Earlier this month movie-goers were creeped to their core by a nebulous evil whose preferred shape is that of Pennywise the Dancing Clown – perhaps the most terrifying creation that people once (perplexingly) found innocuous enough for children’s parties. IT is so popular that even if you haven’t watched it you know enough from the constant memes and pranks floating to the top of your newsfeed. The 2000’s have been jam-packed with predictable horror flicks, jump-scares, and torture-porn ad nauseam, so naturally, the well crafted IT has people wondering if this is a turn in the road for the genre.
The repetitive plots, characters and countless revamps/sequels of most traditional horror films – Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Paranormal Activity – means it doesn’t take much effort to churn them out like identical sticks of butter. It also means viewers become desensitised. We’re so used to this format that when I saw Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook, I struggled to reconcile the jump-scare filled trailer with the nuanced story about the psychological powers of grief. Good horror or thrillers get to you in a sleeping with the lights on sort of way, or making you question the human condition like Get Out did for me. Which brings me to my next point.
“Social issues and fears of our collective consciousness come alive in the horror genre”
In his book Danse Macabre, Stephen King famously said that movies “are the dreams of mass culture”, whilst “horror movies are the nightmares”. Social issues and fears of our collective consciousness come alive in this genre. Let’s take the fear of contamination brought on by an interconnected, globalised world – this theme has been done (and redone) so much that looking at a list of zombie or contagion related cinematic creations of the last few decades makes your head hurt. Sometimes they’re done memorably, like I Am Legend, but most just get lost in the crowd.
It is difficult to argue that the release of Jordan Peele’s Get Out at a time when racial tensions and anti-immigrant feelings are taking centre stage is a coincidence. Similarly, Schults’ It Comes at Night has the characters trying to protect themselves from a crumbling apocalyptic world only to find out the true danger comes from within. If I took anything from IT, it is that we all have something we’re afraid of. Worthwhile horror uses these concepts well.
Is cheap horror an endangered species? Hate or love them, they still make a lot of money. Later this year, yet another Saw and another Chucky movie are scheduled for release. Throughout horror movie history, occasional surprises like The Shining, Silence of the Lambs, or Sixth Sense come riding on a wave of forgettable flicks. So maybe we’ll have to wait and see – but if it weren’t for the commonplace, the exceptional wouldn’t exist.