
  • http://movieguyreviews4u.blogspot.com Ryan
    If anything Jessy SMART PEOPLE would open outside of the top ten. Its AMAZING the lack of bbuzz for it because it looks good. But every single female I know WILL DIE if they don't see Prom Night. I really really really wouldn't be shocked if this doesn't make $20M+. Its strange. I think the marketing for it does look good but not any different then THE EYE or CALL or SHUTTER and NO girl wanted to see them. I guess the PROM aspect gets them all excited. Minimum opening weekend, $12-14M. However safely I would guess $15M but $20-25M wouldn't shock me. However, no way it will reach $30M opening weekend.
  • http://www.myspace.com/kevjohnphotography kevjohn
    Wow, has it ONLY been 4 years since Saw came out?!? Look at the absolute tidal wave of crap that's come out since then! Anyway, compared to the PG-13 Horror Army, The Ruins was pretty good. The Mist was much, much better though. But The Mist was such a 'heavy' movie and had that downer ending, that it's no wonder fickle moviegoers who've been eating a diet of lightweight Sarah Michelle Gellar frights weren't too interested. I think Stabmaster A. (#6) had it right, there's still a lot of quality horror being made, just not by Hollywood.
  • jason_md2020
    I think the horror genre is suffering the same as the rest of big Hollywood in general. Too much on sensationalism & FX and not enough spent on script, story & decent actors. To quote #7 "Horror films suck because no one cares about the characters." Amen to that. Just rented The Mist (missed it in theaters dammit) and the conflict between the characters made the story scary. I'm also surprised that nobody here mentioned Cloverfield. The movie started with 20 minutes of home video exploring the relationships of the characters, so when the Hud gets to the last stare fight he'll ever have, you have the whispered "oh shit" moment. Character development & a well written story. If these are missing, then you ain't got a film.
  • http://www.firstshowing.net Alex Billington
    To put some more emphasis on this whole discussion, I just saw this news about Midnight Meat Train: http://www.themovieblog.com/2008/04/midnight-meat-train-goes-direct-to-dvd I mentioned it in the article as one of the movies that was originally scheduled for the summer. Now it's being canned and sent straight to DVD! How's that for confirmation that horror genre is declining! "It will be going straight to DVD despite all the fan buzz and hype for its release." This is proof that even Lionsgate, the horror studio, won't release any more horror movies in the summer because they know they won't perform well at all! You could claim that it's just the summer, but they're not even waiting to release it later. They're just giving up because I really do think the horror genre is declining, or at the very least, adapting and changing...
  • Ryan
    About Cloverfield, I must say that I really do enjoy the nice blend of a weird tale and viral marketing. Cloverfield really managed to push into a field of horror. The problem is, Romero tried to move in as well, and his horrible rendition of the "POV" movies really only delivered on its probable demise. I thought the Strangers pulled a few good punches, but then again, it started out much like Cloverfield, only the information you were given was less stated than illustrated. The Nines with Ryan Reynolds was a nice metaphysical trip, but I wouldn't really put it into the horror genre. As for the rest of the field, I would just like to point out that even most movie adaptations of horor even play on the overall decline of the genre. I think the Ruins fits nicely into the contemporary "extraverted" horror genre, where supernatural, physical violence reigns over well-conceived, cosmic, or even true psychological terror (which hasn't been too well-represented in the film genre to begin with). My basic point is, blood and gore sell, so filmmakers go with it. Most horror books are filled with people being torn apart, or watching as another person is torn apart. This trash fiction in genre literature is the only thing filmmakers are probably aware of, because it's what you mostly see on the shelves. Horror literature (the ones with true literary merit) aren't created in mass, and if you look carefully, most of the writers who have produced significant horror literature have written outside of genre fiction: Danielewski, Chambers, Wilde,, Irving, Wells,, Ellison, Hawthorne, Jackson, Lovecraft, Bierce, Moorcock, etc. What I mean to say is, we only see the horror genre in decline because genre fiction sells marvelously. Beyond that, literature has been attacked overall by genre/series writers, so it's not surprising that movies overall are falling short, or will be falling short. Because of mass media and the age of technology (not to mention Earth's recent boost in population), there now exists a constant barrage of information, and so as quantity kicks the tar out of quality, I think we'll start to see stand-alone good movies move out of the way for things like Dresden Series adaptations and television series like Lost or Heroes, where the whole plot will start to explode with each new episode. To quote Genesis: "There's too many men, too many people, making too many problems, and there's not much left to go around. Can't you see this is the land of confusion..." Not that I really stayed on topic; it's just I think it's all relevant.
  • http://www.vacreeper.com Laura
    I have been a horror fan for years and do believe it is on a decline as far as the film industry. I think it's simply a matter of the wrong people having access to the industry. The ones that are having original ideas and are publishing original material (they are out there) aren't having any luck because their horror doesn't follow the "formula." The film industry for the genre seems to be having an identity crisis. They want the goofiness of "Porky's" yet they want to scare people. They want the sex element from Basic Instinct, but want horror. They can't have both. They want the same ol' same ol' formulas, but expect fans to be amazed by them. I can't count the thoroughly disappointing movies in the past few years. Remakes are a sign of a lack of talent. Audiences don't care because they can relate to the characters and most don't want to. There seems to be an intense shortage of movies that don't involve college co-eds or other stereotypical characters. Also, far too much attention is paid to the box offices. The majority of horror fans will likely have families and work. Most will be enjoying DVDs. Too much emphasis is placed on attracting college kids. There should be an element of speculative fiction to the stories so the audiences will feel "what if." Just my two cents. It's good to see others feel the same.

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