The state of horror today: Is it fair to say horror is dead?


Horror has had some down moments, but is it fair to claim the genre is dead? We take a moment to examine the current state of terror today

The Great Art of Horror – Symphony of Blood and Screams

It’s like a secret shared among members of a very select clandestine community – a community built upon the sovereignty of horror. When others are screaming you can find us smiling as fiendishly as The Joker. It’s what we live for.

In the shadows of Halloween mazes among the wailing crowds, there we are: taking in the sights as though we were walking along the violent wonders of a museum. In unlit theater houses while devils and killers paint the screens red, we sit in child-like glee. And you can find us in bookstores filing through Stephen King’s greatest classics or some of the grotesque works of Jack Ketchum or Brian Lumley. We see what others don’t. We see the art in horror. It’s a symphony of blood and screams, and we follow the haunted tunes of the hooded fiddler.

Horror is as old as our species, and it’s a primeval instinct crucially shared among all living things. The mouse wanders out with caution after nightfall – hungry for crumbs but very aware of the gargantuan dangers of his very lethal world. As the mouse silently moves along the sawdust behind the wall the cat sits watching with deadly patience. However, the cat who hunts the mouse also will flee from the savage dog. Fear is the survival instinct that keeps us alert and (hopefully) alive. As thrilling as it is it’s also crucial to the development of our species.

image via Odyssey

Horror is all around us. It tells us to be careful. It reminds us of our own mortality. It also serves as a much-required source of retreat from a world being self-cannibalized by media, politics and corruption inherent in our society.

The art of horror is a mirror of our own frailty.

There is a strange comfort in seeing the danse macabre played out in a good horror film. We see the spectacle of death in red wet pieces rolling before our eyes and (like the nasties we are) we applaud the mastery of gore. It’s oddly comforting. If for no other reason (and if we’re lucky) we know we won’t be eaten by zombies or gutted alive by werewolves. If we’re lucky I stress. It’s a nice stress relief from the harsh cruelties of our world.

image via Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

The screaming hordes onscreen run desperately away from rusty machetes, whirling chainsaws or clicking razor-tipped gloves. We know – for most of them – there is no escape, and that’s part of the fun. “How will they die?” That’s what we want to know. Will this new film exceed the malevolent degrees of all the rest? We critique the kills or praise the creativeness of the team behind the slaughter.  It excites us and keeps us coming back for more.

And that joy is nothing new. From the earliest days of cinema – out of the primal horrors of Lon Chaney and his devilish cohorts – audiences were screaming over the silent reign of horror. I digress though, it’s not as if horror had it’s start with the advent of motion pictures. It is a genre whose roots extend back to the crude cave drawings of primitive man, man who understood the world was dangerous and very scary. That there were things stalking from the deep shadows of the world, that lived off our frailty, drank our blood, and could devour us whole. Mankind told tales of the wendigo, the vampire, the man who could change into the wolf, or – and possibly worst of all – the darkness waiting to be exploited within our very heart.

image via CBS News

Horror has always been humanity’s means to both survive and cope with the world and all the many unknowns around us. Why does it make us smile when it should make us flee? I have no answer to that, guys. All I know is as long as we’ve been around so has horror. And there is no reason to suspect it’s going away anytime soon. As a matter of fact as society becomes less stable and faith in governing powers wain it seems as if the genre is emboldened.

The Art is Not Dead

And that brings us to our topic – because for a long time it was assumed horror was dead. If we’re being honest it was hard to argue the opposite in light of so many quickly-filmed remakes of some of horror’s most sacred franchises. Fans had to stand by and watch our favorite boogeymen drug through the mire of ‘reimaginings’ and failed reboots.

image via Rankings – Gawker

Not to mention we hard-gore fans found ourselves living in an odd era of glittering (I loath to even say it) vampires, big shaggy werewolf doggies, and (thanks to Warm Bodies) a zombie heart throb. It felt like mainstream audiences invaded our infernal space, uprooted our devilish icons, and  then malformed the monsters we all loved so much.

Just look at this. Look at it. We were living in some dark days, friends.

image via Elle UK

It felt like horror lost it’s grizzly edge. Not even the torture porn genre was living up to expectations.

Ask any horror fan and they will tell you what happens to a vampire in sunlight. Here’s a hint – they blow up in screeching flames! And werewolves are tortured souls who have no control over their hellish transformations. Zombies are rotting corpses. They are putrid walking cesspools of disease, the harbingers of pestilence. They foreshadow the end of the world. Their guts are blackened sludge that dangles out of their exposed wounds and house legions of maggots. Yeah, that sounds like romantic material.

image via Wicked Horror

Not hard to see why so many fans thought horror was dead.

We just wanted our monsters back and we wanted them as they should be!

People hated seeing a more sympathetic side to Freddy Krueger. It was way scarier just knowing he was a specter, a ghost story. Someone who killed kids in his life, but after death was now was nigh unstoppable in our dreams! And Carpenter’s fans loved not knowing all that much about Michael. Michael Myers was the Shape for a good reason. Sometimes what we don’t know makes the terror far more intense. All fans cared for was knowing that Michael was a force of violence who murdered his family without distraction or any mercy. Giving him a backstory set in a very abusive home – though fascinating to some degree – ruined the mystica of what The Shape always was. Now had Rob Zombie taken the first part of his Halloween remake and not made it as a Halloween remake, but made it into something entirely different – created a new kind of serial killer – I think he might have had a major hit on his hands.

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Odd reimagining of our favored boogeymen and the glamorization of classic monsters did everything to ruin the genre, nail its coffin shut and toss it in a forgotten grave. However, this is horror we’re talking about. The haunted dreamscape of Cthulhu, the mountain peek of Dracula’s castle, and the realm of monsters and psychopaths. This is where science gives birth to Godzilla and the dead refuse to remain in their graves. So why should we expect horror to ever die or – if it ever does – stay dead?

The art of horror is very much alive and thriving. When two horror movies are nominated for best picture, we can rest assured the genre is doing well. Last year alone saw a new renaissance of fear. The year began with Get Out, a massively needed surge horror fans were needing, and then ended with the return of Stephen King’s prized IT, an example of how remakes should be handled.

My two personal horror movies that slid under the radar last year were Raw and The Void, two original visions of classic terror that also harkened back to familiar tropes of the past.

Not only was there a resurgence in horror films, but 2017 offered fans of the genre a unique experience otherwise impossible in earlier years. And that experience was literally experiencing what it is like to be inside our favorite horror movies – through video games.

Resident Evil 7 brought the franchise back to its initial roots – mystery and fear – and hooked players right away. It hooked us and drug us back into its terrifying world and relentlessly pushed players to the limits. We were nervous to turn corners or open doors for fear of what (or who) was waiting on the other side. It’s a brilliant horror odyssey. It’s a game that will make you feel like you need a shower after playing it. Fans of Texas Chainsaw Massacre will especially love this one.

Outlast 2 offered players a terrifying experience through a cult-organized town grounded in pure evil. The player is offered no weapon or any hope to survive as you run, hide, and find yourself praying not to be found by the Satanic residents of the derelict community. Maybe it was just me, but I found some very exciting throw backs to exploitation horror films. Nods to Cannibal Holocaust and Hellraiser especially come to mind. It’s an upward fight for survival as your character rapidly loses his mind as he elbows his way through the blood sodden fields of murder and fanatical obsessions. Some of the visuals in the game are mind blowing and it certainly raised my anxiety levels.

Then came the crowning achievement.

First came Dead By Daylight. It had already been on the market for some time, but last year – via DLC – we were given the chance to play as (or escape from) Michael Myers, Leatherface, and Freddy Krueger. This was a horror fan’s dream come true, and with the recent addition of Jigsaw it’s clear the game is not planning to slow down anytime soon.

But my personal favorite has been Friday the 13th: The Game. I can’t tell you how many hours I’ve spent playing this one. As of now I’m level 138 and each play is a fun and chilling experience. The game offered players the chance to step behind the iconic mask and maim, break, and slaughter as many victims as we can snatch. Or players can be said victim and fight to survive against Jason. Brilliant!

These games let us live the horror! It’s a great time to be a fan.

Of course there are so many more examples I could use, but these are my personal favorites of course. With so many dark delights to choose from it’s clear that last year was very good for us. There’s no reason to suspect any less for the days ahead.

Next: Krampus: The Dark Entity of Christmas

So no, horror is not dead. It simply can’t die. Already this year has started out well. Insidious: The Last Key was a fun return to the supernatural. And we all know we’re itching to see the upcoming Halloween movie later this year. They’ve announced Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep is getting a film adaptation and we’re all dying to see IT chapter 2. Horror is indeed alive and well, and all of us here do our utmost best to keep you informed of all the creepy goodness to be looking forward to.

So this has been Manic Exorcism wishing you all a very Happy 2018!