Horror has received a lot of criticism as a film genre in recent times. Movies like Paranormal Activity or Sharknado have taken all the essence of horror films and make them all about the shock factor and horror factor, completely ignoring basic film elements like a solid plot or character growth. But it wasn’t always like this. Experts of other genres like Stanley Kubrick or Steven Spielberg have made successful horror films proving that it is not the genre, but the director, that can make a difference in movies
According to Charlie Eaglestone, who is a teacher in the advanced filmmaking program here in Fanshawe, the history of horror films is fascinating. From early German Expressionist movies like “The Cabinet of Dr Caligari” or “Nosferatu”, horror films have a rich history.
However, when it comes to recent history, there are two types of horror movies and two directors who revolutionized each sub genre . There are Psychological films and Slasher films. There is Alfred Hitchcock and John Carpenter. Two masters of horror that took very different paths but each revolutionized the genre forever.
Alfred Hitchcock, also known as The Master of Suspense, created Masterpieces like Psycho, Rear Window or Vertigo and is widely seen as one of the greatest directors of the modern era. According to Eaglestone, his approach to movies was different that the rest at the time. As an Auteur, he uses the typical “bomb under the table” approach to suspense that he himself invented. “With Hitchcock, he would show you the bomb under the table, and you knew what was gonna happen, but the characters didn’t, and there lied the suspense. When is it gonna blow up? How is it gonna blow up? These are all questions we would ask ourselves” said Eaglestone, who said that Hitchcock’s passion for suspense never changed the fact he was a great director.
Plot, mise en scene and characterization were as important to him as adding shock value and wanting to add gore. “Where you can see how great Hitchcock is in Psycho. The way he shoots the “killing in the shower” scene is so great because just by sounds and editing, he can make the scene as dramatic as it is,” said Eaglestone, when asked what makes Hitchcock so great.
On the other hand, we have John Carpenter, who is seen as the father of Slasher movies for his revolutionary horror film ‘Halloween.’ Carpenter has had a very solid and respected career, but he hasn’t had the iconic career of Hitchcock. Films like ‘The Fog’ or ‘Escape From New York City’ were critically and commercially successful, but were never quite as big as ‘Halloween’ was. However, that doesn’t mean he is not a respected director. “With Carpenter, he didn’t create Slashers. but he made them mainstream. Before him, slashers were messy and not made for Hollywood. Carpenter changed that,” said Eaglestone, who also mentioned most recently successful horror films have followed closer to Carpenter’s path than Hitchcock’s.”
Why is that? “Well because now we live in a time where more than ever, audiences rule what happens in the film industry. And Hollywood knows this and caters to this. Hollywood will give you what you ask of it” said Eglestone, who says that fans want the horror and the gore, not the intricate plot or deep-rooted characters. “This means than slasher films with gore and blood will attract people’s attention more than a psychological thriller.”
Finally, Eaglestone adds how slasher films have been done so much that they are parodied now. During the 80s to early 90s, the horror film genre was almost dead. Between straight to video movies and sequels, the film needed some new blood. And that’s when ‘Scream’ came into play.
Directed by Wes Craven, another horror film master who created classics like ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’, Scream came out in 1996 to parody a genre he helped develop as well. Not seen as a real horror movie or a satire of one, but more like a hybrid, “Scream takes elements of slasher films and makes them so over the top that it is hard to take this movie seriously. However, there also real horror elements that Wes used to make this movie scary. Since them, many have tried to copy this perfect balance to very little fruition,” said Eaglestone, who mentions his favorite horror movies are ‘Psycho’ and ‘Halloween’