The most underrated, overlooked, and generally dismissed movie genre is horror. No one takes it seriously. Sometimes it feels like I am the only one hoping and praying that every film will somehow become The Babadook, a perfect intertwining of the dramatic and the dreadful. It’s easy to feel like you are the only one who takes this genre seriously because people love to treat it like a cinematic indulgence.
Yet, it’s an obvious cash cow for Hollywood. These movies make so much money because they are cheap to make and typically require little of their audience. There is no artisanal movement in horror films: just make shit where people get chopped up and people get to scream. Horror is the ultimate escapism because the monsters and absurdities in these movies could never actually happen. Horror is the under appreciated genre it is because everything about it is made up.
I take horror seriously and I have high hopes for the genre (and hope to one day add my something to that world) because it is heightened reality. It is absurd yet it is real. It’s a space where you can truly run wild and make something so unbelievable that it must be fiction…or is it? That is the conceit of horror. Those who dive into the world are the most creative and add to the genre’s evolution. True Detective season one director Cary Fukunaga concurs and has unfortunately had his dreams of elevating the genre squished.
While speaking with Variety last week, the director explained that he was behind a remounting and rethinking of the Stephen King classic clown killer It but he had to walk away from the project after the studio he was working with unraveled it. He was trying to do something cool and they in turn shit on it. Here’s the reason why:
I was trying to make an unconventional horror film. It didn’t fit into the algorithm of what they knew they could spend and make money back on based on not offending their standard genre audience. Our budget was perfectly fine. We were always hovering at the $32 million mark, which was their budget. It was the creative that we were really battling. It was two movies. They didn’t care about that. In the first movie, what I was trying to do was an elevated horror film with actual characters. They didn’t want any characters. They wanted archetypes and scares. I wrote the script. They wanted me to make a much more inoffensive, conventional script. But I don’t think you can do proper Stephen King and make it inoffensive.
“Unconventional horror” is obviously a reference to current trendy crossover films (i.e., “critically acclaimed”) like Babadook, It Follows, House Of The Devil, and You’re Next. The difference between that and, say, The Purge, is that he wanted to inject the film with a life and realism that isn’t seen in horror. He wanted to make it dramatic. He wanted to make it something unsettling, smart, and catchy: he wanted to make something that had not been seen.
That’s what horror movies need to be now: something new. If there is one thing the genre is marred by it is the fact that it keeps doing and redoing the same things, which is why people don’t like it. Horror movies get old because they are all the same. But didn’t we used to say that about comic book movies? Didn’t they all used to be these shitty, ridiculous fusions of sci-fi and adventure? If you look at films from 1990 to 2008, that’s what you get: a really shitty genre.
Then, Marvel broke the pattern by creating movies where highly fictionalized characters have hearts and souls. You care for them. You find them entertaining. You want to see more from them. You take them seriously. In horror? No one takes anything with the genre seriously because it can be boiled down to screams, to temporary pleasures without any surrounding meat to the uncomfortable bones. Why not add an earnestness to these films? Why not do what Fukunaga intended and make a film that is offensive and horrible and full of life?
That’s why I love horror: it is extreme drama. If you allow yourself to look at the movies this way (and the most successful horror movies do this), the real root of the genre is heightened drama. Imagine someone stalking you and trying to kill you: that is some drama. It’s part thriller, part sci-fi, and part comedy—but it’s ultimately all drama. The feelings horror give an audience are most relatable because the films reflect our communal anxieties and fears and worst selves. Horror is so scary because the events in the films could happen but we hope they never do.
Films like Elephant and Gravity are horror movies at their core because they are real life situations taken to the most fucked up extreme, situations we all think about but block out of our mind because they are too terrible to even dream. We Need To Talk About Kevin? Another example. Precious? That is definitely a horror movie. We just love to call things “drama” when movies has gone from “OK” to “fucking brilliant pieces of art.” If you relate horror to yourself and your experience of living, a lot more movies are horror because they are about us and the shit that happens in life, real or not.
As a lifetime champion of horror, it’s sad to see no one (cough *studios* cough) want to evolve the genre further, to be something respected. The irony is that the genre was once heralded as high drama, from Nosferatu to Pyscho to The Exorcist to Jaws to Silence Of The Lambs. There’s been a steep dropoff in the genre and who knows if that’s the studios, the audience, or both’s doing. Horror films can be quality films. We just aren’t letting them be quality films.