By Max Pearlman ’17
I love horror movies. There is something really amazing about the emotion that a horror movie can evoke. It is arguably more powerful then any other type of movie. You know, that feeling you get when you know something is going to pop out and totally freak you out. It’s unlike anything else in film.
As with any genre of movies there are many different types. There’s the monster movie, the slasher flick, zombie movies, gore horror, comedy horror, and everything in between. As time has gone on and the genre has evolved, a clear dichotomy has emerged between contemporary horror and more old-school horror.
I am going to look at horror movies from the 1970s and 1980’s and refer to them as “classics” (I understand that classic horror movies are in reference to 30’s horror movies such as Dracula and Frankenstein, but, for arguments sake, let’s call the 70s “classic”). These classic films have a timeless appeal. Movies like Halloween, Friday the 13th, Evil Dead, and Poltergeist are some of the scariest movies ever made.
The cheapness of these movies is part of their appeal. It allows the viewer to use his or her imagination in order to fill in the blanks, and the results are terrifying. Take Michael Myers, the villain in Halloween. He is simply some dude in a mask walking around with a knife, but the silent-killer-quietly-stalking-his-prey idea is horrifying.
Take this villain versus more modern horror villains and characters such as Jigsaw from Saw and the girl from The Ring. These characters rely on supernatural kills and complicated special effects to scare the audience. In my opinion, overuse of computer-generated special effects dulls the movie in terms of entertainment value. As a viewer, knowing that something is generated by a computer takes away part of the scare because you know that these things never happened. Retro special effects relied heavily on illusion and tacky effects, but the make up, clever camera work, and reliance on the imagination of the filmmaker created more terrifying films.
Take The Exorcist as a prime example of this. Widely considered to be one of the scariest movies of all time The Exorcist took the horror genre and legitimized it for the mainstream audience. The scares in this movie came from the makeup used to demonize the possessed little girl, Reagan, and parlor tricks, such as making a bed rise and doors open by themselves. Everything happening in this movie was actually occuring on the set, which is part of the reason why The Exorcist is so terrifying.
People like Jon Blader argue that newer movies are better because they can simply do things that older horror movies could not; films like The Ring or The Conjuring have special effects that were impossible when Halloween was released. They argue that these special effects free the filmmakers from limitations and allow their horror imaginations to roam free. I disagree; I think the ability to create literally any image with a computer breeds lazy filmmakers. Instead of slaving over tiny scares, a director can just sit at a computer and make anything happen. This freedom forces filmmakers to not leave anything to the viewer’s imagination, and new school horror movies have turned into gore fests or monster flicks.
Gone are the days when simplicity ruled over horror. Instead we get movies like The Human Centipede and Saw that rely solely on shocking the audience with their grotesque imagery and special effects to make up for the fact that the audience has seen it all before. One of the best horror movies of the past decade was The Cabin in the Woods, and that movie was made as a tribute to older horror movies. I think that says something about which era is better, which era is king: the era of the “classic” horror movie.