September lasted about 10 seconds, and October is finally upon us, which means one thing above everything else…it’s spooky movie season!!!
Now, there’s a common misconception that I don’t like horror films, or that I’m too scared of them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Okay fine, there are some films that are maybe a little too scary for me. My argument for that is that there are a certain set of horror films that focus more on trying to be as scary as possible rather than just trying to be great films. The scarier the film doesn’t automatically make it a better horror film. It’s not that simple.
Also, a lot of these films tend to rely on having a multitude of cheap jump scares versus creating an atmosphere of genuine terror. Anyways, there are literally dozens of horror films that I love dearly, and every October, I watch as many as I can in my month-long spooky movie marathon. I’ve spent some time thinking about the way horror has evolved over the last twenty years, and I can’t help but ask; is this the golden age of horror?
In the nineties, traditional horror films were mostly a joke, with the exception of more thriller type films such as The Silence of The Lambs and Seven. Then, in 1996, Scream came out and reinvigorated the slasher film. It was a satire that was fully self-aware of the slasher genre and its many overplayed tropes. Audiences loved its ability to poke fun at all of these flaws while also being sexy and scary at the same time. The next year saw the release of I Know What You Did Last Summer, as well as Scream 2, which some cinephiles argue was even better than the first. The slasher trend that followed over the next several years failed to see anything that matched the wit and scares of Scream. 1999, however, did see the release of The Blair Witch Project, which was widely praised for its found footage format, as well as being one of the first films to use viral internet marketing to promote its release. I still remember the constant arguments in junior high over whether or not it was real. The film still scares the shit out of me to this day!
The new millennium saw the revival of the zombie film with 28 Days Later, Dawn of the Dead, and Shaun of the Dead, as well as the introduction of torture porn with the Saw franchise and Hostel. The 2007 releases of Paranormal Activity and [Rec] helped resurge the found footage genre popularized by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. Films like these were the early signs of the horror renaissance, unfortunately, this period was mostly dominated by the horror remake.
In a span of about ten years, the major studios belted out remake after remake. The Amityville Horror, The Hills Have Eyes, Piranha, Sorority Row, Prom Night, Black Christmas, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween (actually, Rob Zombie’s Halloween was terrific, and I will argue to the grave that it was the best of all these remakes), The Last House on the Left, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Crazies, The Hitcher, The Wicker Man, My Bloody Valentine, House of Wax, Carrie, The Omen, etc, etc. There were soooo many (Scream 4 had some nice commentary on the whole thing).
Some were solid, most were bad. Of course, the studios didn’t care, because they were very cheap to produce, and for a while, they made money. Remakes and sequels meant name recognition, and studio execs love a sure thing. Why gamble on something original when you’ve got a sure bet?
Anyways, for years, horror was dominated by remakes. There was a serious lack of great, original horror films.
In 2012, The Cabin in the Woods was released to rave reviews, and a smart, funny plot that poked fun at traditional horror tropes, much like Scream did over 15 years earlier. That same year also saw the release of Rob Zombie‘s The Lords of Salem, which may not have earned the money or critical praise that The Cabin in the Woods did, but I think it’s his best film, so I felt like it warranted a mention.
Anyways, 2012 was the start of something. The next several years so the release of The Babadook, The Conjuring (which I finally agreed to watch last October, which also scared the shit out of me), Under the Skin, It Follows, The Witch, Split, Creep, etc. One of the biggest things these films have in common is that most of them are independent films. This slew of great horror wasn’t churned out in some giant studio machine for the sole purpose of reaping profits. They started off as great ideas, that turned into great scripts, that turned into great films.
I can’t talk about independent horror without mentioning Blumhouse Productions. Blumhouse was founded by Jason Blum and has a very unique business model when compared to other studios. Blumhouse gives filmmakers a limited budget, which in turn affords them complete creative over their projects, leading to an eventual wide release in theaters. The studio has released films such as Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, Oculus, Creep, and then last year, Jordan Peele‘s Get Out. Get Out was released last Spring to both commercial and critical acclaim, ultimately earning several Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, and winning for Best Original Screenplay.
Jordan Peele made history by being the first African-American to win said Oscar. If this isn’t definitive proof that horror is back, I don’t know what is. Also, the remake of It grossed over $300 million at the box office, making it the seventh highest grossing film of the year, so that helps.
2018 was no fluke by the way. This year has seen the release of smash hit A Quiet Place, as well as Hereditary. Released by notable independent studio A24, Hereditary has also earned rave reviews and is currently one of the top films of the year.
This month, Blumhouse’s Halloween, featuring the buzz-worthy return of classic scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. Halloween is part of a new trend that’s gearing up to take over Hollywood, hopefully not to the point that it gets ridiculous. Rather than simply rebooting franchises like we’ve seen over and over again for the last ten plus years, it now appears that we’ll see films that are sequels to the first one or two films of major franchises, simply ignoring all the other terrible sequels that ensued. So, this new Halloween is a sequel to John Carpenter’s original Halloween, released 40 years ago.
The forthcoming Terminator film will supposedly follow this trend, serving as a sequel to the first two Terminator films, thus ignoring T3: Rise of the Machines, along with all the other sequels. Okay, I went off on a tangent there, but yeah, keep an eye open for this trend. Anyways, Halloween is already generating a lot of buzz from festivals such as Fantastic Fest, so that’s a very good sign.
The original Suspiria is a cult classic, and a personal favorite of mine, so I was weary about a remake but when Iearned that Guadagnino was at the helm, I breathed a sigh of relief, especially after seeing Call Me By Your Name at last year’s San Diego International Film Festival. You can read about my experience at last year’s festival here.
Suspiria has already played at the prestigious Venice Film Festival, as well as being the secret screening at Fantastic Fest. It’s earned rave reviews at both festivals, with many describing it as a masterpiece of horror. It should go without saying that my anticipation is through the roof at this point. Time will only tell if it will not only surpass Hereditary for me but possibly even top my end of the year list altogether.
I can’t remember a time I’ve been so excited about horror. I’ve always been pretty picky about the genre, but we’ve reached a time where it’s hard not to love most of what’s being released.
It’s also incredibly exciting to see the genre get formal recognition from prestigious cinematic institutions. Horror films aren’t just for bored teens or cult cinephiles anymore; they’re for everybody. Films like Get Out, Hereditary, and Suspiria prove that horror films can be more than just entertainment, they can be art.
We ARE living in the golden age of horror. Hopefully, the studios pay real attention this time and stick with quality over quantity.