With horror films coming at us at a higher rate than ever, Emma Kiely takes us through the genre’s greatest innovations over the decades.
What makes a Horror film great? What makes it different? These questions have been asked since the birth of the horror film, but they haven’t become easier to answer. That’s because there are several ways in which a horror film can be different, new, and innovative. There are thousands of horrendous, cheap, and lazy horror films out there, but that’s what makes the truly exceptional ones really stand out.
Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960’s Psycho wasn’t just revolutionary in the horror genre, but for film in general.
Let’s take a look at a true classic. Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960’s Psycho wasn’t just revolutionary in the horror genre, but for film in general. To kill off the protagonist after 40 minutes shocked the audience as it reminded them no one was safe from the killer’s wrath. This saw the birth of the psychological horror film. It showed the audience that there could be a killer in your neighbour, your husband or even yourself.
Fast-forward to 1975 when a 28-year-old director reformed the horror picture by accident. The production of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is known to be one of the most strenuous in film production history. The main reason being that the shark robot named ‘Bruce’ would barely function. Spielberg had no other choice but to barely show the shark. The director managed to absolutely terrorise the audience and not show the actual monster until an hour into the film. We began to realise that the less you see, the more scared you’ll be.
The late 1970s and 1980s saw the rise of the slasher film. With John Carpenter’s Halloween and other classics such as Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Horror film-makers began to realise that society was growing more modernised and so wanted to appeal to a younger demographic. Horror films began to show more sex and debaucheries and more importantly, they started to put females at the centre of the story.
There’s no denying that women in horror flicks can be overly sexualised with many films featuring a big-breasted ‘dumb blonde’ stereotype who seems to never wear a bra. However, the horror genre was one of the first to depict a heroine who could outsmart all of the men of the story. We saw the birth of the ‘final girl’ and women finally got to be the hero of the story instead of just another well-groomed tough guy type.
In the 1990s we saw two versions of horror reform, found-footage horror and parody horror. The Blair Witch Project brings the audience into the hand-held camera of a group of college kids on the hunt for the ‘Blair Witch’ in the woods of Maryland. To take an old campfire ghost story and turn it into a documentary-style picture was revolutionary. It was followed by the hugely popular Paranormal Activity franchise and others such as Rec and Cloverfield.
Wes Craven’s 1996 Scream took the horror genre by surprise when he mocked it. Showcasing the evident ‘rules’ of the horror film, such as the virgin and homosexuals always being spared and how saying the words ‘I’ll be right back’ is basically stepping into your coffin. Craven was essentially laughing at the audience by ridiculing the horror film as they were watching one. He was tapping on the fourth wall but not actually breaking it.
Craven was essentially laughing at the audience by ridiculing the horror film as they were watching one.
Now that we’re in the 21st century, horror films have been keeping up to date with the ever-changing society and prime demographics. The 2014 picture Unfriended incorporates the monumental influence of social media on youth. The film is shown entirely through the screen of the MacBook of Blair, showing her and her friends as they are haunted online by the spirit of a classmate who killed herself after a drunken video of her was posted online.
Unfriended received mixed reviews but it is perhaps the most innovative horror film of the century to date. To terrorise the audience merely through Facebook messages, chilling internet mishaps and a six-way skype call is a cinematic achievement. It’s ‘new’ in every sense of the word and has a powerful subliminal message, the internet is just as scary as the horror category on Netflix and indeed real life itself.
With the political upheaval that’s taking its toll on the world these days, it was only a matter of time before horror films would incorporate elements of racism, sexism, and politics.
With the political upheaval that’s taking its toll on the world these days, it was only a matter of time before horror films would incorporate elements of racism, sexism, and politics. The 2017 picture Get Out follows a black man thrown into the delusional and chilling world of white privilege. The film terrifies the audience in a less obvious and more unsettling way than the aforementioned pictures. Its thought-provoking storyline addresses the problems with racism that society is too afraid to discuss whilst making the audience bite its nails and laugh out loud almost simultaneously.
The horror genre is always looked over when it comes to quality. Horror films rarely win Oscars or receive exceptional ratings on Rotten Tomatoes. However, they reflect the ever-changing and developing world. An innovative horror film grabs you by the throat and opens your eyes to the terrifying elements of life and reminds us that monsters are real, they just look more like Trump than Dracula.