If you’re watching a horror movie just for you to be scared, you’re watching it with your eyes half closed.
I’ve been reading a lot of blogs and other social media posts (mostly reviews) about how horror movies nowadays aren’t as terrifying as they used to be. Yes, these blogs are mostly by millennials, who grew up in an era where 90s slasher films are hot — Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, etc., where the killer wears a mask and chases the victim while walking incredibly slow (yes, seasoned pros). A decade later, these flicks were succeeded by even gorier, crazier ones (with more special effects — thanks, technology) like the endless Saw and Final Destination series. For a certain period of time between 2002 and 2005, people fancied remakes, too — The Ring, The Grudge, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, etc. Fast forward to another decade later, it was all about evil possession, where Evil Dead, The Conjuring, Annabelle, etc. came into picture — and yes, better technology, better effects, wilder story premises. Just recently, along came another wave of socially and politically relevant horror films, such as Cloverfield, Don’t Breathe, Get Out, and A Quiet Place. Just like any other genre of film, horror movies follow a distinct trend that marks a stamp in the era they were released. And just like anything else, through time, what’s once considered a breakthrough trend becomes a norm, and that norm becomes a cliché. But the question is, have scary movies really lost their spark? Are they no longer that scary anymore? Is the genre simply tiring? Are horror movies never scary enough?
Whenever people ask me whether a horror film is scary or not (as it’s most people’s basis of watching, anyway), my standard response is always: “it depends on what your definition of scary is”. Some people define scary as killers in masks, sharp editing and swift camera movements from blank-space-camera-pan-to-sudden-focus-to-killer’s-face-with-matching-oomph-music. Some people define it as slow build-ups, mundane yet guttural tensions. Some people define it as gore, blood splattering, beheading, chainsaw ripping his insides open, etc. Moreover, some people are just too cool to be scared.
Let me tell you a story: as a kid, I was scared of getting into a bathtub full of water, because I’ve always had this mindset that I was going to drown in it anytime. Years later, I got over my bathtub phobia, and was then scared of swimming pools for the same peculiar reason. Fast-forward to my teenage years, swimming pools became a piece of cake, but my fear shifted to beaches. But then, I was exposed to traveling and summer getaways with friends and all that jazz, so the beach became a walk in the park. My fear rose to something even bigger and deeper — the ocean. And yes, that deep blue image still petrifies me up until now. Throughout those years, my fear accelerated, and the ones that I used to be scared of simply became mundane. My point is — my standard on fear has just became so high, that thinking of those what I used to fear of sounds ridiculous. Same thing with horror movies: every year, as we are bombarded with many (almost too many) horror movies, our cathartic sense to be scared becomes less and less. We ultimately see ourselves longing for that goosebumps and the chill-in-the-spine that we used to feel. To narrow my point: it’s not the horror movie… it’s you.
Remember how Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was dubbed as the scariest movie of all time back in the 1960s? Watching it now, it is, and forever will be, a cinematic masterpiece, as it defined an era of movies. It was simply a breakthrough in film-making. But as a 28-year-old guy watching it in 2018, would I consider it even a tad-bit scary? Not at all. That is why Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot remake of Psycho in 1998 never worked. Not only it felt outdated, but it also seemed too cartoonish. You can never replicate an era-defining film 40 years later and expect the same scare factor from it. It’s the same way that you cannot fool the 28-year-old me by pushing me in a bath tub full of water and expect the same reaction I would have given if it were 20 years ago.
My point is, you can’t say that a horror movie is a “bad one” simply because you weren’t scared of it. Sweep generalizing a horror movie’s quality solely based on it’s scare-meter is juvenile. It’s not the movie. It’s you. Whenever I watch a movie and assess its quality, I usually ask myself — How good is the writing? How awesome are the effects? How great are the actors? Did it make me feel anything new? It is void to have your purge of emotions, heavily based on time and experience, to judge a film’s greatness. To single out the how-scary-it-is factor will only frustrate you, and will ultimately ruin your viewing experience. And influencing others to not watch a horror movie just because it wasn’t scary enough for you is ruining the potential viewing experience of others, too.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not preaching to people on what should they or should they not like. Of course, we are all entitled to our opinions. I’m just saying, truly watching a movie free from personal biases is one thing, and watching a movie to make yourself feel something that you are psychologically no longer capable of feeling is another.
Don’t blame the filmmakers. Blame yourself for growing.