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Examining the State of Horror Cinema in 2015: A Look at the Current Trends, Auteurs and Squishy Noises

July 30, 2015

If you’ve read MFF and listened to the podcast you know that we’ve plumbed the depths of horror and keep coming back for more. We’ve written about its wardrobes, fights, gore, tank tops, survivors, football teams, horror corners (check the index) and talked endlessly about the perfect horror film and new classics. If you are interested check out how the 2014-2015 horror films stack up against the rest of the 21st century horror movies.

I am excited about the direction horror is taking in 2015. There is a new crop of horror directors and older maestros who are taking what they love of horror and creating something new. There is a “boutique” vibe to the films as they’ve become fashionable and wear classic horror influences like accessories. They are told by horror lovers who are very much so part of the modern generation.

There will always be remakes, prequels, reboots and sequels littering the horror landscape but the last several years have seen new blood injected into the genre. In 2010 Blumhouse productions unleashed the $1.5 million Insidious that featured Patrick Wilson, Rose Byrne and Lin Shaye battling an incredibly jerky Further demon. It was a runaway hit and since then the horror world has been on an upswing.  A good amount of the movies haven’t followed a trend and seem to exist in a world all their own. They’ve ditched the A (Killer) + B (Nubile Co-eds) = C (Blood) formula and explored different trails in the same park. They were not made in response to influences like Night of the Living Dead, Jaws, Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream or Paranormal Activity. They are not cash grabs looking to follow trends (I Know What You Did Last Summer) and there is genuine art taken to create mass carnage.

Spring Movie Italy

Director Richard Linklater said Spring was “a beautiful, unique love story. An accomplishment of genre and tone.”

Author and Grantland contributor Mark Harris recently wrote about the indie horror boom and had this to say:

Perhaps it’s unfair for those of us who are, ahem, considerably older to sigh about what is and isn’t scary — if you’ve indiscriminately slept around in the genre for decades, of course you’re going to feel “Is that all there is?” But there are signs that the films themselves feel that ennui. At least It Follows scavenges the detritus of the genre in search of fresh ways to be frightening, not just as a way of creating wry commentary about it

In other words they’ve pulled a Carl Weathers and turned leftovers into delicious broth.

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Today’s cinematic and televised (Walking Dead, Hannibal) horror landscape is full of thoughtful and literate people who understand horror. Thus, we have gotten The Guest, Backcountry, It Follows, Spring, The Conjuring, Creep, We are Still Here, The Babadook, Honeymoon, Housebound, The Taking of Deborah Logan, Cheap Thrills, Under the Skin, Dead Snow: Red vs. Dead, Oculus, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Only Lovers Left Alive, What We Do in the Shadows and Tusk. These 19 films averaged 87% on Rotten Tomatoes (Tusk’s 39% didn’t help). Horror is becoming hip and critical darlings are everywhere.

the babadook

If you say you don’t like The Babadook there is a very real chance a hipster horror lover will come out of nowhere and punch you in the face.

What I love about the 19 films is that they feel original (only one sequel in the bunch) and only slightly familiar. They know what they are and in the case of The Guest have the patience to build to a final line (What the f**k?) that sells the entire movie.   I don’t think any of them will be considered classics as they lack suitable cult aesthetics (Think Evil Dead and Ash) and villains (Nosferatu) that offer primal scares (The Thing). However, they are fun and feature truly memorable lines, moments and erotic dancing.

What we do in the shadows dance

It is no longer a male dominated genre as The Babadook, Honeymoon, Carrie and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night were directed by female directors. These solid films join female directed Near Dark (Kathryn Bigelow is my hero), Ravenous and American Pyscho as examples of tone and style coming together to form a solid film It is a breath of fresh air to have a different viewpoint and female characters who aren’t machete fodder. The stock “final girl” aspect has been skewered as You’re Next, Final Girl and The Final Girls all acknowledge the trope. Take them alongside Cabin in the Woods, Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, Grabbers, Cockney’s vs. Zombies and you have self-aware comedy horror films that take the piss out of long-established clichés.

tucker and dale react 3

Why are these college kids killing themselves!?!?

Directors and writers are fully aware their films will be compared to the classics so they take care to offer something new. A good example of a director explaining and defending his work is in this Anatomy of a Scene video by the New York Times. It Follows director David Robert Mitchell breaks down the opening scene.

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It plays like Nightmare on Elm Street met a De Palma woman in peril film and was scored by John Carpenter. In the opening scene we’ve already found three comparisons. However, as the movie continues it becomes its own beast with its own origins, world and scary moments. It takes the familiar and makes it fresh. It was a love letter and a calling card. It Follows is well aware of the horror genre yet breaks new ground.

For a horror fan it shouldn’t be surprising if we recognize trends occurring in horror. Much like any genre, studio productions are a study in trends and they wait to exploit whatever is popular. There is nothing wrong with striking while the iron is hot but it wears down the fresh creation into homogenized fare that exploits rather than creates. It is a waste of time to complain of similarities and tropes. This may sound like a weird example but soccer has been around for a very long time (1,004 B.C.) and it still centers around athletes kicking around a ball. Horror films have been around since the invention of film (1896) so it is no mystery that there are recurring themes (people will always go to cabins in the woods).

Honeymoon Rose Leslie

If you like the people in the cabin it doesn’t matter. You like the people in Honeymoon.

1922’s Nosferatu was an unauthorized adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that set the tone for many horror films. I love that in 1922 it was unauthorized and Max Schreck was so iconic the film Shadow of a Vampire suggested he actually was a vampire. So, one of the first and most iconic horror films stole its source material, changed a couple of names and has gone down in the pantheon of great films. The studio had to declare bankruptcy and only a few prints survived. Since then we’ve seen every iteration of vampires and we are in no way done with them. Not much has changed in the last 90 years.

What we do in the shadows jemaine clement gif

What We Do in the Shadows is the greatest vampire mockumentary ever made.

I read the fantastic book Shock Value: How a Few Eccentric Outsiders Gave Us Nightmares, conquered Hollywood and Invented Modern Horror. It is about the late 1960’s and 1970’s horror boom that influenced decades of horror. It was like the wild west and I love that a few people set the standard for modern horror. It is abundantly clear that we won’t get dirty sweat stained movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or The Exorcist ever again. The days of soul-destroying yet artfully made horror may be in our rear view mirrors.   Occasionally, violent cult classics like I Saw the Devil, Devil’s Rejects, Thirst and Martyrs sneak through the cracks but we are moving on to something more tame and less daring.

It crushes my soul watching new ideas like Tomorrowland, Waterworld, Frailty, Event Horizon and Oblivion falter while sequels upon sequels bring in the money. New isn’t always lucrative but with the expansion of VOD artistic horror films are starting to pop up once again. Now that talented folk can experiment, create and shoot on a budget I fully expect more gems to sneak through the system. For instance, the über low-budget Creep is a neat little found footage film that is about two people and a camera. Director Patrick Brice and actor Mark Duplass started it off an as experiment and it evolved into something worth watching. It proves that two men, a camera and a love of film can create something that reaches the masses. it was very inspiring to watch and Brice intended Creep to be a motivator.

Screenshot_2015-07-30-11-12-03

With the new technology comes more freedom and much like in the 60’s and 70’s I expect more artists to create their unhindered  and slightly less bonkers visions. For instance, the movie Spring is a horror hybrid that does something new on a budget.  I love this quote by Spring co-director Justin Benson.

It felt like there was something sort of rebellious in the act of creating a new monster. Because for some reason it was something that so few people attempt to do now. Usually, when people want to tell a monster story, it’s a vampire, it’s a werewolf, or it’s an alien. It’s always got to be one of those things. That’s pretty much it, conceptually.

Bring on the new monsters! I am optimistic about the state of horror as David Robert Mitchell, Alejandre Aja, Ti West, Adam Wingard and others are maturing and creating fantastic yarns. 2016 will be loaded with remakes but there is a welcome presence that are providing us horror hounds with new horror tales.

If you enjoyed this post make sure to check out our podcast on Itunes or Blog Talk Radio. In our latest pod we came up with quite possibly the most random horror film idea ever. It is kinda glorious.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2015 11:22 am

    I love this article. My feelings exactly. That is why I write about new monsters that I create. Thank you. #LindaScarlett

  2. August 6, 2015 1:33 pm

    Excellent article. You’ve completely summed up my opinion on the current state of horror, it’s an exciting time.

    I recently wrote something about how this new breed of horror is being unfavoured by those after the typical ‘jump scares’, branding this current wave as ‘unscary’ and therefore that equates to it being shit.

    Feel free to have a read here: http://movieblort.com/2015/05/23/subjectivity-of-fear-why-am-i-not-scared-anymore/

    • August 6, 2015 1:59 pm

      Loved the article! I do find it odd that people judge horror on antiquated themes (It wasn’t gory etc..). This wave of new horror is proactive and not reactive. I love the new creations and variations of old. Thanks for the RT!

  3. September 3, 2015 2:04 am

    If you have your own link you’d like to share, feel free to do so in the comment section below. Over the years, no other genre has changed, shifted, and evolved as much or as many times over as horror.

Trackbacks

  1. What is the Best Horror Movie of the 21st Century? An In-Depth Look Into Critical and Audience Ratings | Movies, Films & Flix
  2. MFF Reader Poll Results: What Are Your Favorite 21st Century Horror Films That Don’t Appear on “Best of” Lists | Movies, Films & Flix
  3. Examining the state of Horror Cinema in 2015: 11 Horror Hybrids You Need to Watch | Movies, Films & Flix
  4. Between It Follows, Spring, Creep, Cheap Thrills, The Babadook, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Under the Skin, Backcountry, Housebound, The Guest and Honeymoon 2014-2015 has been loaded with fantastic indie horror films that are critically loved and no
  5. The Best Horror Films of 2015: A Collection of Creeps, Jerky Demons and Rampaging Bears | Movies, Films & Flix
  6. Goodnight Mommy: A Glossy Horror Film That Prefers Style Over Substance | Movies, Films & Flix
  7. 10 Films That Can Unite the Hardcore and Art-House Horror Movie Fans | Movies, Films & Flix
  8. The MFF Halloween Horror Calendar: 31 Streaming Films for 31 Days | Movies, Films & Flix
  9. References – Horror Films from the 1990s till present

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