Saturday, October 1, 2011

Horror Films: Defining a Genre and a Generation

Seeing trailers for the upcoming release of “The Thing” made me pause momentarily and think. While I loved John Carpenter's version from the 80's and rather enjoyed the 50's original which started it all, I have no desire to see the upcoming 2011 remake.

I'm not going hash out why I dislike the thought of a remake as IMDB has numerous comments from others voicing their opinions on the matter. Rather, this started me thinking about what truly makes a film scary.

John Carpenter's remake hit it perfectly. With eerie settings filled with distrust, effects that made one cringe, and violent interactions, the film touched upon the very core of what makes a good film. When it's not directly evident what the source of the terror is, success has been achieved from the film's perspective. And John Carpenter shot a fantastic film in this regard. Stomach turning at times, and down right foreboding, the film had one on edge not knowing where the action would come from next. A perfect tone for a movie of this genre.

But not all films are so successful. Going back to the 50's and 60's, the B grade giant monster movie was the norm. A huge spider perhaps serves as the element of fear. Spiders naturally frighten a sizable percentage of people, yet these films fail miserably and are sometimes laughable. Why?. A film which directly uses creatures like spiders in an attempt to frighten people is too blatant. We like a mystery we have to unravel. Not knowing what it is that frightens us heightens the impact. But if we take the instinctual fear of spiders and wrap that in another guise, real potential emerges. Remove the spider and represent it with the fear of a heartless killer that is driven by hunger alone, then you have something to work with. Something cold blooded, something that can't be reasoned with, something that kills from the moment it is born to the moment it dies. That's fear and that's what an audience of horror films truly wants. Not remakes of films which already achieved the goal of making us frightened.