In 1996, Wes Craven’s Scream hit theaters, and after I finished watching it I couldn’t help but think that was it. The movie managed to be scary, and play with all the conventions, and the whole time do so with a tongue-in-cheek sense of fun that both celebrated the genre, and more or less proved that was all that was left to be done. Horror films as I knew them were pretty much over, and unless something drastic happened, I couldn’t imagine ever wanting to watch another again. This didn’t stop numerous other slasher films from attempting to capitalize on the success of Scream, but none of them were even remotely doing anything new.
The problem, of course, was that horror as I knew it in 1990s was pretty limited; when I thought of “scary movies” I thought of an endless supply of classic villains like Freddy, Jason, or Michael Myers killing kids having too much sex and swearing a lot, with ridiculous looking blood pack effects for gore and characters that just seemed to get dumber and nakedier as the movie went on. At this point in my life I had almost no knowledge of the classic horror movies from the 60s, 70s, and even the 80s, meaning my knowledge about things like classic John Carpenter, grind house cinema, and Romero-esque zombie flicks were almost zero. Annoyed by the lack of good, original horror in the last half of the 90s, I wound up looking backwards a lot, rediscovering a lot of real classics, and finding out what it was like to see something a little hokey that could still really scare you. As I headed off to college with these big ideas of being a screenwriter, horror films were suddenly what I wanted to write – with the hopes that if I injected enough of the good stuff of the past into my work, that maybe it’d be the shot in the heart the genre needed.
Clearly I overestimated the timeline for my success, but thankfully I wasn’t the only one with the idea to bring horror back to its roots. Over the past ten years even someone with just a passing interest in scary movies can see the numerous influences returning to the genre, and not in a way that’s simply derivative [though, let’s be fair – with the host of remakes over the past ten years, there has been a lot of that], but actually building on these influences, to create something new, different, and truly scary. Not all of these films have come from places we’ve expected them to – low budget, indie horror is still prevalent and has brought us a host of new ideas, but big studio productions have been more willing to take a minimalist path with indie-style influences, producing some true gems. Perhaps the biggest surprise is how huge foreign horror has become, with the oft-mentioned Japanese scare fests joined by films from all over Europe, with one of the biggest [and most surprising] contributors being the U.K.
It’s been a very good decade for horror. The genre has reclaimed suspense [remember the arguments about Se7ens definitely not being horror?], reintroduced zombies and the other monsters, brought back the vampire [admittedly in some strange, strange forms], and embraced realism while at the same time embracing its inherent hokeyness. It’s all right for horror to take itself seriously again, and it’s absolutely okay to pause to make a joke about how “you got red on you.” In a way, the horror genre has become like a three ring circus, offering a wide range of entertainment for different kinds of fans, running the gamut from PG-13 family friendly scares to torture porn.
Over the next week or so I’ll be featuring articles here by a series of guest bloggers [we’ll call them “Friends of the Mojo Wire”], as they talk about some of their favorite horror films from the previous ten years. Most of these will be in the form of “The Top Ten Horror Films of the Past Decade,” but a few I’ve given passes on to do something slightly different, because the whole point with this is having a bit of fun after all. A new entry will go up every day this week at 9 a.m. sharp [for all those of you who need help getting through the work day], until I run out of the lists I have, or people stop sending them to me, with my own top ten finishing out series. I encourage everyone to check out the websites associated with all the Wire’s guests this week, and if anyone is still interested in submitting a list, I’ll be taking them until Thursday, and maybe even beyond. Just e-mail me at email@example.com
I’d like to end this with an exchange I had about one of the first horror films I saw in the last decade:
“Freddy vs. Jason? Man, that was great.”
“It really was. Too bad it means they’ve run completely out of ideas.”
Glad to be wrong.