And be wary of mainstream theatrical releases.
Theatrical horror, movies that hit major movie theater screens, rode a boat of wild success last year, unlike anything we’ve seen in a generation. GET OUT and THE SHAPE OF WATER are Oscar-winning films. IT is one of the highest grossing horror films of all-time. While their success is vital to validate the overall genre to mainstream audiences as being about more than blood, guts and gore—something longtime horror fans know and understand—it also sends a dangerous message to major movie studios looking to make a quick buck. Horror and genre films have always been cheap to make, which makes it easy for a studio to recoup the budget—a dangerous combination.
Major studios will look at last year as an excuse to greenlight generic horror films filled with unsatisfying jump scares, tired plotlines we’ve seen for a decade, and cliché characters all in the hope their movies can ride the rising tide of horror’s success.
Movies that don’t hit mainstream theaters can no longer be dismissed as B-movie schlock.
Look at last year’s THE MUMMY—a rumored $250-plus-million bomb of a wannabe blockbuster. On paper, it should have found success—a major studio with a budget and A-list movie stars should have made bank over the summer. Instead, THE MUMMY earned just $409 million worldwide—a failure. Why? Even IT didn’t break the mold on storytelling within the genre, but it did deliver standout performances and satisfying scares thanks to Bill Skarsgård’s Pennywise. However, it had a budget of just $35 million. When you limit a budget, you force creators to be, and bear with me, creative with how they tell their stories, create characters, and deliver the scares.
It’s easy for horror movies to fall into the tropes and clichés that have plagued the genre for the last 40 years, which makes them easy to be laughed at and even easier to outright dismiss as nothing but cheap titillation. But the downfalls of those major studio productions don’t mean horror is winding down a darkened road to Tropeville.
Indie horror movies are no longer regulated to the dustbins of the local video store. Movies that don’t hit mainstream theaters can no longer be dismissed as B-movie schlock, even if the word “indie” still carries taboo connotations for some horror moviegoers. No longer do you have to pace the horror section at the local video store, reading the backs of VHS boxes wondering why you’ve never even heard of half the movies.
Streaming services and video-on-demand platforms make it easier than ever to discover and support incredible independent horror and genre film creators than ever before. These are creators that are pushing the genre to places it’s never been by telling compelling stories and creating interesting and diverse characters through unique story-telling devices because they have to. The budget is scarce, and, when you’re creating a project borne from passion, you create something that has to stand out. If horror hopes to buck the idea it’s a throwaway genre of titillation, then the movies mainstream audiences see must be superb bordering on exceptional.
Indie horror movies are no longer regulated to the dustbins of the local video store.
Even mainstream horror movies like INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY, WINCHESTER, and THE STRANGERS: PREY AT NIGHT, which are box office success created by passionate people, are nothing outstanding. They employ the same stilted characters (Lin Shaye is a damn national treasure, though), unsatisfying jump scares, predictable plots, and lapses in logic the genre is known for. That’s not to say these movies aren’t enjoyable, or that they have to be better. Fans just have to open themselves up to movies that are off the beaten path.
If horror fans want the genre not only to be taken seriously, but be considered a genre that delivers thought-provoking, and compelling stories, they’re going to have to seek out the lesser-known movies hiding on VOD and various streaming services. Yes, the production value may feel straight-to-VHS, but technology has made it easier than ever for new creators to make gorgeous movies with compelling characters and thought-provoking plots. Enjoy the popcorn horror that hits the local Cineplex, but don’t be afraid to seek out and celebrate the indie movies.
They often carry the light down the path the genre is heading next, and it’s thrilling to be ahead of the curve.