They Just Don’t Make Em’ Like They Used To
An article spotlighting old and new horror movies
Written by Andrea Brazis
“Movies don’t create psychos. Movies make psychos more creative.”
- Billy Loomis (“Scream”)
When it comes to horror movies, a variety of factors can make it good or great. Old horror is timeless. These movies created a blueprint for the new horror movies; they’re unmatched, nostalgic.
In new horror movies, you can have a decent storyline, phenomenal CGI and mediocre acting, and it can still be considered “good.” However, in old horror movies, you need to have a good plot and great acting, because the actors and movie can’t rely on special effects or CGI.
Newer horror movies and sagas such as “The Conjuring,” “Insidious” and “Fear Street” all heavily rely on jump scares and special effects to drive the movie. This isn’t to say that the plotlines are uninteresting or boring, but they lack originality. New horror movies recycle similar ideas and are really “reworked copies'' of original horror movies. Typically, there’s paranormal activity in an abandoned house and the family is in danger. By the conclusion of the movie, the characters either defeat the evil or the evil destroys them. Classic and simple. Although these storylines might keep the interest of a young audience, it’s not enough to hold the fortress in the cinematic industry of horror. Recycled plots and ideas lead to increased predictability and, frankly, boredom.
Old horror movies take time to build
Many new horror movies are created as sequels or remakes of the classics which attempt to “modernize” the storylines — and their attempts are ultimately unsuccessful. If you compare the reviews for remakes to the reviews for the originals, I bet that you’ll find much higher reviews for the originals. Newer isn’t always better.
I can’t argue that new horror movies don’t have great CGI — they do. But great CGI can’t replace a poor or mediocre storyline. Great CGI can scare you, leaving you speechless and frightened in the moment, plus five minutes after, tops.
But old horror? Old horror includes all those movies from the 1900s that are still referenced to this day: in our conversations, our TV shows, even our songs. Think about how many times Freddy Kreuger, Michael Myers or Hannibal Lecter are referenced in new horror movies. How many times have you heard those names around Halloween, even if you weren’t sure exactly who they were? How many Ghostface masks have you seen on trick-or-treaters? Now how many times have you heard the names James Sandin or Josh Lambert? I’d guess possibly once, but likely never. New horror movies might create decent storylines and well-developed characters, but they’re typically not as memorable as the classics.
Terror that reflects reality is frightening on a level that can’t be explained.
But what really makes old horror better? What makes it stand out? For one, a lot of old horror movies created fresh, new storylines that hadn’t been used before. This captivated audiences; the use of psychological properties and taboo subjects to create unique plots and memorable characters is what lies at the heart of cinematic horror. Movies like “The Shining,” “The Silence of the Lambs” and “Psycho” leave a psychological and emotional impact on you long after the end of the movie. These stories are the ones that give you nightmares, the ones that push past the limits of the human psyche into a whole new realm of terror.
Old horror movies take time to build — directors didn’t want to throw all the jump scares in the beginning of the movie. Directors also didn’t want one scare after another; they wanted to create a storyline. Old horror allows you to really get to know the characters, understand their background and connect with them in some way. This way, by the climax of the movie, it’s far more powerful.
The special effects in these movies were unsurprisingly mediocre and low-budget, but the directors worked hard with what they had. The lack of CGI allowed for plots that didn’t revolve around terrorizing audiences through gory murder scenes or realistic-looking corpses. Lack of CGI forced actors to be authentic: they became the roles. In many of the old horror movies, actors quite literally put their blood, sweat and tears into their role, because they drove the movie. Take “The Shining,” for example; if you’ve ever watched it, you know just how real Shelley Duvall’s performance was. There’s true terror behind the eyes of many actors from old horror movies, a terror that is actively represented on-screen. Terror that reflects reality is frightening on a level that can’t be explained.
But there’s something beautiful and unique about the new horror that’s emerging.
The 1980s saw the release of many classic horror movies. Around this time, something called the “Satanic Panic” was beginning to rile up society. This was the idea that people should not sin because they would be damned to severe punishment. This ideology was best represented in the 1996 movie “Scream” by director Wes Craven. In a monologue as Randy Meeks, Jamie Kennedy describes the moral expectations of the genre: “Number one, you can never have sex. Big no-no, big no-no. Sex equals death, okay? Number two, you can never drink or do drugs. No sin factor. This is sin.” This idea was conveyed in multiple horror movies, serving as a popular theme for the time. These movies included “Friday the 13th,” “The Evil Dead,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”
Many old horror movies also included original scores and background music, which gave them character and added to the suspense. New horror movies tend to recycle and remix scores from old horror movies, rather than creating their own. In new horror, the soundtrack’s purpose is to keep the audience entertained, which means that these songs aren’t as intentional or scary as the older ones. But even more frequently, new horror movies might not include a score at all. They may rely on circumstantial sounds, such as heels clicking or floors creaking, to create a different sort of suspense.
In an article for The Eagle Edition, Aynur Rauf writes that “in the midst of a sensitive political climate, I believe that newer horror films have served to provide social commentary rather than solely act as a scary movie.” The article continues, “Jordan Peele’s ‘Get Out’ and ‘Us’ are examples of astounding horror movies that serve to provide commentary on race and social class in America.” This isn’t to say that Peele isn’t a phenomenal director, but the storylines of these movies weren’t intended to simply be scary. These movies were created to spark conversation surrounding more uncomfortable or sensitive topics.
As cinematic horror continues to evolve, we’ll begin to see the new movies take an edge over the old ones.
But there’s something beautiful and unique about the new horror that’s emerging. These new movies focus less on a general scare factor and more on situations and individuals that reflect our everyday lives.
Cinematic old horror tends to be more psychologically scary; it can rock you to your core. However, as new directors emerge, I have no doubt that newer horror will start to take over. New horror will entail more than just a scary storyline — it’ll include disturbing psychological content and references to real issues. Believe me, there’s nothing scarier than the reality that awaits outside the cinematic universe.
In an article from Pipe Dream, freshman student Evan Schulz writes, “movies like the ‘Dawn of the Dead’ are classics, they pioneered the trends that are acceptable for horror films now.”
As cinematic horror continues to evolve, we’ll begin to see the new movies take an edge over the old ones. I have no doubt that directors like Jordan Peele will continue to grow, utilizing every possible aspect of horror to create storylines that will truly terrorize audiences. Even more so, storylines that will blur the line between reality and the cinematic universe.