The horror movie genre exploits all things macabre, so no new idea is earth-shattering — just a different shade of grotesque

The month of June saw the release of Evil Dead, the remake-cum-sequel of Sam Raimi’s cult classic starring Bruce Campbell. Like other recent remakes of old horror films [Halloween (1978), Friday the 13 (1980) and Psycho (1960)], this one too was quickly disregarded as no match for the original. However, The Conjuring came out recently to an enthusiastic reception. The viewing public, and by extension the internet community, was wildly appreciative of such a well-made horror film. But the last good horror movie to come out was Insidious (2010). That is a gap of 3 years. Why are good horror movies so hard to come by?

Generally, the horror genre employs people, places and incidents that are unnatural and disquieting. Such films are designed to evoke negative emotions — fear, disgust, anger or even sadness. And filmmakers use a combination of camera gimmicks, sound and special effects to titillate and terrify. The clever ones introduce plot twists and back-stories to unsettle the audiences. The problem here is that the scope is limited.

There are no new ideas to be thought up — any new concept that a writer comes up with is merely a modification of something that has been done before. The genre, by definition, exploits all things macabre. So no new idea is earth-shattering — it’s just a different shade of grotesque. The recent crop of terrible remakes is proof that the idea barrel is almost empty. The filmmaker, then, has to resort to special effects, sound and camera to bring forth adrenaline. That still leaves them plenty to work with.

But, another major problem today is that graphic violence has become commonplace in movies. We have gone to the extent of making horror-comedies such as Zombieland (2009) and R.I.P.D. (2013), where violence and gore are depicted very casually. This generation will sit through Hitchcock’s Psycho and The Birds (1963) without batting an eyelid. To us, The Exorcist (1973) feels amateurish. The self-aware, self-mocking Scream (1996) series is proof that suspension of disbelief can only go so far.

Also, most special effects these days are computer generated, making them somehow intangible, and thus non-threatening. That is why good production values and a strong screenplay are so vital in making a horror movie that will frighten today’s audiences.

And here, The Conjuring (2013) scores where most others don’t. They are either shoddily filmed or have screenplays that are hastily put together and rushed into production by cash-strapped production houses that feel that audiences will buy any movie as long as it has enough jump scares in it.