Horror is undeniably one of the most beloved, influential and groundbreaking genres in cinematic history. Alfred Hitchcock, the master of horror, created some of the most amazing movies of all time within that genre, such as “Rear Window”, “The Birds” and, of course, “Psycho” – the film that created a genre still imitated to this very day. In the 70s, “The Exorcist” became an international phenomenon, with people fainting in the cinemas over just how scary it was, and in the 80s, horror franchises like “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as standalone horror masterpieces like “The Thing”, ruled silver screens throughout the world. And then, all of a sudden, it stopped.
When the 21st century struck, horror movies continued to be as prevalent as ever, but… Something changed. Audiences no longer seemed captivated by them the way they had been merely 20 years ago. Horror icons like Freddy Krueger and the Xenomorph slowly faded into obscurity, with nothing coming forward to replace them. We don’t really hear stories of a movie scaring its audience into unconsciousness, with the closest we got being “Paranormal Activity”, and most of that was just marketing buzz. Big budget horror movies like “28 Days Later” and “Black Swan” began to lean towards other genres, leaving their horror roots in the background. Furthermore, the genre of “torture porn” started to become prevalent, with movies like “Hostel” and “Saw” certainly shocking their audience, but not quite scaring it. So what happened?
Well, there’s several different ideas. One of them, of course, lies with the fact that audience’s tastes tend to change from decade to decade, and horror movies just generally aren’t considered to be profitable, especially not in a world where putting a bunch of superheroes on screen together or remaking/rebooting a nostalgic franchise is almost guaranteed to bring in a billion at the box office. Horror movies these days tend to be considered second-rate entertainment, given far smaller budgets and reserved for limited Halloween releases and streaming platforms. Even horror movies that are considered successful, like 2012’s “Sinister”, only raked in a measly $77 million in theaters. Compare that to horror movies of yesteryear, like “The Exorcist”, which brought in $441 million – or a staggering $2.5 billion in today’s money. If “The Exorcist” had released today, with the same financial success, it would have become the second highest grossing movie of all time. Compared to that, modern horror movies can easily be dismissed as not profitable enough by studios, and are thus not given the production and marketing budget to be the phenomena they could otherwise be.
Another huge reason is that, well, bigger movies tend to rely on merchandising in order to make up their sales. Disney had no trouble throwing as much as $500 million into the advertising for movies like “The Avengers” or “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” because they knew every kid in the world would want a toy Iron Man or a T-shirt with Rey on it. The same just can’t possibly work for horror movies. In 2010, New Line tried to reboot their classic “Nightmare on Elm Street” franchise, and as part of their marketing placed their new Freddy Krueger absolutely everywhere. The guy had action figures on him, he was on T-shirts and backpacks, showed up in the fighting game “Mortal Kombat” and even had his very own slot machine, which all diminished his credibility as an actual threat. These days, some of the best online slots are based on movie monsters that once terrified audiences, such as the Creature from the Black Lagoon. How are we supposed to find these monsters scary if they’re essentially just figureheads to sell us stuff?
Thankfully, there’s one exception to this whole situation, a single movie that came out recently which may prove for a fact that there may still be hope to salvage the horror industry and bring it back to the state in which it used to be. A little project called “IT”, which received overwhelmingly positive critical response (85% approval on Rotten Tomatoes) and became not only the highest grossing horror movie of all time, but also the highest grossing R-rated movie ever, scoring almost $700 million in the box office. It was scary, it was well-acted, well-directed, and the effects were amazing. And while “IT” wasn’t exactly perfect, it showed both audiences and movie studios that horror movies could definitely be a huge success, even in 2017. The only thing we can hope for now is that in the next few years we’ll start getting more and more amazing horror movies which push the boundaries of quality and get audiences everywhere captivated and talking about them for days, just like they did in the old days. And if this trend continues, well, it’s only a matter of time before the 21st century gets its very own “Exorcist”.