Dear Saul,

If a friend asked me the age old question ‘What things would you bring to a deserted island?’, I’d probably say ‘A friend who wouldn’t abandon me on a deserted island’, or failing that, ‘a laptop, and a boatload of horror films. And a boat’.

I’ve always adored horror, from the cheesy 80’s slasher’s to the piss-your-pants novels written long before I was around. And during my stint on tumblr, I wrote up on horror tropes in a series I called ‘That’s Horror-ble’ (Catchy, I know). Due to it being tumblr, a long post such as this didn’t work too well, and only a few were made. But I loved the series to death, and after a long time, I’ve decided to bring it here, because why not XD

While I’m working on the new ones, I’ll post up a few older ones alongside my regular talks with you, Saul. So please, enjoy tumblr Fiachra from 2012 🙂
-Fiachra

So you as a 12 year old walks into a video shop, maybe standing on your friends shoulders wearing a trench-coat and fake beard to fake your age, I dunno. And passing by the shelves you see it: Rise of the Unflattering Character from the Slightly Green Lagoon. Sneaking home into your room you put the DVD in and tune in to see:

  • More jump scares than a German coffee advert.
  • A college couple eaten by what appears to be a Neopet during… *wink *wink *nudge *nudge *cough *cough
  • Supposed Lost footage of the MacGuffin family during an attack by a spectral plant.
  • The trip of a life time to Daisy’s ‘Hey, we’re out in the middle of no where, come slaughter us’ forest walk
  • The group of teenagers who split up like they own the fricking Mystery Machine.

An overall, poor experience.

What when wrong then? You just saw a much better scary film the other day, it had you behind the sofa, even if it was an old film. So what went wrong?

Honestly, the genre has pretty much fallen into to the gutter with a bottle of malt liquor. it’s difficult to tell when this actually happened, but it’s easy to tell why. Sometimes, it can even be easily recognized through sequels in a series. Sure, somewhere in there are definite gems of horror film making, but do you want to search through the garbage to find those pearls.

I hope so, because you’ll be there for a while.

For god’s sake, even horror movies THEMSELVES take the piss out of the cliches made by cheap, uninteresting flicks. WES CRAVEN DID IT FOUR TIMES. Now Scream is getting weighed down by repetition.

So how did it all go wrong. How does a horror film turn a young, hopeful director into an Uwe Boll clone?

These are just a few of my guesses:

1. Terror & Horror

The most important elements in horror media are-and I kid you not- terror and horror.

Genius.

Hear me out. You may be wondering ‘Well, what’s the difference?’ That’s easy to explain:

Have you ever had a dream where you hear something veeeerrry close by, but you just can’t see it? Or when the door closes by itself? Or you walk into a room and a smell hits you that makes you just want to turn tail and flee?

That feeling of apprehension is terror.The fear of the unknown, the yet-to-happen, of the thing that goes bump in the night.

Whereas horror is more the heart pounding, wet yer knickers, AUGHGODITGOTLITTLESTEVIE moments. When the beast finally breaks down the door and you see it for all its grotesque majesty.

Yep, time to leave.

Terror is easier to do is writing than in film. In film, you are limited to using audio and visual elements to scare the viewer. While this makes full-on horror scares easy to do (and some filmmakers do them very well) build-ups and suspense become a chore, and are sometimes thrown out of the picture all together. In writing, you have everything: sight, sound, touch, smell, emotions, down to the tiniest detail. In the hands of the right person, words can easily become nightmares. Even then, full on scares require thought, and if done wrong, flop completely.

So what does this have to do with the genre now? Well, everything really. Having a balanced amount of the two is difficult. too few real scares and you eventually get used to the tension, and it becomes boring. Too many horror jump scares, and… well nearly every modern horror film is testimony to that.

Before high-budget flicks, movies relied on terror to produce good scares, so as to save money. Night of the Living Dead had a budget of $114,000, miniscule by today’s standards. Hammer Horror Films average budget was around $70,000.

So the excuse for today MAY well be ‘We have too much money’. They don’t really need to worry, so they use scary-scares to scare the scared, but don’t scare the not-easily scared, because they’re not scared by the scary-scares like the scared, who are easily scared by the scary scares.

2. Repetition

The cardinal sin of entertainment. The first thing you must avoid when making anything, a movie, book, t.v show, hell, a frickin’ smoke signal, is repetition. Because NO ONE likes repetition.

Because NO ONE likes repetition.

Easy joke, moving on…

But honestly, it’s a pain when you have to watch the same thing over, and over, with minimum change, especially in something that’s designed to frighten you. It ruins the immersion, and if it’s really bad, it turns the rest of the movie sour.

Repetition easily occurs within films of the same franchise, especially nowadays. Every major series, Saw, Hellraiser, Paranormal Activity, Halloween, Scream, Elm Street, everything at some point has suffered repetition at some point in their lives.

*Cough Living Dead series *cough

Sorry, bad coug… *Cough Films about exorcisms *hack

Should probably get that checked…

And don’t give me that ‘There are no more original ideas’ crap. Of course there are new ideas. Take an existing idea and mess around with it to create something unique. Old movies could keep things fresh, so there’s no reason why modern film can’t.

But the worst perpetrators are found footage films. A recent creation of modern horror started by a film about cannibals. Yeah, great start to a new genre. But Once Blair Witch became a hit, the shaky-camera floodgates were opened.

Some of them are fine. Blair Witch was good. Troll Hunter was good (I secretly adore Troll Hunter, but I don’t want to sound biased, so I won’t go on about it) and Cloverfield… well I shouldn’t get motion sickness when watching a film, but it was good. But it’s THE SAME PREMISE ALL THE TIME:

Troll Hunter: College mates go out shooting a documentary. They find nasty monsters.

Evil Things: College mates go out, one is shooting an amateur film. They find nasty people.

The Tunnel: Documentary team go into abandoned tunnels. Guess what? Nasty monster.

Grave Encounters: Reality t.v – turned – nasty monster-mania.

Project X: Teenagers. Documentary of party. Nasty people.

YES PROJECT X A HORROR FILM. SO BAD IT SCARED ME AHAHAHAHAHA.

Sadly, ‘fresh’ and ‘new’ aren’t words in horror. ‘safe’ and ‘easy profit’ certainly are. It’s sad how little directors are willing to risk just because they don’t want to lose money. Hopefully this will change soon. Even books on horror are starting to seem to familiar…

Uh oh, looks like she’s found out the cameraman’s drunk again. That, or she can’t find the plot.

3. The Villain

You’ve seen zombies, aliens, monsters, the whole shebang. These are common today, and in the past. But lemme ask you something: When was the last time any of them spoke?

This is more common than you think. So many of today’s horror films and video games have no proper villain. Sure, it’s scary having something monstrous and primal that you don’t understand chase you, but when was the last time someone or something had more charisma, or more of a personality than The likes of Norman Bates or old Freddy Krueger? (Not the ‘Your on Prime time!’ Krueger, thats for sure)

Something to be truly scared of is something that thinks, something that knows what it’s doing, and is proud of it. Something that gloats on how it will win, and you know it’s right. Bates has such a good personality (or personalities, if you’re feeling meticulous) and very few films can recreate him, just like with many popular 20th century killers: Hannibal Lecter, Voorhees, ghostface, and so on. Many try through reboots, remakes or straight-up new creations, but they just don’t have enough character to support themselves. Most just end up being 2-dimensional killers, or worse, not scary. Being hunted by something is the most primal fear of all and if a movie fails at that, then it doesn’t deserve the money it brings in.

And one other thing: Puppets and Food are not scary. I’m not afraid of something that I can either put in my mouth or something I can put my hand up into.

Wait that came out wrong.

4.- 50.
In the interest of length, I wanted to use just my main gripes with the genre, but there’s so much more I could argue about. Bad acting, poor design, plot holes, macguffins and deus ex machinas, generic and convoluted stories….

*Sigh…

I dunno, I just want the genre to get out of the gutter, and put down the malt. I want to be afraid of the dark again, not just afraid that the next advert I see is for K-fee. I want to have a reason to hide behind the couch again like a big girl’s blouse.

‘Who knows, maybe directors will start to realise that what they’re currently doing just isn’t working for anyone. They’re losing money, and we’re losing interest. Hopefully this is just a bad bend in the road to recovery. Maybe Hammer Horror will start putting out better films one day, and we can all be afraid once the sun goes down

‘till that day, I have plenty of things to talk about, so I’ll just keep writing to keep myself (and hopefully you guys) amused.

-Fiachra

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