By Jonathan Blader ’17
With Halloween in the rearview mirror, I could sit here for hours typing a little homage to the classics of the horror genre because they deserve all the praise they get. However, that’s Max Pearlman’s job. Instead, forget the classic scary movies for a while. Forget A Nightmare On Elm Street, Friday the 13th, and The Exorcist. Although these might be regarded as movies from the “golden age” of horror, there has always been room for improvement, and a few modern horror films have emerged that raise the bar for what should be considered scary. The time has come to face the facts that new school is a hell of a lot scarier than old school.
The modern classic is hard to come by, but when one does come out it’s immediately apparent that whoever made it knew what they were doing. This past summer, I went to see The Conjuring, and it scared the shit out of me. I’m not proud of covering my eyes or nearly jumping out of my seat at some parts, but I’m not ashamed to say that I did either. Throughout the movie, I couldn’t stop thinking about what exactly made this film so much scarier than anything else I had seen in recent years. Why was I not only terrified while watching in the movie theater but also when I was home alone later that night? Nobody knows, but it’s provocative, gets the people goin’ (that is the one Will Ferrell joke I’m allowed per
The key word for a scary movie is innovation. No one wants to see the same old trick over and over. For instance, if I see the promiscuous girl sneak off with her idiotic boyfriend, I can expect both of them to be dead within minutes. When I see a horror movie, I want to expect the unexpected.
It all starts with the music. If the score is good, it’s noticeable right away. People know the iconic themes from Jaws or Friday the 13th by ear. Years from now, people will remember how much the sudden screech of the violin in movies like Insidious or The Conjuring scared them. Music is half the battle to getting the audience scared.
I’ve seen the classics, and I have to admit that, while their musical scores were scary, they weren’t so terrifying that a sudden blaring of the orchestra made me jump. Directors these days have learned from past mistakes. Insidious is a prime example. You never understand how creepy Tiny Tim’s singing is until it suddenly comes on the record player. Little nuances like this are the pillars of a great scary movie.
Innovation in the horror genre has stemmed from what makes people scared at the time the movie is made. In the late 70s and throughout the 80s, slasher movies were popular because they characterized the simplest way of trying to scare someone: have a masked man with a large knife brutalize teens for 90 minutes in all sorts of gruesome ways and have a twist at the end. It really used to be that easy. Instead, movies today need to be connected to modern culture in order to add realism to an otherwise unlikely story. For instance, the Paranormal Activity series captures the essence of modernity by using surveillance cameras to capture a family being haunted by a demon.
Because the most basic scares have already been used, groundbreaking techniques are necessary to make the film even remotely good. If that’s the case, isn’t it fair to say that making a horror film today is a much more difficult task? If so, then these modern classics deserve even more praise for overcoming both adversity and, for lack of a better word, sucking.
Whatever your taste might be, scary movies have it all. You want to watch torture porn? Try watching the Saw movies. Craving that point-of-view shot? The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity might be for you.
The bottom line is, forget the classics. They won’t scare you like these will. New movies are tied into our subconscious, an extension of our culture. These older movies don’t offer the same experience that a new one can.
There might not be such a thing as “timeless.” Nothing is scarier than watching a terrifically scary movie and thinking, that could be me. Maybe that’s what haunts me after a really good horror flick. It’s healthy to be scared once in a while.