by Elizabeth Stammitti
The past 12 years in the horror genre have been surprising, to say the least, but that doesn’t mean they have been great. The most noticeable aspect has been the increased flow of horror themes into the mainstream pop culture with the appearance in literature and cinema of the Twilight franchise, which has catapulted the classic Vampire and Werewolf figures into the spotlight (though re-imagined in that search for a wider audience) and, with them, it has brought a new interest in other monsters, such as Zombies, which translates into a greater demand and new productions.
But, let’s go back in time a few years to see how the genre was welcomed into the new millennium. In the mid and late nineties, the horror genre had been injected with new life by the Scream franchise, with its tongue-in-cheek approach to the formulaic Slasher subgenre, which gave birth to hundreds of new teen slashers, such as Final Destination, one of the most successful franchises that started in the 2000’s.
At the same time, another trend was getting all the attention from horror aficionados and revitalizing the dusty genre, coming from Asia with movies such as Ringu (Japan), Shutter (Thailand) and Kairo (Japan), where atmosphere and suspense were the predominant features, leaving aside the importance of a big body count and the fast pace of the slashers. All these exceptional chillers were remade in the United States just a couple of years after they were released in their original countries, thus developing another tendency in the 2000’s: the Hollywood treatment of foreign horror. Almost every Asian and European horror movie (in recent years) has been remade in North America.
That being said, foreign horror has actually been the most successful in terms of doing what the genre is supposed to do: scare the audience. Not only the Asians have grasped the true essence of terror, but the Europeans have also established their refreshed breed of horror, very different from Asia and the United States for its ferocity, producing really graphic and suspenseful movies that still leave room for the imagination. As a result, we (the audience) got to enjoy some powerful and terrifying cinema, such as the British 28 Days Later, The Descent; the French High Tension, Martyrs; the Spanish Rec, the Swedish Let The Right One in, and the Norwegian Dead Snow, to name a few.
As some of the Masters of Horror, like Dario Argento, John Carpenter and George A. Romero, kept releasing movies in the 2000’s (mostly average horror, or somewhat uninspired, taking into account who these guys are), a new explosion was about to begin in the mid 2000’s in the hands of two Australians, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, creators of the Saw movies, whom, next to North American Eli Roth and his deadly Hostel, would basically give birth to a new subgenre that fueled the more mainstream side of horror, known as torture porn, where almost nothing is left to the imagination in terms of violence and graphic gore. It was the unavoidable next level the genre had to go, since original ideas were scarce (it’s all been done before, hence the proliferation of remakes), but it’s quickly becoming tiresome with the hundreds of copycat movies that have come out after the success of those two, just like it happened with the Slashers, which might have brought the question as to where is horror heading (a quieter side, maybe?), but the recent European production has started to give an answer with their demonstration of the balance, as I’ve mentioned, between in-your-face graphic gore and psychological this-will-scar-you-emotionally-for-life subtlety.
But it wouldn’t be fair to leave the United States as merely a land of remakes, as it has indeed produced some great horror flicks, mostly in the hands of independent filmmakers. If we put aside the proliferation of exorcism movies (another theme that was resurrected in the 2000’s with the re-release of the classic The Exorcist), Rob Zombie is one of the names that immediately comes to mind as a big North American contributor to the genre, entering into the horror world with House of 1000 Corpses, basically a homage of the 70’s horror movies, and then with The Devil’s Rejects, more of a beast of its own, with characters that aspire to be as iconic as Leatherface. And there are lesser known gems, such as Lucky Mckee’s May, Sheldon Wilson’s Shallow Ground, Marcel Sarmiento’s and Gadi Harel’s Deadgirl, or the now worldwide known franchise that started with a little independent movie, Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity. Also, in the 2000’s, one of the biggest names in horror made a comeback to his roots: Director Sam Raimi (from the Evil Dead franchise) with Drag me to Hell.
And I can’t forget about Canada, but I’ll be quick and will only mention the remarkable Pontypool, a horror movie that shows there’s no need to have a big budget nor buckets of blood being thrown at the screen to terrify an audience.
Now, let’s return to today, 2012, where, as I was saying, the interest in horror has increased. Don’t believe for one second horror has ever been unpopular, it has always been one of the most popular genres, the difference is that movies that tackle deeper subjects and in a more elaborate way have, as it happens with any other genre, less mainstream appeal than, let’s say, a bunch of sparkly vampires that love teenage girls with average looks. I say to each its own, the importance of it is that the horror themes, that is, the monsters, the obsessions, the body parts, the gore, the psychopaths, the outcasts, are getting more attention worldwide, even if the way they are delivered might be of a lower quality in terms of storytelling, but it still leaves room for the emergence of other masterpieces that maybe wouldn’t have been noticed in the last decade.
Horror is a flexible genre, it can be dealt in a serious manner or ridiculously exaggerated and humorous, and now that has gained a couple more eyes and brains that are giving the genre some dedicated attention and love, I believe it’s going to better places, bringing tendencies from the past decades and mixing them with new ones, to provide that ultimate punch to the gut that is supposed to give and take you for the ride of your life.