Is the Horror Genre Well and Truly Dead?

From Slasher Films to Exorcisms, Sequels to Prequels, horror may just be cursed with the act of ruining great ideas.

By Thomas Stewart

The Blair Witch Project, released in 1999 and directed by Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Myrick shocked the world for two reasons. One: nobody had ever seen anything like it before, horror films contained blood and vomiting and demonic babies. Two: because its choice of using a hand-held camera was well and truly terrifying.  It made the audience became the girl running through the woods. Feeling like you’re there, like it could be real makes the film much scarier – that’s why they always slap ‘based on true events’ on the posters of horror films. The Blair Witch Project became claustrophobic and frustrating, you saw flickers of trees and shots of figures standing in corners. It was terrifying, it was clever and it was new.

Now, over a decade later, this idea isn’t new. Perhaps the only film that managed to scare us as much as Blair Witch with this basic premise was Paranormal Activity, released in 2007. Similar to its predecessor, Paranormal Activity worked because it constricted us to see everything through cameras. However, it brought something new to the hand-held camera sub-genre of horror by not taking us everywhere, the ending, for example, is frightening because we don’t see everything that’s going on. The girl runs into the darkness and we hear screams and crashes. Everything is left to our imagination and that’s why it’s scary. Paranormal Activity was, like Blair Witch, frightening and new. But then came the sequels – the horror genre’s biggest mistake.

Nowadays, the horror genre is made up of sequels. Big Slasher franchises like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Halloween have had over nine sequels for each franchise and all of the original films – marked as masterpieces for their direction, music and style – have been remade. The horror genre is flawed. A new, exciting and original film is made and instead of leaving it as a masterpiece they create sequels. Halloween, for example, has been credited for Jamie Lee Curtis’ role, its exceedingly low budget and smart direction; however, there came nine sequels – two of which were remakes.

Our latest example of ruining a potentially flawless sub-genre of horror is the Saw franchise. The first film, released in 2004 and directed by James Wan, received mixed reviews however, it was a subject of word-of-mouth. People were talking about its cleverness – the way the murderer, Jigsaw, worked – the final scenes, the premise and so on. But, what may have been a classic one-off – or even a good trilogy – was ruined by six sequels. As this is a common theme in the horror genre it calls into question why it ruins. There are such things as perfect trilogies – arguably The Godfather, The Dark Knight Trilogy, for example – but with horror, directors change, storylines become ridiculous (notably the movie Jason X) and it becomes a money-making business.

When the 70s and 80s gave us Slasher films, the end of the 20th century gave us the hand-held camera sub-genre. Now, in the 21st century, this sub-genre has expanded and more and more films are being made with this premise. That, combined with the popular storylines of demons and devils, has shown us what the 21st century horror films are all about. The latest, is Matt Bettinelli-Olphin’s Devil’s Due, set for release early next year. The trailer (below) shows yet another film of hand-held cameras, people being whirled into walls, chairs and tables falling and, of course, demonic possession. Have we seen this before? Yes. Does the horror genre keep coming up with new ideas, creating good films and then have the reputation of those good films ruined by sequels and countless rip-offs? Yes.

In horror we witness a lot of murder and in the business of horror we see that too. Companies and directors hack away at ideas until there’s nothing left, boring their audiences and creating films that are simply homages to previous ones like it. Is the horror genre dead? No. Is it cursed? Yes. The horror genre is cursed with giving us fresh and original ideas but then draining the life out if it right before our very eyes.

Published December 8th, 2013


Thomas Stewart is a graduate from the University of Glamorgan and currently a student on the MA in Writing course at the University of Warwick. His work has been published in The Cadaverine, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Daps, Agenda Broadsheet and the Metric. As well as writing, he loves horror films, folk music, Raymond Carver, patterned jumpers, Richard Yates, curry, Scarlett Thomas, editing, chick-flicks, watches and biscuits. You can find him at: https://twitter.com/ThomasStewart08