Written by: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
What happens when you see a trailer for a horror movie at your multiplex or on television? If you’re like me, you yawn and compare them to something better, yet you still see them anyway. Or are you one of those people that still hopes for the day when horror directors will finally get it right and realize all the mistakes they’re making in the genre and correct them? What exactly is it that horror directors are doing wrong when they make original movies? I'm not talking about sequels; horror sequels either add on the gore or add on a ridiculous twist, so you know they won’t be amazing. It is the original horror film – the film that is trying to be unique and bring something to the table – that is slipping away. Well lucky for them, they have me to help steer them in the right direction. Here are some of my thoughts on what horror movies are missing and how other films have done it better.
Americans may be labeled many things, but not every single one of us is an idiot that needs our movies spoon-fed to us. And we also don’t need a twist so complex we ponder it for three years and it still pisses us off. What made a film like The Exorcist so terrifying? It was the very real idea that a little girl could be possessed by the Devil. And if an innocent girl could be one of Satan’s minions, what’s to stop your neighbor, or yourself even from becoming, Satan’s lapdog? The Shining used the idea of claustrophobia and “cabin fever” to turn a family man into a murderer. It’s the need to have the movie connect with the audience that is missing in so many ideas these days. That need for a plot that is so terrifying because it could happen to you. Compare that to a recent movie like Stay Alive, and you find that it disconnects the audience from the horror because the idea that a video game character is coming to kill you is outside of the realm of possibility.
Get Actors Who Act!
If you were one of the twenty people who saw the remake of House of Wax, you almost certainly observed where the film ultimately failed the most. Sure it could have been that it was a needless remake, but the main reason I labeled as “worst horror movie ever” was because of one thing: Paris Hilton. Now, it wasn’t just the fact that Hilton is a horrible actress; it was that she totally didn’t fit into the film. A leggy blonde running around in her bra and panties in the woods, right there you know two things: one that she’ll DEFINTELY die and two that she can’t act. Thrusting an actor or actress that can’t act into a potential horror franchise can take an audience completely out of a film since you’re laughing at the asinine dialogue they’re spewing, and the fact that that look of terror on their face looks like they have to vomit. Rosemary’s Baby is a film that, according to a lot of high school students, is hilarious because of Mia Farrow’s acting. Well taking the release date into account, 1968, her acting was considered the best aspect of the movie since she conveyed pure terror. Watch the film and look at her face as she reacts to seeing her child for the first time, I think I would have the same look.
Any Ending Involving “I’m/They’re Dead” or Repressed Memories is Now a Cop-Out
Seeing the ending of M. Night Shyamalan’s movie The Sixth Sense was the twist of a lifetime for me. How many people can honestly say “I saw it coming?” Back when that film came out the idea of “I’m dead” was not a concept that had been played out. The Nicole Kidman film The Others took the premise in a different turn with “Everybody around me is dead, and oh wait, I’m dead as well.” These movies used those twists to great effect and made them unique for the time. Now, any horror film has a twist that you can trace back to a far greater movie makes it lose its value. The recent film by the Pang brothers, The Messengers had a twist that had been done at least five previous times, and that twist was repressed memories. Almost any horror fan can name a film that had an ending involving a character who had suffered trauma in the beginning, was seemingly normal, but the whole time was a cold blooded killer. These days it’s better to have a truly unbelievable twist then a twist that you’ve seen twenty times over.
Always Know When to Quit
There’s an old saying “It’s like beating a dead horse.” Well horror movies are notorious for returning to a successful well and making at least three sequels to what was once a successful film. The first Ring movie was a rather unique premise involving a truly creepy scene that made me shy from television for at least six months. Then they returned to make The Ring 2 which made me want Samara to suck the life out of me. Rumor has it that The Ring 3 will not have Naomi Watts, the original heroine, which in movie speak means “you can expect something worse that the previous installment.” This was seen with the series of Grudge films, with the sequel killing off heroine Sarah Michelle Gellar. Horror sequels these days never retain much of the original cast aside from a couple low key characters, the main exception being the Scream franchise which retained almost all of the original cast members; mind you the films themselves had equally good stories. Directors just need to know when enough is enough, horror films are supposed to be remembered forever, not remembered for the ten shitty sequels they spawned.
All in all will these tips change the face of horror? No, as long as teenagers need a scary fix to get them through their weekend these movies will continue to be made as is. But as more and more directors, such as Eli Roth, decide to try new things you can expect to see a rare gem in the horror field every now and then. My advice, if you’re watching a horror trailer and you even think there’s an aspect to this film that you’ve seen before, run away and spare yourself the agony.
Author: Kristen Lopez, Editor in Chief
Kristen Lopez is the editor-in-chief of CC2K and a freelance pop culture essayist. Her work has appeared on Roger Ebert, The Hollywood Reporter, and The Daily Beast. When she’s not burning down Film Twitter she runs two podcasts, the female-centric film show Citizen Dame, and the classic film-themed Ticklish Business.