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When was the last time you were freaked out by a Hollywood movie?
I can admit that It Follows and Unfriended raised a few goosebumps and I recall a Saturday matinee screening of Paranormal Activity that was the first and only time I have ever heard anyone actually scream in a theatre. I don’t mean a quiet whimper followed by an embarrassed laugh or a frightened little squeal. I mean a full-on, open-throated howl of terror.
But these days it seems to me those moments are becoming fewer and further between. Zombies have gone mainstream, vampires now sparkle in the sun and werewolves have hipster hairdos.
I find the news more upsetting than most mainstream monster movies.
A recent re-watch of In Cold Blood gave me a jolt unlike any recent traditional gore fest.
It’s not a horror film in the conventional sense, but because it’s a true story of a senseless murder, it sent shivers down my spine.
A new film this weekend, the haunted home-movie tale Sinister 2, can only be called a horror movie because it is so poorly made. It is terrifyingly badly made but there is nothing that will actually give you nightmares, and isn’t that the whole point?
George Mihalka, director of My Bloody Valentine — a movie Quentin Tarantino calls his all-time favourite slasher film — agrees that conventional horror is in a rut.
“As long as mainstream horror focuses on glossy monsters and the perfectly backlit villain and stylish gore shots that could pass for TV commercial beauty shots where blood and victims are interchangeable with beer and models, there is nothing left to fear,” he says.
“An honest well-developed character is the reflective mirror that conveys the reality of the monster, villain, serial killer, ghost, zombie or vampire. If there is no truth or reality in the performance we cannot truly believe in the menace. We are left as numb, detached voyeurs of slick boogeymen or at best rooting for them to kill off the annoying bad acting of interchangeable pretty plastic people.”
Horror hero and Rue Morgue editor-in-chief Dave Alexander agrees that much Hollywood horror errs on the safe side, but says there are still thrills to be had at the movies.
“Foreign and indie horror movies — those titles that play genre festivals — are the most exciting and innovative because they’re not as bound by the Hollywood business model that favours remakes, sequels and chasing trends. That said, there are still chills to be had at the multiplex when a breakout title with an original concept comes along — one of the best recent examples being It Follows.”
Chris Alexander, editor-in-chief of legendary N.Y.C.-based horror and dark fantasy film culture magazine Fangoria says “real horror has always thrived in the mainstream and elsewhere. Always will.”
“Throughout horror history, there have always been ‘lite’ versions of more palpable big-screen terrors. From the various monster comedies of the 1940s (how many times did Bela run afoul of Bowery Boys and Brooklyn Gorillas?) to Abbott and Costello romps to The Munsters. And Dark Shadows was a vampire soap opera that romanticized vampires for lonely housewives.
“Horror in the mainstream has long been a gateway drug for young people and, if they are affected and obsessed by the films they see with their pals on a Friday night, they’ll likely begin the endless quest to ‘chase the dragon’ and find darker terrors, which are in large supply, internationally. If it wasn’t… I’d be out of a job!”