Horror: Ultimate Drama’s Encouraging Trends

For my inaugural post, I thought I’d share some thoughts about why I’m optimistic about the current state of horror.

One of the greatest successes of horror as a genre is its ability to explore the darkest sides of the human condition, whether mental instability and breakdown, primal emotion, or animalistic brutality.   These explorations, coupled with the most basic human impulse–the fight for survival, make horror in many ways, the ultimate form of drama, through its depiction of tragedy at its most raw and stripped-down level.   Yes, subtle and psychological portrayals of horror can be incredibly powerful as well, using the power of the imagination to create our own personalized images of fear–whether featuring the ghost in the attic or the creature under the bed.

European filmmakers, especially the French, have been exploring brutality in very visceral and intense ways, in such films as Inside, Martyrs, Frontier(s), and High Tension.  In these films, humans are the monsters;  the darkness within the human mind is the greatest threat.  And the horrifying acts of violence that spring forth from humans, free of supernatural influence,  are shocking in their graphic portrayals.   And importantly, they often occur with emotional resonance, inflicted on characters we come to care about.  The psychological terror and physical torture they must endure, leave us, as audiences,  feeling as if we’ve taken a journey with them, hitting us at a gut level.   Characters can be dispatched suddenly and violently, killed with little warning–a jarring, although welcome contrast to certain predictably plotted slashers with disposable, anonymous victims whose deaths we can see coming a mile away.

Fresh energy has been infused into the slasher genre with Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon,  Hatchet, and Laid to Rest.  Clever, inventive American indie productions, made outside the studio remake machine.   These films have provided the burst of hope and freshness to the slasher genre of today that Scream created in the 90’s.

Independent filmmakers drawing inspiration from the films they grew up on, especially 70’s and 80’s horror flicks, are becoming new torchbearers of inspiration.  Ti West, for example, fully evoked the feel of the 70’s in the tense and atmospheric  The House of the Devil, which has rightfully become one of the most applauded recent horror films of any budget level.  The power of the passionate fans eager with nostalgia has also led to throwbacks such as Hobo with a Shotgun and Madison County gaining sales, buzz, excitement, and anticipation.  The hopeful trend of the comeback of the illustrated movie poster, created by an artist, rather than a Photoshop tech, is also a most welcome return.  Both Hobo and Madison have benefited from great poster art.  The Chillerama gang (Tim Sullivan, Joe Lynch,  Adam Green, and Adam Rifkin), along with John Gulager and James Gunn, have been responsible for bringing a great sense of refreshing humor, playfulness, and bad-assed irreverence to cleverly over-the-top gory delights and homages to films of the 70’s and 80’s.   Within the studio system, Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects eagerly embraced this gauntlet.

So, as horror fans, we eagerly devour so much content, searching for the great gem that makes so much mediocre viewing all worth it.  In a sea of sameness, however, there are many films, filmmakers, and recent signs of greatness to remain hopeful for the future of horror.—Cory Graham

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