Let’s talk cheap tricks.
No, not the band; the plague that has, until recently, infested the horror genre. Laughable jump scares, forced frights, and an overall disregard for the potential of the genre has resulted in decades of low-quality films. Before I continue, let me be absolutely clear: I’m not insinuating that there aren’t any masterful works of horror—nobody puts Clarice in the corner!—but for too long the chills and thrills of horror claimed fame as Hollywood’s biggest joke.
With an overabundance of unnecessary sequels and straight-to-DVD blunders, how could anyone expect the genre to be taken seriously? Who can tell me how many Paranormal Activity movies there are? Or recount the plot of Saw 7, otherwise known as Saw 3D, otherwise known as Saw: The Final Chapter? I bet even the Boogeyman couldn’t. After a while, you just have to hang up the machete and call it a day.
Recently, however, there’s been a change in the wind, a rustling of leaves, giving way to what I lovingly call the renaissance of horror. Just as Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo helped redefine the artistic landscape of the Middle Ages, ushering in a cultural movement still studied today, so too have the likes of James Wan and John Krasinski revolutionized horror, breathing new life into a genre that was deader than Bruce Willis in The Sixth Sense.
It’s no longer a mixed bag of cheap tricks. Rather, horror stands as a glowing example of competent filmmaking. Who knew that the resurrection of Pennywise in 2017’s It would have audiences falling in love with an unknown cast of kids? Director Andrés Muschietti did when he prioritized characterization over creeps. Or how about A Quiet Place which demonstrates Krasinski’s creative talents at world-building? Every aspect of life from communicating, to eating, to recreation cleverly revolves around one simple concept: staying silent. And of course, with Halloween set to release later in October, we’re witnessing a return to the classic slasher icons of drive-in theaters, back when horror was held in higher esteem.
From The Conjuring to this year’s Hereditary, horror isn’t so much becoming a part of our cinematic zeitgeist as it is shaping it. Filmmakers are approaching their craft with a deep appreciation for the genre and in turn, fans are digesting the fruits of their labour with a zealous appetite. All the broken box office records are not mere coincidence. Even the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science is slowly remembering that horror, when done right, can be worthy of recognition—ring Jordan Peele and ask for yourself.
Hell has returned to Hollywood, a rebirth of terror and trepidation. Such a shift has forged a newfound respect for horror, a reverence that’s been missing since the good old days when high school proms featured buckets of pigs’ blood and the heads of bedridden teenagers spun 360 degrees.
And when TVs crackled with static and little girls eerily proclaimed: “They’re heeeeeeere.”
Hopefully this time it’s to stay.
Nathaniel Neil Whelan
Nathaniel has an M.A. from Carleton University and is currently enrolled in the Professional Writing program at Algonquin College. An up-and-coming author, he lives in Ottawa with his partner and pet cat Susie-Bear.