I must confess that the horror genre is actually one of my favourites. While I am not an avid reader of horror books, I am definitely a major fan of movies and especially video games. In video games I discovered possibilities and ways to evolve the genre that movies simply can’t achieve, and that’s because of gaming’s interactivity. If you don’t believe video games can be scary, I’d be happy to give you a few recommendations which may change your mind.
Today I’m going to dissect the horror genre somewhat.
To clarify, when I say that I am a fan of horror I do not mean the gore-infested slasher rubbish that makes up many of Hollywood’s films. It is two things that draws me to the genre. The first is the fundamental idea that what you get from the horror genre you simply can’t get anywhere else. The tension, suspense and psychological effect is truly something to marvel at when it works, especially in the world of a video game where you are experiencing the terror first hand. The second major reason I’m drawn to the genre is because the possibilities are vast, untapped and deeply rooted in creativity and psychology.
As an experiment, I went back and watched classics in the genre. The likes of Halloween, The Exorcist, The Shining, A Nightmare On Elm Street, Scream, The Blaire Witch Project, The Wicker Man, Carrie and the list is ongoing. I then watched the remakes of the movies where they exist with the exception of Carrie. It took all of ten seconds to realise what was wrong with the remakes.
You see, the original horror movies weren’t scary in the sense that you are artificially made to be afraid of the next loud noise. I am not discrediting the effectiveness of jump scares, as when done right they can almost define a horror experience. YouTube the opening twenty minutes of a game called Cry of Fear to see one of the best jump scares I have ever witnessed. But horrors in cinema of today fail especially because they try to be “deep” and “well-written” and “scary”, but in doing so they eliminate the ambiguity, the mystical and the psychological.
Yes, horror movies are great fun to watch with friends who get scared and I admit I have especially taken plenty of joy in watching others cower while I laugh. But as an art form and genre it is stagnating, not evolving. And gore and jump scares are not what horror is truly about, especially not traditionally. You see people fear what they don’t understand. Suspense is derived from the idea that there is an answer out there, and in the fact that you’re itching to see where things go next. I don’t believe powerful suspense comes from when some hot chick or dumb kid is going to get slashed. In old movies there sometimes wasn’t a death for an excess of 20 minutes.
If you would like to see first hand what I am talking about, watch the classic A Nightmare on Elm Street and then watch the remake by the same name. In the original, you don’t understand what Freddy Krueger is or is capable of. He is enigmatic. As a result his scares are unique. You don’t know what to expect from him. Perhaps it’s the fact that the movie is old that it’s not necessarily scary, but it’s mysterious, deeply interesting, suspenseful and captivating.
And that for me is more of what horror is about. It’s psychological. Excessive gore isn’t scary. I’m of the belief that enough people have become desensitized to violence by now, especially those who frequent horrors. Part of what is scary is also loss and vulnerability. When characters die on screen, unless they are unimportant and their death is simply there to introduce a horror element, I feel you as the audience need to feel that loss. Too often in horror movies I watch the characters are under-developed and are just there to carry the plot or be stabbed. There’s no emotional attachment. And the monsters are explained away until they’re no longer a mystery – and we all know mysteries are only intriguing until they are solved.
I have lately come to feel that horror is more appealing not when it “scares” you, but rather when it creeps the hell out of you because you simply don’t understand and what you’re seeing is, inherently, frightening. This has come to my attention recently when watching American Horror Story, a TV series, and watching The Wicker Man, an old British horror movie. Both for me are really great, and illustrate what I am saying here.
Perhaps I feel this way because video games have lately been the king of jump scare and traditional horror, and I can’t really enjoy modern horror movies that much as a result. Well, to be more specific it is rather the booming indie market that has reinvigorated horror in ways “mainstream” has failed to for many, many years. I can recommend two recent titles that will leave your heart racing, your mind in overdrive and your fear real in that you’ll truly feel vulnerable. If you want, try and play Outlast and Slender: The Arrival. You’ll probably be a nervous wreck if you aren’t a horror veteran.
One of my aspirations as a writer is to write a horror book, the plot outline of which I have already drawn out and will share with you one day. My goal isn’t necessarily to write something like you see in Hollywood movies, but rather write something downright creepy and disturbing and weird. My objective is honestly to freak myself out with what my mind and research comes up with. Of course I’m just speaking about my objective with the material here and not necessarily of the book, which is more along the lines of the fact that I want to bring something to the horror genre that I believe in and feel has been lacking from it.
Will I achieve that? Who knows. If I don’t, I’ll give it another shot at some point.
But part of my point is that as a major horror fan myself, I feel isolated from the material in film of today, and I truly resonate with the video games and the classics. It is quite sad for me, and I feel that part of the reason horror is not often done right is because it requires psychology, vast amounts of creativity and a balance between violence, story, suspense, the unknown and let’s call it “creep factor”. These are immensely difficult to get right in a mixture, especially with an audience that is desensitized to violence and who probably have the horror tropes memorised.
One of my goals is to play some kind of role in offering the genre what it deserves. And if I am able to achieve that at some point in my lifetime, I would be a very happy man.