Modern horror films are rubbish. There I’ve said it, it’s a fact.
The problem is, as with so much of Hollywood these days, a lack of imagination. Horror films in their giddy, slash-filled glory days were gloriously damaging; long, controlled lessons in building tension and fear to such a point that you would willing stave your own face in on the chair in front just to save yourself from the thundering, inevitable crescendo.
Horror films fell out of favour in the 80s and 90s but have always been much of a hit and miss genre. But when they are done well there’s few other films that can affect you as much as a horror good enough to leave you checking the door three times and leaving the lights on ‘just to be sure’.
The point is that the time for peering at a film through iron clasped fingers has been and gone, so much so that it is now a cliche used in awful adverts for awful horror films which show the ‘terrified audience’ throwing their popcorn into the air whilst watching scenes far too startling to show on your whimpering, cowardly television.
Don’t get me wrong, I love horror films. But the reason I love them is the way they can get into your head like no other type of film. Modern horror has increasingly drifted away from this idea and opted to run away with shocking an audience rather than scaring them. Films like the never-ending Saw saga and the two Hostel films are uncomfortable to watch, but not because they make your mind play tricks on you and terrify you into imagining what could be there. These films are all about the sharp sudden shock of watching the face jolt up behind the window, or watching some squawking damsel lose an arm with a fountain of haemoglobin.
Now this is all well and good, but I can get a sudden shock by slamming my foot in a door. And I get tired of that quickly too.
So this Halloween, rather than going to watch Saw VI or Rob Zombie’s horrendous looking Halloween II, why not hunt down one of these classic horror films.
The classic as good as everyone says it is:
Alfred Hitchcock’s old school horror can still throw it’s weight around today. Rather than going for outright scares and violence, Hitchcock eeks out the suspense and keeps you guessing at what the hell is actually happening right up until the finalé. It’s easy to snub a film like this by today’s break-neck standards, but I dare you to go back to this monochrome gem and dive in without preconceptions or an adequate source of lighting. Steer clear of Gus Van Saints’ god awful 1998 remake mind, for christ’s sake…
The one that crossed the genres best:
Ridley Scott’s space horror brought a new lease of life to both horror films and sci-fi. It basically reinvented a dying genre by turning it into a new style of horror, where a fear of the vast unknown and utter, utter isolation could be utilised to scare the living crap out of you. The first film of the franchise, Alien took a slow, meticulously controlled pace from start to finish and re-set the benchmark for horror.
The one you might not have heard of:
À l’intérieur (Inside)
This magnificently monstrous French horror from 2007 centres on a heavily pregnant mother-to-be who is involved a horrific car crash which kills her husband, leaving only her and her unborn child alive. The film picks up four months later at when, alone in her home at christmas, the woman receives a knock at the door from an utter, utter, nutcase of a woman who attempts to steal her unborn child and kills anyone and everyone that might be able to offer help to our rotund protagonist. Relatively unknown, this is a magnificent piece of horror film-making and, at best, brutally unforgiving.
The one to make you lose your appetite:
Night of the living dead
George A Romero’s first film of his ongoing saga and the zombie film that fathered all zombie films. Romero’s iconic film is another masterclass in misdirection and suspense, distracting you from the real message of the film which only hammers home in the final sequence. Buckets of offal and chocolate sauce were used to create the eerily realistic effects on Romero’s super-tight budget, and it still makes for uneasy viewing today.
The British Benchmark:
The Wicker Man
Worth watching alone for Christopher Lee’s mightiest of performances, this post-Hammer horror Brit production is still one of the greatest and most unsettling horror films ever made. Robin Hardy’s trick here is the way he effortlessly eases the audience in to Edward Woodward’s shoes as Sgt Howie, gradually unveiling the unsettling reality of Howie’s predicament into the iconic final sequence.
Edit: Alternatively you could watch this, indefinitely.