As Netflix’s Resident Evil joins the large line-up of horror shows and films released this year, we take a stab at understanding why the genre is killing it right now
By Laura Rutkowski, Senior Staff Writer
Horrors are no longer just reserved for pumpkin-carving season or when it’s dark and creepy outside during cinemas’ “dump months” of January and February. They’re now encroaching on Marvel’s blockbuster territory – with a vengeance – and are finally seeing the light.
Are we enjoying a hot horror summer? Perhaps, but we think the more accurate answer is that we’re in a horrorwave that lasts all year round. Horror is going – dare we say it – mainstream.
From left: The Black Phone (written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill), Nope (from Jordan Peele), and Crimes Of The Future (David Cronenberg’s latest) are a few of the horror films released this summer
The number of horror movies made each year has been growing steadily, but in the past two decades or so, there’s been a notable shift. In 2000, around 200 horror films were produced, but by 2016, this number had risen to more than 1,000, according to The Horror Report. The genre now makes up more than 10% of all feature films made.
We investigate why we’re in what all of the experts we spoke to call the “golden age” of horror.
A new subgenre of horror
An interest in horror increased during the pandemic (remember when everyone was watching 2011’s Contagion?), and even gave us a new subgenre – lockdown horror. This joins the existing subgenres, as classified in The Horror Report: found footage, paranormal, killer, monster, gore & disturbing, and psychological.
“We are still in that wave of Covid horror, and particularly lockdown horror,” says Mike Muncer, host of The Evolution Of Horror podcast. A lot of “claustrophobic” movies, like Host, that have come out of the pandemic “are really thriving right now”.
Host, which was made in 12 weeks, delivers effective socially distanced shocks
They feature terrors that take place in the home, including domestic abuse, hauntings and intrusions. “It was probably for practical reasons, because these were some of the only movies that filmmakers could make at the time, but they work really well,” Muncer says.
“They tap into something very primal in all of us who have experienced that over the last couple of years – being stuck indoors by ourselves with only our own thoughts to keep us company.”
Horror as catharsis
“We’ve all been psychologically carrying a much heavier burden these last couple of decades,” says Mary Wild, who created the Projections lecture series at Freud Museum London, which applies psychoanalysis to film interpretation.
“A lot of mainstream people who would never normally turn to horror movies are realising what OG horror fans have always known – that the horror medium offers us an emotional release and is actually really cathartic.
“It’s impossible to eliminate distressing emotions like fear just through positive thinking. If we don’t make space for what troubles us, we’re just repressing it. We either repress or process.”
Horror master Wes Craven put it best when he said: “Horror films don’t create fear. They release it.”
Horror as a cultural phenomenon
“The anticipation for new horror is in a place where I’ve never seen it. The level of fandom has gone nuclear,” says Pete Appleyard, a lecturer at London’s MetFilm School.
Out of all genres, horror is the one that gives viewers the most “cool points.” “What’s your favourite scary movie?” – to quote Scream’s Ghostface – is either met with an enthusiastic answer or “I hate scary movies!” You rarely hear people talk about other genres with the same disdain or refusal to watch. Horror is provocative, edgy and provides shock value and a badge of honour if you’re badass enough, hardcore enough, to watch it.
“No one ever asks me what my favourite scary movie is!”
Horror provides instantly recognisable, memeable content, precisely because of the genre’s visuals, whether gory or simply distinctive. Our friendly neighbourhood villains and horror heavyweights Michael Myers, Ghostface, Freddy Krueger, Pennywise and many more are never far from popular culture, whether their masks pop up at Halloween or fancy-dress parties, or comedy group The Merkins make a new horror parody.
The rise of horror series and the popularity of Stranger Things
“Only in very recent years have people started to get [horror series] right,” says Muncer. “Stranger Things is a great gateway drug into horror.”
Stranger Things’ Eddie Munson (Joseph Quinn) disguises himself with a Michael Myers mask in one of the more obvious nods to John Carpenter’s Halloween
We’ve lost count of how many horrors the series borrows from (A Nightmare On Elm Street, Carrie, The Silence Of The Lambs, Halloween, The Ring, to name just a few). “I think a lot of horror fans would look at Stranger Things and roll their eyes and be like, “If any of these people knew John Carpenter had actually already done this 30 years ago… we’ve loved this stuff for years and they’re just discovering it.”
Horror legend Robert Englund, who has immortalised A Nightmare On Elm Street’s Freddy Krueger, delighted fans when he appeared as the disturbed Victor Creel in Stranger Things
“The key to a successful horror TV show is to have other genres woven in, like drama, maybe even comedy, and something that involves us in these characters’ stories and lives, so that then when the horror does happen, we are emotionally invested,” Muncer adds.
“These shows are huge, they’re these phenomena where everyone is talking about them for a month, and I think that’s gonna continue. They’ve clearly proven to be really popular and they’re really high-quality as well.”
Horror reboots/franchises will never die
This year has had its fair share of reboots, or “requels,” including Halloween, Scream and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, while Salem’s Lot is upcoming, The Exorcist is expected in 2023 and now Netflix’s Resident Evil is taking a shot at adapting the video games-turned-movies into a series.
“One of the reasons why we remake things so often is because every generation can have their Frankenstein’s monster or their Candyman or their Michael Myers,” says Appleyard. We all know Michael Myers, in all 13 Halloween movies, never dies – and, paradoxically, that’s comforting, because it offers the “reassuring effects of repetition”, says Wild. “Coming back to something that we previously enjoyed, where we can also predict everything that happens, is like a comfort blanket.”
Fans of the Halloween franchise know that fire is no match for the indestructible Michael Myers
Interest in horror massively spiked in 2015, the year A24 released The Witch. Appleyard thinks A24, the company behind Midsommar, Hereditary and X, has helped horror break into the mainstream thanks to its cinematic, yet scary, formula.
Appleyard explains that these artier movies are now being put on the radar of critics, cinephiles and people who wouldn’t normally watch a horror film.
A24’s folk horror The Witch, starring Anya Taylor-Joy, achieved critical and financial success
The problem is the “terrible phrase” applied to these types of films, one that true fans don’t like to use – elevated horror. “It’s somehow horror that’s better than other horror, which is horribly pretentious,” Appleyard says. In other words, horror that’s deemed worthy of being reviewed by critics – the same ones who have contributed to horror being the worst-reviewed genre among all movies.
And the award goes to… probably not horror
“Horror is seen as being a little bit low-rent. Our industry has always turned its nose up at the genre,” Appleyard says. Jordan Peele’s Get Out has actually been called a comedy, while his follow-up, Us, was branded a horror-thriller.
On Twitter, Peele set the record straight with a post calling Us what it is. “I had such respect for him to come out and say, “Let’s reclaim this word. This is a horror movie. It’s nothing else, but a horror movie.” And we should be proud of that!” Appleyard says.
The Evolution Of Horror’s Muncer thinks Get Out “ignited a new golden age of horror that we’re in at the moment”. As well as being a huge box office hit, it won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay in 2018. Only 18 horror films have ever won an Oscar in the 95-year history of the Academy Awards.
Last year the French body horror Titane picked up the prestigious Palme d’Or award at the Cannes Film Festival – where from 1939 to 2015, horror films made up only 1% of the total shown.
“The awards industry is going to have to accommodate horror, albeit reluctantly,” says Wild, suggesting the introduction of a standalone horror category. The atmosphere for horror to thrive is definitely improving, but do fans actually want it to?
By definition, horror can never really be mainstream
FrightFest, known as “the dark heart of cinema,” is the UK’s largest horror film festival
“Horror will always be extremely popular with audiences, and one of the most commercially successful and lucrative genres in cinema, but it will always remain the black sheep, the weirdo little brother, of cinema as well,” says Muncer.
“It is having a moment right now, and it is getting a certain amount of prestige, but horror is punk, and punk can’t be mainstream.”
When is Resident Evil on Netflix?
Find Resident Evil in Apps & Games > Netflix from Thursday 14 July.
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