The Five Reasons Most Horror Movies Fail
A true fan of horror movies will often stay a true fan of horror for most of their lives. Even though it seems like 60-75% of what gets put out is pure shit. Why do we do it? The same reason a prospector used to dig through dirt and coal looking for gold. Because on the off-chance you hit a chunk of the good stuff, it changes your life and makes everything that came before it well worth enduring. But why do so many horror movies fail? They fail at delivering a good story, they fail at giving us characters we are actually rooting for, and they fail at the box office. But the solving of this problem is a lot easier than most horror fans would think. Here are five reasons most horror movies fail on so many levels. Keep in mind, I mean no offense to this genre that I adore. I just think it’s time we threw it a life line.
They Give Us Shitty Characters
” Sshhhh, don’t say anything meaningful or the audience might actually care when you die.”
Why is it that horror movies are still giving us bratty teens who we WANT to see die as fodder? I know this worked in 80’s slasher movies (because if you look at a movie like Friday the 13th, Jason is actually the proverbial hero), but why are horror movies STILL doing this? A key to good horror is giving us characters we DON’T want to see die. To give us characters we actually get invested in. Instead, so many horror films fill their movies with good-looking, bratty douches who we secretly WANT to see get killed. How about giving us nuanced characters, like we get in drama or thrillers?
Here is a hint to all horror writers and directors. If we are rooting for your protagonists to die, you are doing something wrong. Cabin in the Woods poked fun at this trope to great effect, and even gave us a few characters to actually care about in the process. That is how you do it right.
Implausible Bad Guys Doing Implausible Things
Yes, they are all cool. But why haven’t we advanced past the tropes made popular in these films?
I am not saying giving us supernatural creatures who can do supernatural things is bad, but don’t give is utterly implausible characters doing utterly implausible things. A perfect example of this, everything they have Leatherface do in the remakes of the Texas Chainsaw movies. This is a lumbering, massive, hulking man who is said to be special needs and carries a chainsaw to cut people up into little pieces. So when you have him hidden in the backseat of a car a girl gets into and starts, and he somehow drives a RUNNING CHAINSAW THROUGH THE SEAT, KILLING HER, implying she couldn’t hear or see him really pisses me off. Not sure if you know how back seats work, but when you approach and get into a car, you can see the backseat. Not sure if you know how a chainsaw works, but loud as fuck.
Also, implying a red neck, inbred serial killer knows how to breathe quietly and keep a chainsaw on “mute” is pretty insulting to your core audience. At least throw scenarios at me that feel like they could happen. The movie “Inside” is an example of doing it right. Everything the woman in the movie does feels like something a psychopath would and could do.
Bad Guys With Sad Back Stories
Also, can we talk about the practicality of some of these mask choices?
What is this, the Voice, or a horror movie? I don’t want some sob story. I don’t want to know the motivational history of my bad guys. I don’t want to feel bad for them. If anything, I want to hate him and maybe even NOT understand the motivations behind his madness. That, to me, is much scarier than, let’s say, a bad guy who rapes and kills woman because he was raped by his Mom. I know that makes a more nuanced and layered bad guy, but should I empathize with the bad guy in a horror movie? No. I should empathize with the good guys, and when those lines get blurred, so does the power and impact of the film.
Keep in mind, if a good director wants to do a tone shift halfway through where the bad guys get revealed as good and vice versa, that is fine by me if it is done well. Just don’t do it just to do it. I mean, look at what they did to Hannibal Lecter. Initially, you just think he is a fucking brilliant psycho. Then, after the prequel, you realize the dude went through Hell and it kind of justifies how he acts in all the movies, somewhat. No, that is not cool. I want my monsters as monsters. Not victims, too. The first Wolf Creek created a perfect bad guy for that reason. The sequel shit all over that by turning him into a caricature, driven by love for his nation. Blah.
Better Design of Bad Guy
The Host is a rare, modern example of a really original movie design for a monster. But note, that never happens in horror anymore.
Listen, as horror fans, we have seen it all by now. From slimy creatures to brooding, lumbering killers in ironic masks. Also, the inclusion of CG into horror has only made it worse. I mean, think of all the horror films where you could replace the creatures with other creatures from other movies and no one would notice. Perfect example? All the dog-like CG demons that horror movies have now (think aliens from Pitch Black). When your creatures look more like a level boss in Playstation game than an actual thing I would fear, you lose me as an audience. If you are not going to come to the table with some original creature design, why are you making horror that revolves around it?
Same thing can be said for serial killer films. The big dude who wears the emotionless mask. You know what? We have seen it. If you are going to come to the field, you better bring your A game. And for how generic monsters and bad guys have gotten, we have not seen A game creature design in a long, long time.
As terrible as the movies have gotten, some kills from the earlier Saw movies were pretty wince-inducing.
This is the one that really gets to me. Do you even realize how many horror films use the same “slit throat” effect that horror has been using since the late seventies? Though I wanna give a shout out to Tom Savini for mastering that effect, enough already. We have seen it all. That is why we took to the Saw series when it first came out (and before it became a convoluted mess). Because the kills were original and unlike any we had seen in horror before. The Final Destination series was good in this area for a few movies, too.
How about giving us some new kills?
I want more jaws torn off. I want more people split up the middle. I want to see kills in horror that will make me react to the movie like sports fans react to a great play in Football. I want to stand up and holler at my screen. If you are not bringing that, and just giving us more generic stabs and throat slashes, we don’t want your movie mudding up this already muddy genre. And think about doing a little research, too. A slit throat does not bleed out in five seconds. No, we are talking about minute after minute of the person gasping for air and flailing. Would looking into some of these deaths and portraying them more realistically help? Yes, yes it would. Horror needs to be horrifying again.
In closing, one day (hopefully) I will make the ultimate horror film using this knowledge. But for now, all you horror writers and directors out there, use this article like a cheat sheet. And if you find yourself guilty of any of these crimes on the list, take it back to the drawing board and start over. Horror as a genre will not be taken seriously until the people who make it are taken seriously, and the people who make it will not be taken seriously until they start making it original and worthy of being take seriously again.