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The Sad Transformation of the Horror Genre

Horror Genre

When you think of a good horror movie what comes to your mind?
If you were born in the 80s or early 90s your answer might be The Shining, The Exorcists, The Crow, The Ring, Halloween, The Descent, or even Scream, Urban Legends or I know what You Did Last Summer.

But judging by comments of the younger generation on various movie based websites or twitter those movies aren’t true horror flicks. Latest preferences go towards movies like Saw, Hostel, The Human Centipede, A Serbian Film, Evil Dead or I spit on your Grave.

What’s the difference between those films? Almost everything: It starts with the acting, the atmosphere, the cinematography, and many other aspects.

But what is horror by definition? “a thing causing a feeling of fear, shock, or disgust”, “a literary or film genre concerned with arousing feelings of horror”, “intense dismay” (Source:

So what makes a good horror film according to these definitions? I would say, it should confront the audience with their deepest fears, leaving them uneasy or horrified of the things that might not even be visible. Things that can’t be explained like monsters, evil creature, and spirits. They should create situations of terror that no one ever wants to be in, for example being alone at home while someone tries to break in, in the woods at night, or at an empty parking lot in the middle of the night. And all that is rounded up by intense and creepy music that sets the mood, and shock moments that make you jump.

By newest expectations, however, it’s not a real horror movie if it doesn’t contain gallons of blood, gore and torture. It all started with Saw in 2004, which created a whole new genre: The torture porn. It was new and exciting, people screamed like they did in 1973 when The Exorcist was released, stomachs turned, and it actually had a very great concept and story. In 2005 we got to see Saw 2, which was bloodier, gorier, and had even more twists than the first part. Another movie from the same year was Hostel, another attempt to drive people to the edge of their seats by creating the horrifying situation of traveling to a foreign country only to become the victim of a secret society that pays to torture and kill clueless tourists. From there it mostly went down in my opinion, the movie companies released a variety of violent movies, that included explicit rape scenes, torture, and lots and lots of blood. As a result people expected to see more and stopped being afraid of what they can’t see, nothing is left for the imagination. Why would I need to show a rape into every detail like they did in The Last House on The Left or I Spit On Your Grave? It almost seems like the writers or directors of these movie enjoy the actual act of humiliation and torture a little too much, and live their obsessions out through these movies. But apparently people don’t turn away from it either. The focus is simply on entertaining the audience by shocking and disgusting them so badly that they forget about the simple and lacking storyline. And a simple storyline doesn’t have to be a bad thing if it is executed in a good way like it is in The Descent for example.
And can we even speak of entertaining? I am not entertained if I leave the movie theater knowing that I paid to see cluttered scenes of nothing but torture and humiliation without a story to it, and actually have the need to vomit! Now, I am aware that there have always been movies that focused on gore effects, but never have they dominated the horror genre as much as they have over the past years.
The Movie The Hills Runs Red from 2009 actually hints that the tolerance of people towards violence and gore is far too high.

But there is a beacon of hope: There are a few directors, who take their work seriously and use simple yet effective tricks of older horror movies for their work. The latest prove that Hollywood might take a turn is James Wan, the director of movie like Insidious and The Conjuring. His movies go back to our deepest fears: The Unknown. With clever story lines, atmospheric music and a beautiful cinematography, he manages to keep you at the edge of your seat, and proves that a scary movie doesn’t need gore, rape or torture to terrify you. Ironically he was the executive producer of the whole Saw Franchise, which ended in a torture fest, but I guess with his newer movie he finally found his voice.

I deeply hope that horror flicks as they used to be will dominate the movie screens again and people will appreciate the simple effects, that once managed to make whole movie theaters scream, and have the audience leave the movie theater satisfied and not upset.

(Images Sourced From IMDB)


  1. I agree… that’s exactly what I think of the recent horror stuff, and the reason why I prefer the older horror films. The storyline is gone in general, and tons of special effects we are being served instead are not satisfying. That happens with the other genres, too, don’t you think so?

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