In 1981, Stephen King, famous American writer of horror stories often brought to the silver screen, published an article on the genre. Deep down, he said, we are still primitive bloodthirsty beasts that would cut each other’s head off, if only we could. The fact is that we like fighting games full of violence, but now we prefer to call ourselves civilized and watch certain atrocities sitting in the theater.
For example King Kong (1933): people fled screaming from the cinemas! Let’s watch it now, and all I see is a puppet that moves oddly. How is it that people of the early twentieth century could not see that puppet as we see it today? According to the movie expert Tarja Laine (University of Amsterdam), a monster like this was something completely new back then, that’s why it looked real. In the 30’s a monster ape walking among humans was really shocking.
Let’s take a movie sixty years closer to us, Jurassic Park (1993): the dinosaurs then seemed so real that it becomes a box office success and a milestone for the film with prehistoric lizards; see it now, it is glaring the rigidity of these “animals”, their linear movements, their dead eyes. Particularly when compared with a new movie, like Prometheus, where computer graphics is pretty much everything.
As we said, the technique is the problem. The special effects used years ago are no longer so special, technology improves year after year, with surprising speed. Whenever we watch an old movie (or a new, low quality one), those unspecial effects break the spell of the “suspension of disbelief” (in a work of fiction, we believe the bizarre creatures if they are quite convincing).Beside the technique, in a movie there must be what people in that historical moment and in that culture finds frightening. Every era has its favourite “monsters”, such as “death and decay” in old black and white movies.
Until the ’50s monsters like Godzilla and Frankenstein are the leading actors: they are examples of scientific experiments out of control.
The 60s and 70s were the years of madmen and psychopaths: how could we forget Psycho (1960) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974). These characters were inspired by real people famous in the new, like Ed Gein and Charles Manson.
In the 80s it was the triumph of the buckets of blood, even ridiculously portraied. We’re talking about movies like The Evil Dead (1981), a cult whose formula is in the balance between horror and exaggeration.
The 90s saw the flourishing of teenagers, market share approaching science fiction and its use of special effects.
The new millennium has seen a proliferation of the mockumentaries (The Blair Witch Project, 1999), in which the movie looks like a documentary or what remains of amateur recordings of a group of friends. Then we got the torture-porn movie, in which young actors are kidnapped and victims of the most unspeakable tortures (Hostel, Saw).
We are nowadays so addicted and accustomed to the realism of the bloodshed that old movies look pretty amateur and miss the target.
What do writers and authors need to produce new convincing horror movies and, above all, to make us jump out of the chair?!
The object of the fear is, of course, personale. Many people did not find The Blair Witch Project interesting for the lack of blood and violence, while many others consider it a masterpiece for the tension created. Horror movies of the future will always fluctuate between concrete dread and psychology, by dusting themes already used or by finding new ones due to current events or trends of society.
PS- To all those who believe that Halloween is not a Christian holiday, remember that the word comes from the English archaic All Hallows Day, modern All Saints. And if you think that the celebration of saints and the dead is Christian, remember that Christianity has chosen these dates (October 31-November 1) because in those days it was (and still is) celebrated Samhain, the last harvest, a time of gathering before the darkness of winter, when to collect supplies, a period of closure to the world that is becoming less welcoming. Also known as the Celtic New Year Day, this culture that influenced the Romans and, later, the Christians. On this day suspended between the old and the new, the boundary between the worlds thins, the dead can return to their homes, celebrations are also held in their honor to scare any malevolent and not welcome spirits.