Why I Hate... Modern Horror


20th January 2007

Let's assume, for all intents and purposes, that I scare easily. Let's say, just theoretically, that I lose control of my limbs every time I see a spider, jump several notches up the homo-o-meter when I hear bumps in the night and break into a cold sweat whenever someone tells Noel Edmonds 'no deal'. Theoretically. One would think, then, that a trip to the cinema to see a modern horror film would be enough to fit me for a casket - all those big scary men with rusty tools chasing after the cast of Party Of Five must be a green light for floods of urine. Not so. You know why? Because modern horror is about as scary as playfully romping with newborn kittens in a meadow in the springtime. The 70's and 80's had some fucking awesome horror bad guys - dudes like Jason, Freddy and Michael Myers didn't just live in your grainy video nasties, they took a permanent residence in your psyche, ready to stab you up good and proper as soon as you let your guard down. So what the hell went wrong?

Modern horror falls into a number of sub-categories. The first, and by far the most popular, is the 'jump out of your seat' horror movie. This movie will be directed by a former music video director or a jaded old Asian horror maestro, will likely hide a 12A certificate on its poster and will feature a number of short sharp shocks designed purely to fool the mind into thinking it's been scared. A nave young starlet might peer into a cupboard or through a window only to be met with a ghostly visage - BOO! Predictably, the body jolts, but it's not fear you're reacting to, it's a simple stimuli - you'd do the same thing if Leo Sayer popped his head round the corner with a big smile on his face. Other trademarks include a choppily-edited opening sequence featuring vaguely sinister images like corpses or sharp things, obtusely beautiful people wandering lamely into obvious situations of certain death and a final shot that reveals that the killer is not dead / has a brother / is now a ghost. This is not horror; this is pandering to dim-witted dullards who think that the Ring films are the height of sophistication and that pasty-faced children are things to fear.

Then you have the exploitation films from chaps like Eli Roth and Rob Zombie, who claim they're closer in tone than anyone to the classic horror movies of the good old days. The 'shlock horror' will feature absolutely buckets of blood and offal, scenes that are indecently violent and characters that exist purely to be dispatched in a suitably grisly fashion. Want to see some tits? You've rented the right movie! Want to be scared? Sorry, no dice; sure, you'll watch a movie like Hostel through the cracks in your fingers, but only because it's so bum-clenchingly dire. That's not terror you're feeling in the pit of your stomach, that's disgust: there's a difference. Although they're lighter in tone, the Final Destination movies abide by similar rules: characters die increasingly elaborate and ironic deaths, the audience whoops and goes home with their bloodlust temporarily sated. Same goes for the Saw series - they're filling their imaginative gore quota but forgoing everything else that should make a horror film great i.e. characters, plot and dialogue - you might as well watch a compilation of YouTube's greatest hits.

The third category is the psychological horror. What this really means is that it's not scary enough to qualify as actual horror and you've got to imagine the good stuff for yourself. Is Jodie Foster seeing ghosts? Is Bruce Willis dead? Is the Blair Witch real? You tell me, motherfucker, I already gave you my 6.80. I for one do not find scenes of people looking mildly perturbed the least bit scary. Let me save you some time and give away the ending to every psychological horror ever made: whatever it is, it's not as exciting as the ending you were thinking of.

I get tired of trying to find another way of saying 'Hollywood is running out of ideas' but damn it, the bastards don't make it easy for me. Remaking classic horror films is tantamount to sacrilege, so why are these movies being given to flash-in-the-pan MTV hotshots without an iota of talent? The new Leatherface of the Texas Chainsaw remakes is a shadow of his former self; just a power tool swinging berk, bereft of personality, a skin-wearing hulk who kills because pretty teens keep pissing him off. Rob Zombie is currently mid-way through remaking Halloween, but a script review on Ain't It Cool reveals that Michael Myers has been given a back story in which he was abused as a child. Well that explains the killing! Savagely murdering people is a bit iffy, granted, but child abuse is just bang out of order! Sorry Mike, but a sepia-toned montage doesn't excuse that kind of behaviour, young man.

The reason we loved Michael and Leatherface was because they were blank canvases, ciphers, straight up mysteries; isn't the fact that they're just utter psychopaths scary enough? Hmm, no, I guess we better trace back over their family trees to find out why these bad apples turned sour. Fuck that. Think back to Christian Bale's speech to the mirror in American Psycho: "There is an idea of a Patrick Bateman; some kind of abstraction. But there is no real me... I simply am not there." Think back to the young killers in the first Scream movie: "I don't really believe in motives... Did Norman Bates have a motive? Did we ever find out why Hannibal Lector liked to eat people? Don't think so! See, it's a lot scarier when there is no motive." These kids have got the right idea: it's the complete indifference to the death and destruction they deal which is why these psychos chill the blood, not the size of their big choppers. Unfortunately, Billy Loomis is about to start rapidly rotating in his grave, as Silence Of The Lambs prequel Hannibal Rising (I prefer The Young Hannibal Lecter Chronicles) is about to answer the questions that no one asked. I don't think anybody needs to see a scene of a young Tony Hopkins look-a-like turning to camera and exclaiming that human flesh tastes like chicken.

Finally, for Christ's sake, if you're going down the remake route, at least cast someone decent - case in point, Sean Bean is taking over from Rutger Hauer in this year's remake of The Hitcher. Sean Bean? The dude who tries to shill you text packages for O2? I've had more menacing dumps. If I was driving down the motorway and I saw Sean Bean thumbing a lift, he'd run away from me because my car was all big and shiny. They might as well have cast Rick Moranis. Mr. Motivator would be a scarier passenger.

Nope, sorry chaps, it's just not good enough. I've had scarier experiences watching CBBC than I have at the movies lately, and unless Hollywood goes back to basics and starts generating some real terror, then I don't think I'll ever wet myself in a cinema ever again. And frankly friends, that's a sad day for all of us. The last truly frightening film I saw? The Descent. It's a movie that embodies everything that's great about horror: a pure, naked, trembling fear of the unknown with nary an abused madman or a dirty-haired girl in sight. Expect a remake starring Jennifer Aniston and an ex-wrestler sometime in 2009. Ali

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