Killer Thursdays

Has Horror Lost its Mojo?

Recently, I read an article by Cindy Zablockis asking “what ever happened to horror movies that actually scared [us]?”

I recently watched the latest version of Final Destination, not sure what number, I lost count. Within fifteen minutes I was bored. Nothing in the movie actually scared me or even had me on the edge of my seat. I haven’t felt that heart racing, eyes open wide as I wonder what will happen next for a long time while watching a movie.

Read the rest here.

An excellent question, really.

I can’t recall the last, recent horror movie that really scared me. Grossed me out, sure. Made me uncomfortable for all the wrong reasons, yep. But scared me? Left me having to sleep with the lights on? Nightmares?

Well maybe…no. Or…nope. Not that one either. Hmmm….

I don’t always eat brains but, when I do, I prefer Dos Skullis.

There’s The Walking Dead (not a movie but certainly movie quality and definitely horror). Some may feel zombies are so done they’ve lost their scariness (or they weren’t really scary in the first place). I can’t agree 100%. There’s still something pretty scream-worthy about dead folk getting up and coming after you. Still, not leave-the-lights-on-wake-up-in-a-cold-sweat kinda scary. Well, not for me.

The Sophia story line (last season) was frightening but not in the way I expect from horror. It was more the everyday, parental type fear. We parents want to protect our kiddos from everything but we fear we know we can’t. That’s truly scary but it’s not the bump-in-the-night kind.

Then there’s Dexter (also not a movie and more dark-comedy/thriller than horror). Jonathan Lithgow as the Trinity Killer in Season 4 scared me. He was just so convincing. *shudder* And elements of Dexter himself scare me plenty. So maybe that counts.

It’s not that horror movies have never scared me. Some movies, which shall remain nameless (*cough* Exorcist *cough*), I’ve only ever watched once. That was enough. Michael Meyers and Mrs. Voorhees gave me plenty of sleepless nights. Poltergeist, while I can appreciate it now for its excellent writing and compelling drama, has left a lasting mark (can you really say “tv snow” without shuddering, even if it doesn’t exist anymore?). While relatively cheesy now, the original Dawn of the Dead almost left me scarred for life (which may explain my current fascination with zombies).  And let’s not even talk about Jaws.

But all the stuff that’s been produced in recent years just doesn’t seem as scary.

Don’t. Go. Inside.

Maybe I’ve outgrown the monster in the basement…*attempts to keep a straight face* *fails miserably* Nah, I have a very sick inner older-brother who can talk me into some near pants-peeing moments.

So maybe it’s the writing that’s changed. Maybe screenwriters have forgotten how to tap into our fears (possibly because they’re too busy focusing on blood, guys and sparkly vampires).

But that leads to the question: what is scary anyway? Sure, there’s primal fears about the dark, the unknown, our mortality and what makes us human versus inhuman. But what’s scary also has a lot to do with cultural ideas. What’s scary in one culture isn’t necessarily scary in another.  So maybe it’s not so much that writers don’t have their finger on the pulse of scary as what’s scary has changed.

Then again, maybe we’re all so full of real life scary (the news, wars, extreme weather etc) that horror movie scary doesn’t phase us anymore. Maybe we’re failing the horror and not the other way around. And, if we’ve become so desensitized to horror that scary movies don’t do it for us anymore, what does that mean for us?

That’s kind of a scary question.

Of course, what’s scary varies from one person to the next. So maybe it’s just some of us that aren’t getting their scary fix with the greatest of ease.

Actually…I do remember a recent horror flick that did the trick for me. Paranormal Activity. Yep, its scare efficiency took me by surprise too.

What do you think? Are horror movies still scary? If not, why not? What was the last horror flick (or book, story, show etc) that actually scared you?

Image Attribution (In Order of Appearance):
Image via (fair use)
opening the door by twenty_questions, on Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

20 thoughts on “Has Horror Lost its Mojo?

  1. I’m not a fan of most of the recent “horror” movies, because long, drawn-out torture scenes are boring, IMO. Too much torture and gore take away from the storyline, and it’s the storyline that matters. A conflicted character on a transformative journey- that’s interesting, and that’s an actual story. Horror is just another way of telling it. Don’t simply dump a bucket of blood on somebody’s head. Let it drip slowly, from a leak in the ceiling . .

  2. I love the horror genre (and thanks for the link love!!). I actually just got done watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) for my original versus remake series with Catie Rhodes. I haven’t seen any of the Paranormal Activity movies (WHY????) but I really want to. Now I really want to.

    Oh, and I agree… the Sophia storyline was intense. No one is safe on the Walking Dead, which is something I really like. In so many horror movies (TV included), you always know “the star” is safe. The kids are safe.

    Why be safe?

  3. I’ve wondered if maybe horror is throwing too much out there. Instead of leading the mind to the scary place, they throw the scary place at you. That being said, I have this phobia thing with aliens and any alien movie that is about being abducted freaks me out. I won’t watch any of them. I’ve tried. (and failed!)

  4. I don’t like torture porn and I’m not into “jump” movies – movies that rely on a sudden sound or a monster jumping out unexpectedly to get their scare on, so there haven’t been a lot of American horror movies that scared me…ever. (80’s slasher movies worked for me as a kid, but stopped working before I hit high school.)

    The movies that scare me have always been heavier on atmosphere and lighter on monster, but with a lot of impact in the moments that do scare. I call it slow-burn, and good examples include Paranormal Activity, Ringu (the Japanese version of The Ring), The Grudge (American version), and so forth. (In games, I still recommend the classic Silent Hill 2 for a great interactive horror experience loaded with symbols of the subconscious.)

    Even among foreign movies I find it hard to get the fix I’m looking for; most of them have started taking the low-hanging fruit of jump/torture, too.

    Which reminds me, I still need to play Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I’ve heard good things about that being a horror game that gets it *right.* We’ll see.

  5. Horror movies have gotten into a rut: bad language, blood and gore, cheap scares you see coming, and bad writing. These slasher films don’t move you on an emotional, psychological level. The most recent horror films that scared me was The Woman in Black and Dread. Dread scares me like Psycho does; you never know when some is going to go crazy and try to kill you. It’s the psychological scare that gets me. I love The Walking Dead and Dexter because they are so thought provoking and TWD does scare me.
    I would love to see horror films that throw back to the older movies where the plot and characters are scary instead of all the blood and gore.

  6. I don’t think slasher horrors are scary. Films like Final Destination just revel in finding more grotesque ways to kill off the characters. I prefer a good old fashioned, ghost story that can send chills down the spine.

  7. @Cynthia: Agreed. So much gore tends to detract. I think horror offers so many more possibilities for character arc…it’s a shame when that’s ignored.

    @David: LOL. Awwww.

    @Tiffany: Sounds good! I just watched the original TCM. Very disturbing. Agreed about WD…as long as they don’t get too George RR Martin about it. LOL

    @Lara: Oh yeah. The Thing and the original Alien freaked me out quite nicely.

    @Shadlyn: It almost seems like the best horror starts out as something else. It doesn’t feel so overt. It just builds and builds.

    @Stars: Most definitely. Horror has such potential to showcase storyline and character arc. I’ve got The Woman in Black on my list but I’m a little nervous. LOL

    @Emma: Yeah, I see movies like Final Destination as dark comedy almost. It’s like a sicko version of Mousetrap. The Saw movies too (though they were disturbing in the extreme…just not “scary.”).

  8. I would’ve said the same as you. Paranormal Activity: All of them, creeped me out. The second one I think is the scariest. But I totally believe in ghosts.

    I also don’t like that tactic in scary movies where things start out going slow and then shudder/move fast close to the screen. Ca-reeps me out!

    Good horror flicks: Exorcist, It, Child’s Play, Halloween, Exorcism of Emily Rose, Paranormal Activity

  9. The Entity scared me when I watched it recently even though the film was from 1981 – Paranornal Activity I, was pretty chilling but didn’t have the lasting impact as older films used to – as soon as I got home I forgot about it. I think we may have seen every possibility to scare portrayed in film, so every a new film still has something familiar about it, and that means it won’t be as scary. Don’t know what the answer is but I am starting to notice that less is more in films – the ones that show less and use more cerebral techniques to scare have a longer lasting impression.

  10. Hi, Sonia. Great topic! I hope I’m not too late…
    My wife and two sons are not really into anything scary, although my boys do watch The Walking Dead show, so I usually have to sneak in my scary films. I have seen only a few in the past year or so. I really enjoyed “Let Me In”. I know it was a US version of the story, but I thought it was brilliant. I did like Mr. Potter in The Woman in Black. That one gave me some serious chills. I had never seen the classic George C. Scott film, The Changeling. I found that one to be pretty chill-inducing.
    Thanks for asking… Oh, and I watch The Exorcist once every few years. That film stays with me for two solid days when I do that to myself. Yikes!


  11. @Jess: I think it the sheer ordinaryness of the Paranormal Activity setting that does it for me. Stephen King does that too (not always tho).

    @Parlor: Yeah, I agree. I wonder if more recent horror just tries too hard. What’s scary can be somewhat elusive…you have to lure it in instead of chase it. I don’t know. LOL

    @Jimmy: Yeah, you and the Exorcist.I’m still never watching it again. LOL. I don’t know if I’ve seen The Changeling. I’ll have to check it out.

  12. I was having a similar conversation with a friend recently. I just don’t find movies scary any more. I don’t think it helps that I grew up watching Freddie Kruger, Candy Man, Halloween etc as I became used to true horrors at a young-ish age. But the movies these days are all remakes and there just doesn’t seem to be any imagination left. The only way to get well and truely scared is to read a book instead!!

  13. I tend to agree with Shadlyn Wolfe. For me what’s scary is the slow build, the suspense of knowing that something is coming, or that something bad will happen, but hasn’t yet. Some of my favorite horrors include The Ring, Rear Window, and Alien, all of which knew how to take their time. True horror comes from realizing that there’s something there, in the darkness. Not knowing what it is, each audience member begins to populate the darkness with their own worst fears. Once the threat resolves there is a moment of greater fear, but there’s also a sense of relief, we know now what the “bad” is, we don’t have to worry in uncertainty any longer.

      1. I’m often reminded of an anecdote credited to Hitchcock, where two people are sitting at a cafe, and the camera pans down to reveal a bomb on a timer. As long as the timer continues to count down, tension builds. When the bomb finally goes off, yes it will be tragic, but also in some senses a relief. Often true horror is about drawing out that moment of uncertainty, in artful ways that don’t feel cheap of course.

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