February 11, 2013
My love of horror and cheap movies should be evident to regular readers of this site. I love a good thriller. I like the anticipation before the scare. I love the adrenalin of a good chase scene and the mystery of a cryptic villain.
Alas, though, I’m starting to suspect the horror movie may be dead. The majority of new and mostly American films seem to be falling into a pattern. It’s not unexpected, especially when something works, for everyone to jump on the bandwagon. Halloween made the masked killer popular. Cue 30 years of imitation. Saw made the torture pron genre popular. Cue everyone and their mother making a movie about slow deaths. However, this is a bandwagon that cannot be tolerated any more.
I demand real horror. And cell phones killed it for me.
The plot of many horror movie involves a group of young adults or teens going somewhere without any communication to the outside world. A variation of this is to trap the protagonists in a place, often a blood-encrusted warehouse, with no means of escape. While varied, the result is to trap the people in a closed environment without any of the tools of the modern world. Help from the outside, then, is also impossible.
This is, if I may be blunt, crap.
Look back at the history of horror. Horror is about the other and the alien intruding on our lives, not the normal intruding into the strange. Real horror comes when the nice picket fences frame a crazed killer. It’s not the Cleavers going to an insane asylum to frolic among the crazies. Of course, Laurie Strode would have a cell phone if the story were set today. Modern alarm systems would alert the police. The universal nature of telecommunication and social media make it unlikely for someone to just drop off or find him or herself without access to the rest of the world. It’s not unlikely, but it seems as if modern horror movies go out of their way to put people in situations reminiscent of 1977. The first thing that usually happens in a modern horror movie? Cell phones stop working.
This is infuriating for two reasons.
First of all, what’s the point of this horror if it relies on a series of locations and circumstances most people would not find themselves in? When was the last time you had all cell phone reception just drop and stay that way for hours or days? When was the last time you went somewhere where all signals were dead? Granted, this could be a sign of something terrible about to happen. It can also set an environment apart from the rest of the world.
Second of all, movies that rely on this miss the point. If the protagonists are city slickers and modern teens and young adults who have grown up with technology, they will already be uneasy and the situation will already be alien to most of them. Dropping off the grid like that is horror in of itself.
Why not set the horror in the modern, urban world?
This is the difficult part. Like I said, the nature of cell phones and social media make it so everyone is connected all the time, and horror just hasn’t taken advantage of this as a plot device. We’ve had plenty of movies that paint the internet as a den of torturers and sadists, and some horror has made a legitimate effort to address the anonymity of modern information and technology, but it just feels like the genre is trying to set stories back in the wireless-free days because it’s easier.
Instead of being afraid of this connectivity, why not embrace it? Why not look around and try to find horror again? What is the “other” we can be afraid of and use for horror now? I have a few ideas.
Continued in Part 2…
In the meantime, let’s ask the eternal question… how many calories DOES sex burn?