Halloween is happening this Friday. Like every year, I’m going to hunker down and put in my Blu-Ray copy of The Nightmare Before Christmas; my own tradition for the holiday. Another thing I like to do during October is watch Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness, where James Rolfe (the same guy that acts in and produces The Angry Video Game Nerd videos) reviews one horror film each day.
During the early days, James would focus on the classic monster movie films, which he loved when he was a kid and why he got into film making in the first place. And that got me thinking, “Why don’t we have any movies featuring monsters anymore?” I mean, horror movies these days involve the supernatural, zombies or just demented humans. How come we don’t have movies featuring Frankenstein’s monster, The Wolf Man and Dracula and the like?
The simple answer would be, “It’s the times, man.” That’s just what horror movies are right now. Yes, but why? What’s changed from the early days of cinema to the modern age? While there are probably a lot of reasons, there is one that I think contributes to this change the most.
It has to do with what people think is scary these days and why horror has veered more into general supernatural (Paranormal Activity and Drive Me to Hell are good examples) and more “scientific” or “realistic” horror (zombies flicks and films like Hostel or Saw fall into this category). That’s because they’re impossible to understand or they’re something we can’t really take on head on.
On the supernatural end, an unseen demon like the one in Paranormal Activity isn’t really something you can drive a stake through its heart. When crazy shit happens to you because you were cursed like the woman in Drive Me to Hell, you can’t really just go to the doctor, take a couple of pill so you’ll be all better. For the “scientific” end, you know if a horde of zombies are shambling towards you, eventually, you’ll be overcome by them. If you’re trapped by a guy sick in the head, you know you can’t reason with him/her.
Old-school monsters are the exact opposite. You can face off against Dracula with a crucifix or challenge him to a duel at 5 am and fail to mention it’s the end of Daylights Savings Time. You can scare off Frankenstein’s monster with a bunch of torches. Heck, if you think of it, the monster was afraid of an angry mob! They seem to have lost their aura of unstoppability, which is an important element of being afraid of something.
Old monster movies had monsters that had distinct personalities. Think about it. Even today, Bela Lugosi’s portrayal is still the most widely known depiction of vampires in pop culture. There have been other people and other versions of the character but we still picture Dracula wearing a ridiculous tux and a cape, having slicked back hair and one of the most unmistakable accents anyone’s ever heard. Which is pretty amazing if you consider most modern audiences haven’t even watched that movie ever!
Because of these personality quirks, we understand them and, in turn, lose a lot of the mystery. In fact, we can almost identify with the classic movie monsters more than the heroes of the films! They are the stars of the movies, after all! It’s harder to be afraid of something you identify with and the monsters loses their fearsomeness and, when you’re not fearful of the thing you’re supposed to be scared of, what’s the point?
I still think it’s totally possible to make a good horror film with the likes of the classic Dracula and The Mummy. It’s just that the writers, producers and directors have to really get more creative with the characters. Bring back some concepts we may have forgotten! Or, if you’re really good at it, create some new aspects that fits with the character. The world of film is supposed to be a world of imagination. So, let your imaginations run wild with these characters! I think they have a lot of stories they have yet to tell.
What’s your take on the current state of horror films? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!