Evolution of the horror genre

(William Cumming/AQ)

The horror genre is something that has substantially changed over the years. Going from, “The killer is right behind you!” to Well, I don’t know when this guy will — OH GEEZ!”

The first horror film dates back to 1896. The Devil’s Castle is what you would expect with 19th-century technology. It’s a moving picture with music on in the background, terrible resolution and crappy effects.

Here, we’ll focus on three classics: Halloween (1978), Friday the 13th (1980) and Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), comparing them to modern films such as Sinister (2012), Unfriended (2015) and The ABCs of Death 2 (2015).

Halloween is from a time where you didn’t have to see the killer in order to be frightened or disturbed, but when Michael Myers did show up, it was terrifying.

Friday the 13th shares many attributes with Halloween, and it’s been said that the movie was made to cash in on what Halloween had created — the emergence of the teen slasher movie sub-genre, heavily concerned with a killer that punished teens for ‘mischievous’ behavior.

Halloween and Friday the 13th were able to target people who felt weird walking alone and those who are easily paranoid. The killer could strike at any moment, no one would see it coming and then they would disappear. Nightmare on Elm Street, however, fed on people’s dreams, literally. Putting the creepy song aside, the movie made people afraid to fall asleep and afraid to enter the world of Freddy Krueger.

What is great about these films is that they found a horrific theme to exploit in their audiences. With Halloween it was the fear of being stalked by a psycho serial killer, with Friday the 13th  it was the fear of being hunted by a paranormal force and in Nightmare on Elm Street it was the fear of falling asleep and entering a world that could not be controlled.

These films have subtle horror. One could see the killer in the background and shout at the character to turn around to no response. Nowadays lower grade horror movies depend on jump-scares to frighten the audience. There is no suspense or unnerving atmosphere, just a figure/monster/killer that pops out of nowhere to get a cheap thrill.

One movie that matches this description is Unfriended. Unfriended had the potential to be a great horror movie. It had the right idea by introducing an unsettling way of viewing social media, something everyone uses. Yet it went another direction and became a jump-scare deluxe movie that shouldn’t have lasted over an hour and a half.

However, not all is lost in the world of modern horror. Some films are able to take their time and feed off of what people are afraid of today, things that disturb them. Sinister was able to feed off of people’s fear of finding something terrifying in either a photograph or video, as well as the possibility of someone lurking in the shadows. It had its share of jump-scares, but they weren’t in the viewer’s face. They were subtle and timed right.

The ABCs of Death 2 is a collection of short films, categorized A to Z, containing genres like horror, thriller and comedy. Some of the short films in this movie are examples of how terrible the horror industry has become, and some show the potential for the future industry. Since blood and guts are something that today’s viewer is used to, a horror film needs to find something disturbing that a viewer won’t be able to forget. This movie finds some of those disturbing thoughts and brings them to life and they are far from forgettable.

The horror genre today is one to be critical of. Since there are so many low grade movies compared to good ones, it’s hard to be optimistic of the industry’s future. A challenge for everyone is not to base a horror movie’s grade off of it giving a quick thrill, but rather, if it makes something stay with someone, something they cannot forget or let go of easily. A good horror movie shouldn’t keep a short term affect on someone, it should stay with that person until something else scares them more.


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