When Good Horror Goes Bad:
A brief overview of the horror genre and how it has changed
by Steve Rice
(originally posted at FilmSpies.Com)

You know, I've been sitting here at my computer for about a day or two trying to compile all of my thoughts about this subject, trying to remain impartial at the same time… Man, is that hard. So really; what is the deal with most modern American horror films, what exactly has turned American horror films into the pure and utter steaming pile of crap they are? Other countries' horror films are still consistently good, Italian films being some of the best ever… so what went wrong with American films? The answer to that question is hard, and I'm going to take this time and analyze exactly what might have went wrong, so please; if you don't enjoy horror films, you won't enjoy this editorial, so read one of my staff's instead.

The first horror film ever was made in 1896 in France and was entitled "Le Manoir du Diable" (The Devil's Manor). As I'm sure you realize, this was a silent film and it was a short about a devil-vampire named Mephistopheles (played by the director Georges Méliès). In the beginnings of the horror genre, the main source of stories were the novels that were written, including Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein." The first incarnation of this classic story was in 1910 in the form of a sixteen-minute short film produced by Thomas Edison (yes, THAT Thomas Edison). This year was also when we first started seeing early incarnations of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale. The silent film era was booming with horror films; little did they know at the time that they started a revolution in filmmaking. The silent film era slowly slid away and someone else took the reigns of horror films…

Universal Studios was the first company to fully embrace the horror genre and showed that real money could be made in scares. One of their first horror films was 1930's "Dracula" starring the great Bela Lugosi, Dracula was a huge hit of the time and started the formula for horror films for the next few decades. The difference between the classic horror movies of the early 1900's and the films to come was one thing: gore. While Universal ruled supreme as the kings of the Horror genre, in 1956 a small company from Britain became the dark horse storming to take over horror. Enter the era of Hammer films. Hammer took tried and true classic films and brought their characters to the modern times and put the secret ingredient in to the mix… blood. The 1960's became one of the most influential times in horror film history… starting off with Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho." This could be seen as the beginning of the slasher sub-genre… but the true beginning was in 1963 with H.G. Lewis' "Blood Feast". "Blood Feast" took horror films to the next level and showed audiences an unflinching look at the violence being portrayed in the film. H.G. Lewis instantly became a pioneer in the genre and took a lot of flack for his never-cutting-away-from-violence style of shooting. The 60's also spawned another sub-genre: The Zombie Film. 1968 saw the release of George A. Romero's classic "Night of the Living Dead." No one thought that this low budget black and white film would ever become more then a midnight popcorn film to scare your date, but I doubt anyone could have anticipated what was to come in the next 2 decades.

When the 1970's, arrived Hammer films were sinking to sequel hell, trying to cash in on their past success. In 1972, a little-known director released a disturbing and shocking film entitled "Last House on the Left"; this director is the now famous Wes Craven. The following year, the most notorious horror movie ever was released; "The Exorcist". Audiences were not even close to being ready for the images that were being thrust before their eyes. In 1974, American audiences got a third kick in their collective faces when "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" was released and film viewers everywhere got their minds messed with. T.C.M. became the "most violent film ever" though the amount of blood spilt on screen was less then a cup. In 1975, mainstream directors started throwing their hats into the horror genre when Spielberg released "Jaws". In '76 the first ever adaptation of a Stephen King novel was released and "Carrie" (starring Sissy Spacek) became one of the top grossing films of the year. Unfortunately not all Stephen King adaptations would be this good. Towards the end of the 1970's is when things started to get even more exciting with the release of "Dawn of the Dead", "Halloween", "Alien", and "Phantasm."

The 1980's were, in my opinion, the best years to be a horror fan, with non-stop churning out of now classic horror movie icons, and buckets of blood to go along with it. Slasher pics were extremely prevalent during this period, as were endless strings of sequels and numerous rip-offs. Low budget exploitation pics were still rife at the start of this decade, however, and with the popularity of videos taking off in the early 80's combined with the widespread introduction of satellite and cable TV, horror pics slowly started to become geared towards the commercial end of the market...

"Friday the 13th" in 1980 was one of the first commercial slasher pics to be released following the success of "Halloween". The film managed to distinguish itself due to its graphic excesses and set the standard that all other exploitive slasher pics would follow. The following year in 1981 a low budget "Friday the 13th" rip-off entitled "The Burning" appeared, the special effects of which were even by the same guy (the now legendary Tom Savini). The film is most notable as it was the picture that successfully launched Miramax film studios. More gore and mayhem followed on this year with the release of "Maniac" by William Lustig, which starred former "Bond" girl Caroline Munroe. This was another gory and violent low-budget shocker, with Tom Savini also doing the special cosmetic effects. Werewolves also reared their ugly heads once more in the hugely successful "The Howling" and in the black comedy "An American Werewolf in London". Michael Myers went on the prowl again in John Carpenters "Halloween 2", which picked up straight after the original and James Cameron made his directorial debut with the low budget sequel "Piranha 2: Flying Killers", with Lance Hendrickson battling mutant piranhas that have been crossed with catfish and flying fish, producing killer fish that can fly through the air (believe me, it's worse than it sounds). Another Steven King novel was adapted for the screen in this year, namely "The Shining", by director Stanley Kubrick that starred Jack Nicholson. 1982 saw the release of "Friday the 13th Part 2", which continued the graphic slasher theme and Tobe Hooper teamed up with Steven Spielberg for some ghostly goings on in "Poltergeist". "The Evil Dead" was also released this year, the film, a well-made low budget picture, became an instant cult hit.

Many horror sequels appeared in 1983 trying to cash in on the gimmicky 3D fad that lasted all of 5 minutes. These included "Amityville 3D", "Jaws 3D" and "Friday the 13th Part 3D", all of which seeming to have fairly pointless plots and appeared to be churned out solely to satisfy 3D hungry audiences. "Friday the 13th part 3D" is actually worthy of being the breakthrough film in the series even though they tried to "spice it up" with the "fancy" 3D effects that would never be seen again." Jason" became a household name after acquiring his now legendary Ice Hockey mask. "Psycho 2" was released in this year, once again starring Anthony Perkins, which picked up the original plot some 22 years later with Norman Bates being released from his mental hospital and re-opening his old motel. John Carpenter released a third Halloween movie, entitled "Halloween 3: Season of the Witch", which disappointed fans of the series, with it having an entirely new plot about a fiendish toy company, making deadly Halloween masks. The film was a box office failure, but Carpenter fared much better with his adaptation of Stephen King's killer car novel, "Christine". "Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter" was released in 1984, except it was far from the last in the series, and dream demon Freddy Krueger made his first appearance in Wes Craven's horror shocker "A Nightmare on Elm Street", played by horror veteran Robert Englund.

Zombie mayhem re-appeared in 1985 with the release of George Romero's "Day of the Dead", the third in his Living Dead series, although the film was not as successful as his two previous zombie flicks. "Return of the Living Dead" by Dan O'Bannen, which took-off Romero's zombie pictures and mixed graphic excesses with tongue-in-cheek humor, faired much better and became a huge cult hit as did "Re-Animator" which is a film adaptation of the H.P. Lovecraft tale "Herbert West: The Re-Animator". Also released was "Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning", after the filmmakers decided that the films had made too much money for them to stop at part 4, and "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 2: Freddy's Revenge" in which Freddy returns to kill more teens on Elm Street. More werewolves appeared on the big screen in Stephen King's "Silver Bullet". In 1986, several sequels were released, starting with "Psycho 3" starring Anthony Perkins again; "Phantasm 2", which despite being filmed some 9 years later picked up directly after the first picture, then there was the disappointing "Poltergeist 2" which starred most of the original cast, and the appalling "Howling 2" with Christopher Lee, who was later quoted as saying "The less said about my role in that film, the better.". Jason returned from the grave in "Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives", Leatherface also made a comeback in Tobe Hooper's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2". However, the biggest film of the year was undoubtedly James Cameron's Sci-Fi/Horror pic "Aliens", a sequel to Ridley Scott's "Alien", which once again starred Sigourney Weaver, along with the supporting cast of "Terminator". Sam Raimi released "Evil Dead 2", in this year; a part-sequel, part-remake follow-up to his original "Evil Dead" movie. Freddy Krueger returned again in "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors", once again starring Robert Englund, and another giant shark went on the rampage in the awful "Jaws 4: The Revenge", which featured Michael Caine. However, the most talked about film of the decade was undoubtedly "Hellraiser", adapted from the novel "Hellbound Heart" by Clive Barker. The film was made notable by its excessive blood and gore, and its grotesque central character Pinhead, played by British actor Doug Bradley, whose character added to the list of modern day popular horror monsters.

1988 saw more sequels abound with Jason, Freddy, Pinhead, Michael Myers and several others returning for more, starting with "Friday the 13th Part 7: The New Blood", in which stuntman Kane Hodder took over the role of Jason and claimed it as his own, having previously been played by a different actor in each film, "A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4: The Dream Master", with Robert Englund again, "Hellbound: Hellraiser 2", with Doug Bradley reprising his role of Pinhead and more ghostly apparitions in the pointless "Poltergeist 3". Most notable was the film "Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers", which ignored the part 3 spin off and picked up the original Halloween storyline 10 years after, with Donald Pleasance reprising his role as Dr Loomis. Two new horror characters were also created in this year with the introduction of the devil doll "Chucky" in the film "Child's Play", as voiced by cult horror star Brad Douriff, and the ex-cop turned psycho-zombie in the less memorable, low budget "Maniac Cop" by William Lustig.

It's about this time when I feel horror movies and their endless sequels took the genre and destroyed it completely. When the 90's finally arrived Freddy became a shadow of his former self, Jason, Leatherface, and all the rest of the 80's cast came back for more lackluster sequels. 1991 took horror and gave it a new face when we saw for the second time Dr. Hannibal Lector in "The Silence of the Lambs" a semi-sequel of the 80's film "Manhunter." Every film that had been made in the past decade had a new shiny and "modern" sequel squeezed out of it. By 1993, every film had been sequel-ized or re-made for the 90's including Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". Hollywood was running dry on ideas and destroyed several franchises' credibility on the way. In 1996, a big budget horror film by the name of "Scream" was released to audiences and it became an instant success. It was a breath of fresh air to the now-dying horror genre and offered people something different but while still retaining credibility in the horror community. Vampire films went for a makeover when "From Dusk Til Dawn" was release; it was a smash at the box office and made horror fans all over the world happy.

Just like every good thing in the world, some things have to be beaten to death by people until there's no originality left in the heart of the piece… the horror genre got such a beating when the Scream rip-offs started pouring into theaters in 1997. Among these were "I know what you did last summer" and even the sequel "Scream 2" (which paled in comparison to the original). A fourth "Alien" film was released, and even Michael Myers couldn't escape the Scream influence when "Halloween: H20" was released in 1998 along with "The Faculty" which had a cameo from the fattest ass in film reporting: Harry Knowles. As 1999 rolled around, someone STILL knew what we did last summer, good old Chucky had a bride and someone thought it would be a good idea to sequelize Carrie. John Carpenter released the under appreciated "Vampires" and killer sharks made a comeback with "Deep Blue Sea." CGI attacked us all in the horrible re-makes of "The Mummy" and "The Haunting." There seemed to be hope by the end of the year when "The Blair Witch Project" (which is just a rip-off of the superior "The Last Broadcast") finally hit theaters across the country (after doing a tour of different art houses and film festivals (including Sundance)) and scared the hell out of people all over the nation. Hollywood got the shot in the arm they needed when they saw the low budget films taking money from them. So the slew of comedy spoofs started mocking Blair Witch.

So here we are now in May of 2001 and the salvation we were hoping for never truly arrived… we saw "American Psycho", "The Cell", "Final Destination", "Hollow Man" come and go with no impact on the way Hollywood views horror films. We saw the usual teen-horror fill the theaters with "Scream 3" both "Urban Legends" and saw "The Exorcist" come back to theaters only to have my generation laugh at it and send it out of the box-office before it even started, so I guess what happened to horror movies in America over time is the mainstream audience ruins it for us. My generation can't appreciate a true good horror film anymore; all they want are the tits, the mindless plot with all the 'hot' television stars in it, and for it to have more laughs then violence or scares. I know there are still true horror movie fans out there, but our numbers are lacking mainly cause of the cost to import good horror films from across the sea gets a little outrageous sometimes… I'm not sure if this editorial made sense, but if you read it all and really liked it I thank you. Remember this isn't a full history of horror films by any means at all… but I tried to touch on some major events in American cinema… thanks for reading.

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