In the past 10 years, directors of the horror genre have lost their touch
The water streams out from the showerhead as a woman swings the curtain shut to her dreary motel bathtub. She thinks she is alone, but the audience knows better as they watch in anticipation. The fear and anxiety mounts as the camera begins to lead into the bathroom where the naive woman awaits.
As the bathroom door opens, members of the audience cover their eyes, leaving just enough room in between their fingers to see what is going on. Then…SWUSH! The curtain flies open and a butcher knife is raised above the woman’s head, leaving her seemingly helpless. The audience screams in fear, popcorn shoots out of its buckets into the air and grown men hide behind their large buckets of popcorn like frightened children. The screeching theme music pierces the ears of the audience as Norman Bates plunges his razor sharp butcher knife into his victim’s chest. The audience is in panic mode, screaming as they watch the woman hit the ground.
The scene described is from Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic Psycho, which is one of many examples of excellence in the horror movie genre. 20th century horror movies including Jaws, Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist all had what it takes to get your heartbeat pumping. Whether it was Jaws springing from the water to gnaw on the leg of a helpless boy or the sight of an abandoned white house in the middle of the woods from The Blair Witch Project, audiences walked away from theaters shaking with fear.
So where has the fear gone? Out the door, along with directors’ creativity and originality. In the past 10 years horror films have lost fans in a craze of cheesy story lines and excessive amounts of brutality and gore.
I, for one, am a huge horror movie fan. I loved being scared when I was young, and I grew up on John Carpenter and Wes Craven movies. Now, it seems like every time I walk out of a theater after seeing a horror movie, I end up feeling short changed and far from scared.
When comparing John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween to Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the original, the most noticeable difference is blood. It seems that directors today cannot make a movie that is not seeping with blood and brutality. The 2009 sequel to Friday the 13th is a perfect example of how directors today use gratuitous amounts of bloodshed to scare an audience. Director Marcus Nispel thought the brutality of the once classic killer Jason Vorheese would be enough to frighten his audience, but the blood and the gore only sickened his viewers. Thus, classic killers like Jason have lost their essential creepiness due to the lack of imagination.
Directors like John Carpenter and Steven Spielberg rarely showcased large amounts of blood in a murder scene. Instead, the suspense of a shark fin circling his prey was enough to get the viewers screaming.
In the 1980 film, The Shining, Kubrick used genius lines such as “Here’s Johnny” and “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” to make viewers cringe. In Halloween, the sight of Michael Myers’ ghostly face creeping in the background was enough to make a young woman shield her eyes in fright.
Demonic possession movies such as The Exorcist, The Omen and Poltergeist used the concept of hell and the supernatural to get inside viewers’ heads. Whether their viewers were religious or not, the directors terrified viewers in a way that many recent filmmakers are incapable of doing. More importantly, they did it without splattering the screen with carnage.
There were not bathtubs filled with blood or chopped up bodies everywhere like in Hostel or Saw. Yes, when Michael Myers butchered his victims, there were portions of blood, but Carpenter knew when it was enough and how to keep it enjoyable. I would like to think of the 20th century as a simpler time when fear and thrill came from suspense and not how much blood a director could get on tape.
Another recurring problem with directors today, aside from their excessive amount of bloodshed, is their lack of originality. Now-a-days it seems like every horror movie is a re-make or sequel. Directors have refused to let franchises such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre end. Every time a director attempts to remake a classic, they end up ruining the original movie’s reputation. Directors of the 21st century have lost all originality and are beginning to steal ideas from the 20th century. The problem is not the fact that they are repeating too much, but that they are ruining the good name of the classic horror films.
As stories repeat and lines get cheesier, fans of the horror industry continue to die off. I am waiting for the day when a director comes up with an original idea and recaptures the 20th century classics.
Psycho image courtesy Universal Pictures