I have never really cared for horror movies. I can remember watching R-rated movies at home on television from a really young age. Whether they were comedies, dramas, or action flicks, if my dad was watching it in the living room, it was fair game. At the same time, I can remember being 8 or 9 and wanting to watch “The Dark Knight” and not being allowed to, because Heath Ledger’s performance of The Joker was “too scary.” With a childhood ban on anything that could be “too scary,” I did not start watching horror movies until I became a teenager, but by that time, my taste in movies had grown to a point where I had started to notice things like plot holes, bad acting and poor quality visual effects, something that a lot of modern horror movies suffered from. In stark contrast, the horror movies of the 20th century were chock-full of excellent direction, acting, effects and all around solid filmmaking.
One of my favorite movies is “Jaws,” the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic that essentially invented the idea of the summer blockbuster, and an excellent example of how horror can be done right. Less of the terrifying elements of “Jaws” are based purely on the visual horror and the jump scares, and more emphasis is put on the fear of the unknown. Spielberg single-handedly created the defining element of monster movies to this day, not being able to see the creature until the end of the movie. Spielberg did not set out to create a bad movie that just so happened to be scary, he wanted to make the best movie he could, and it just so happened that that movie was so frightening, there are still people today who will not go out into the ocean because of it.
And this is not to say that there haven’t been good horror movies to come out in the past couple of years. The most recent example I can think of is John Krasinski’s directorial debut, “A Quiet Place.” Krasinski was able to come up with an original concept that breathed new life into the genre by bringing it back to its roots of quality filmmaking that just so happens to be scary. The aliens from “A Quiet Place” are not as scary as they are solely because of how they look or sound; the aliens are frightening because the movie is able to build a deep emotional connection between the audience and the family that the movie follows. The family has a deep fear for the creatures, and because we empathize with them, we do too. While “A Quiet Place” is not really a true horror movie, and probably better falls under the category of a suspense thriller, the argument here still stands. In general, the elements that make a good movie of any genre apply directly to horror movies, a fact that seems to elude most modern horror directors.
What I am saying is that there seems to be a lot more emphasis put on the shock value of a horror movie than there is on actually making a good story. I bet you that you could name five modern horror movies that all start out the same way. “This summer. A family from the city moves out to the country and everything is OK for a while. But then, they find a (insert cursed object here) and everything goes to hell.” Some of these movies can actually be pretty good, but this trend of cookie-cutter plots has become a problem with the genre as a whole. Horror used to be a space where up-and-coming filmmakers could stretch their wings and try out new techniques, but today it has become more of a place where studios can make a quick buck over a couple jump scares.