After my review of The Thing, a horror movie classic for many people, Michael over at Parlour of Horror took um-bridge with my claim that it wasn’t scary. It had it’s moments but at no point did I really feel “horrified” or in any way scared by the events on-screen. After a small discussion we soon came to a slight consensus that the movie has lost it’s impact after twenty to thirty years… and it joins many others in that regard too.
Some of the movies which are considered classic horror only hold that title loosely. The Exorcist may have had people fainting in the seats back in seventies but struggles to raise an eyebrow today while Psycho is more interesting for some of it’s twists rather than any of it’s “scary” moments. As time has gone on, audiences have understandably become desensitised to violence and the thoughts of creepy monsters in the shadows and need something more to raise their blood pressure.
This isn’t just the case for horror movies of the seventies, eighties or even nineties. This is a trend that is beginning to affect more recent horror movies and their production is beginning to be altered because of it. Where the mere thought of a serial killer, the affects of murder or demonic possession was enough, now we must see it in all it’s gory detail, just to get some sort of reaction out of audiences.
We also have the problem that horror movie makers are confusing screams with scares. Anyone can make a person jump by turning the sound down and then cranking it up sharply for a an effective “cattle-prod” scare but this isn’t real fear and leaves your horror movie feeling hollow. It seems if you want your horror film to stand the test of time, you need to affect people on the more psychological level.
This is where we get the horror films I feel will be timeless. These are the simpler horror movies that don’t need effects or cattle-prod scares but intense and prolonged psychological horror. The thought of danger will always out-do the actual moments horror occurs.
Two key examples are quite different movies. The first is The Blair Witch Project. This seemed to confuse people, not because of the found footage “real-life” aspect, but because in a horror movie about being trapped in the woods with an evil spirit, not much actually happens. It meant people walked away thinking ” that wasn’t scary” but I bet it stayed with people a lot longer than the cattle-prod horror Annabelle or Insidious ever would. It was the effect on the characters and the prolonged, potential horror that made it so scary.
Along the same lines is It Follows. This horror film is another that has very little in the way of “scary moments” other than the fact that the “monster” is relentless and alters your whole life. The thought of the horror is much more effective than the actual moments when the creature catches up with the young cast. It means that you leave the cinema, troubled slightly and worrying what you would do in such a situation. That is the kind of effect which is timeless and ensures a horror movie remains scary.
The other aspect these to have in common is the lack of effects. Other than fashion, these films will not age badly. The Thing lost me on the practical effects slightly and you can say the same about aspects of The Exorcist as well. What was grotesque and horrific for an older generation will lose it’s effect on an audience who will gladly sit through the many gross, graphic instalments of The Saw franchise.
Torture and pain is also not a substitute for horror either and will only desensitise audiences further, leading to even the Saw movies being considered tame for future audiences (you could argue the first one already is).
This has led to a new wave of creative horror movies. The films relying on cattle-prod scares and shock tactics begin to fail where more creative movies, like It Follows and The Babadook, become remembered for their alternative take on horror. One which is much more psychological.
Overall, horror movies stop becoming scary when audiences become desensitised to the images, ideas and effects on the screen. The best way to keep your horror movie scary and subsequently timeless is to leave it simple, suggesting the horror and crafting something much more psychologically terrifying, sticking with you long after the credits have rolled.