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The Tragedy of Horror This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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It's often said that previews can be the best part of a movie. One has the opportunity to see sneak peeks of upcoming films, and from these, we often decide which new releases will be flops and which will make jaws drop. Though it's hard to depict an entire movie in one and a half minutes, I found myself doing just that recently as I sat waiting for the main feature to begin. Most of the previews didn't seem exciting – a new James Cameron film, a movie starring Matt Damon, and yet another “Transformers” film (really?). Then came an interesting preview. It began with a young woman heading to college. She meets her new roommate, they hit it off, and everything seems hunky-dory. Then we learn that the roommate is mentally unstable and isn't a fan of sharing. What I mean by this is that she tries to kill anyone who gets close to the protagonist. I thought this “horror” film could be advertised as a comedy just as easily. Apparently, the rest of the audience agreed – I heard them laughing. This movie, appropriately titled “The Roommate,” is a prime example of the current sad state of the horror genre. Put simply, horror movies are losing their luster. Their recent lack of success and popularity, as well as their unoriginality, demonstrates why they are losing the true “scary” aspect.

The success of the horror genre is definitely declining, and many movie review websites seem to share this opinion. Rotten Tomatoes released an article last Halloween listing its top 50 horror films of all time. Only 14 had been released between 1990 and 2006, and none had been released after 2006. The majority were from the ླྀs and ྂs. IMDb released a similar article recently, placing only seven post-ྖs films in its top 50. Two of these, “Zombieland” and “Shaun of the Dead,” are borderline comedy.

These ratings reflect not only how critics view horror movies today, but also how poorly the genre is competing with other types of films. For example, the last time a horror movie was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars was 1991 (“Silence of the Lambs,” which won). Only two other horror films have even been nominated for Best Picture (“The Exorcist,” 1973, and “Jaws,” 1976).

The recent trend of mediocre horror films affects the popularity of the genre. One blogger posted an article recapping the most popular movie genres in the past 10 years. Comedy and Action stood atop the list, while Horror tied for sixth with 3 percent, next to Romantic Comedy and Musicals. It is clear that moviegoers are choosing to spend their money on other types of entertainment.

Box office success is also a clear indicator of the horror genre downfall. Of the top 25 highest-grossing horror films of all time, the movies that made the most money were released before 2000.

One reason for these slumping numbers could be the fact that horror films are losing their originality. Scott Tobias of the media blog Crosstalk states, “It seems to me that the [horror] genre has hit a crisis point creatively. Hollywood is running out of ྂs and ྌs horror staples to remake, and surely at some point, the Saw and Final Destination franchises will lose their novelty.” Tobias brings up two great points. Remakes not only lack appeal, but they are also a clear sign that the horror genre is losing its novelty. In addition, horror franchises become more and more irrelevant with each installment.

Horror movies are also losing their creativity in how they “get rid” of characters. We see clichés such as a group of attractive, college-aged kids camping in the woods (or whatever environment a psychotic killer happens to reside in). At night, one of the group members hears a noise and decides to go check it out. The rest is history and we have victim #1. When the group wakes up in the morning to find their friend missing, they split up into groups and search for him. Slowly, they are all hunted down by the homicidal maniac, and that is that.

Repetitive clichés like this beg the question: where is the originality? Alfred Hitchcock's “Psycho” (1960) is an excellent example of pure creation. The plot is as innovative as they come, and it contains one of the most famous scenes from any movie. The infamous shower scene, still bringing terror to viewers of all ages, is so special because of its simplicity. The knife is never actually seen plunging into the victim. However, the most important element is not what the audience can see, but rather what they hear. Janet Leigh's blood-curdling scream, combined with a pulse-pounding Bernard Herrman score, creates one helluva murder scene. It's no wonder that Leigh reportedly never took a shower again. Not only did “Psycho” send chills down the spine of the audience, but it surprised them as well; they never saw it coming. Leave it to Hitchcock to kill the protagonist halfway through a film! Nowadays, we would never see such a bold move by a horror director.

Another problem with horror movies today is that they concentrate too much on gore. Larry Fessenden of Glass Eye Pictures explains, “Recently, horror movies have fetishized serial killers and clinically gruesome effects, as we become possessed by the arbitrariness of violence and our ability to recreate it in the movies.” Fessenden nails it. I watch horror movies to be scared out of my pants. I do not watch them to be so disgusted that I get sick all over my pants.

“Paranormal Activity” is a prime modern example of an actual horror film. Screams come out of nowhere, people are dragged about by invisible demons, and things pop up in front of the camera randomly. These are the types of scares that make for a good fright-fest. The Saw franchise, with perhaps some of the most disturbing scenes in all of the movie industry, is a good example of a hurl-fest. Enough with the mutilation of bodies and dismemberment of limbs!

Movies like “The Roommate” insult what used to be a hallowed genre. When we laugh at horror movies, it's easy to see that the genre is in a slump. Critics are losing interest and audiences are choosing to watch other kinds of films. Until screenwriters once again embrace true horror storylines – the ones that scare us to death – we will continue to reach for the romcoms and musicals instead.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

Newbe1998 said...
today at 10:33 am:
What you think is "scary" is just gross. They have terrible violence and aren't really scary. Paranormal is terrifying but Things with gory parts and limbs flying everywhere isn't scary. It makes me wanna puke. Not only that, but something doesn't have to have blood in it to be scary. In fact, the more blood and gory scenes you add to a movie, the more perverted people wanna see it. Although I do see where you're coming from. The more death, the more scared people are. ... (more »)
 
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Sölvi said...
Sept. 26, 2012 at 9:00 am:
  This is a well written piece. I agree with most of your points. But there are still some really good foreign horror movies like Ju-On.   
 
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