“Do we talk about teacups and time, and the rules of disorder?” – Hannibal, to Will
*image of both the teacup as well as screenshot from Hannibal belong to Bryan Fuller, and NBC.
“Occasionally, on purpose, Dr. Lecter drops a teacup to shatter on the floor. He is satisfied when it does not gather itself together. For many months he has not seen Mischa in his dreams.
Someday perhaps a cup will come together.” – Thomas Harris, Hannibal
Coming Full Circle
I began writing Psychological Horror Drought for one reason: to display the degradation of the beloved horror genre. The teacup shattered. I offered no easy solution and asked no easy questions. I first offered my criteria for a psychological horror story and from there we began a journey that took us to the depths of madness.
We visited Summerisle, Arkham Asylum and Silent Hill. We read graphic novels, played games and watched films. And all the while, the shadows danced around us, watching and waiting for us to move too close to the impenetrable blackness of the night.
We explored the issues of the horror genre, which was lingering in the background of every blog post, yet I offered no solutions. While this will not be my final entry on Psychological Horror Drought, the first seven posts have been inevitably building towards the finale of this particular series, which is concerned with solutions to the matter I have dubbed a “psychological horror drought”.
A Brief Composite of Issues
I will not attempt to summarize everything I have written up to this point, and so I will leave bullet points here and hyperlinks to my discussions for greater depth. The following bullet points are the primary conclusions from my fifth blog post; the issues within the horror genre:
Money Grab by large studios
Prevalence of Torture-Porn Horror films (Saw, Hostel, etc.)
General lack of intelligence
Gory Slashers/Cheap Thrills = Cash
With this in mind, I will attempt to sketch what the People, or members of the horror community can do to help restore the horror genre to the glory of days gone by, or at least help push the genre away from the trajectory it has been on. The following writing will cover two specific strategies that members of the horror community can employ for change. Several posts down the road will cover other facets of this series, including the business end of creating horror media, risk-taking and other lovely topics.
Do Not Drink the Kool-Aid
The worst thing anyone can do is line the wallets of someone producing harmful materials. By buying into the current era of torture-porn horror flicks, we are encouraging the filmmakers’ depravity and lack of effort into the celluloid products they create. And so to preface this section about not buying into it I say this: do not drink the Kool-Aid.
Another low-budget masterpiece of the psychological horror genre, The Sacrament (2014), played those sentiments exactly, with the story being inspired by that of Reverend Jones of Jonestown infamy.
For this, I will not spend too much time discussing, other than to say, quite simply, that we can almost always tell when a new garbage horror flick is about to hit theatres.
It is said that a picture says a thousand words and so I can image that a film trailer speaks millions of them. Now, I know that a trailer is not the film and that sometimes a trailer does not do a film justice (just watch the trailer for Lost in Translation, you’ll see what I mean), yet despite this there are some classic signs of what the film is going to do within the trailer.
Just above is the trailer for Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979), a film considered by many to be one of the greatest and scariest (psychological) horror films ever made. The trailer for this film is intense, terrifying, fast-paced and immediately grabs hold of the viewer, taking them on a two-minute thrill ride through hell. It’s a snapshot of the film that captures the essence of it without giving any of the plot away. There are hundreds of good ones, such as the trailer shown in previous posts for films such as Get Out (2017), The Wicker Man (1973)and Jacob’s Ladder (1990) that do the same thing, but after watching many of the trailers carefully, I have come to the conclusion that Alien does it best.
Alien’s trailer is precisely what a good horror film trailer should be.
Now let’s take a look at a not so good example.
I know, I’ve gotten entirely too much enjoyment out of ripping on the remake of The Wicker Man (2006) enough, but one more time won’t hurt too much. In this trailer, we are given, almost literally, the entire plot. What made the original trailer of the original film so effective is that it gave away very little of the actual plot of the film while evoking interest in the same way that the Alien trailer did.
In both Alien and The Wicker Man (1979) we feel the same intense feelings of paranoia, confusion, vicarious luridness and carnality. We are not quite sure what we have just witnessed and yet we are terrified and intrigued by it all at once.
Here is the original trailer for the 1973 version of The Wicker Man for comparison.
To summarize this point, if you are given a choice between great psychological horrors like The Houses October Built (2014), or Get Out (2017) versus that of Saw the Nineteenth or Insidious the Fourth, then please choose the former options.
A lack of money being funneled into a particular kind of film often pushes Hollywood to go in different directions. While Saw will likely be a mainstay of American cinema, as the series has earned hundreds of millions in box office revenue, later sequels of Hostel have been going direct to DVD while excellent psychological horror films such as Get Out (2017) and 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016) are earning in the hundreds of millions now.
The tables have turned.
And keep both eyes wide open during the previews, as you never know what they’ll give away.
Be the Change You Want to See
This one seemed obvious, but I feel it necessary to state it all the same. Considering the fact that I am one voice among many who have noticed the issues of the horror genre and in particular the absence of solid psychological horror material, and have chosen not to stay quiet about it, I feel it of the utmost importance to further contribute to the solution. In order to avoid watching the horror genre drown in a pool of its own blood, things have to change.
Rather than just talk about issues within any given community, we must use our abilities to be the change we want to see.
This may seem off topic at first, I feel it important to use this particular video as a starting point for the larger argument.
Philip Wang is a filmmaker, writer, director and producer (i.e. a content creator) and a great one at that. While Wang was discussing the issues of the Asian community being whitewashed in Hollywood (another extremely important issue, but one best left for another day on Psychological Horror Drought), I feel that the essence of his argument is applicable to a variety of situations.
Philip Wang discusses the importance of diverse content creators in the medium, especially in regards to the Hollywood filmmaking machine. This is where the arguments begin to cross together. We, as people, need to make changes.
The need of support for filmmakers and content creators who do not get the support of major studios is at an all-time high. And as I stated earlier, with the tides turning more intelligent horror films on the rise, now is the time for action.
Get Out is property of Jordan Peele and Universal Studios.
While this is not a race-based argument, it can be seen in newer films like Get Out (2017), that great psychological horror can originate from a variety of sources. The genre has primarily been dominated by white men as writers, producers and directors. Jordan Peele, initially of MadTV and Key & Peele fame, made a triumphant directorial debut with Get Out, and while only time will tell if he is here to stay, the success and originality of the film certainly made it feel that way.
The same can be said regarding 2014’s The Babadook. The Babadook, directed by Jennifer Kent, shows that women also have the aptitude to create quality psychological horror stories. The film, while not necessarily my favorite (keep an eye out for the upcoming analysis/review), does prove my point about diversity (as well as the indie approach) being healthy for the genre as a whole.
This point also falls in line with the further promotion of unknown directors taking risks.
To create an atmosphere in which the horror genre continues to produce quality psychological horror, content creators must continue to come from greater diversity. I can theorize and pontificate or write tomes regarding why the horror genre has been stuck in a rut for as long as it has been, but to return to a point made earlier, we must look at the current content creators in the business.
Who has written, produced and directed every horror movie you have seen over the last thirty years?
A Conclusion in Brief
I will now take what Stephen King would have referred to as “an annoying autobiographical pause” for a moment.
I have enjoyed horror movies, books and video games for as long as I can remember. It sounds terrible, but as early as five or six I remember staying up late to catch a late-night movie long after everyone else had gone to bed. Be it Friday the 13th or A Nightmare on Elm Street, there was always something I shouldn’t have been watching on the TV past 10am.
Yet I did.
As I grew older, my interests became more refined and slashers became psychological horror (not to say I still don’t enjoy a movie out of Camp Crystal Lake every once in a while, but still). Jacob’s Ladder replaced Freddy Krueger and so on. But it wasn’t long before I started to notice the degradation of horror films, along with games, books and other media.
Over these years, I began to grow extremely tired with the lack of quality content and in the midst of looking for something new to read, I decided to begin writing what I wanted to read. I was always a writer, though I had not considered this before. Yet I set to work in late May of last year.
By summer’s end 2016, I had a novel.
I will not reveal many details as of yet, but I will say this, I became the change I wanted to see.
You should too…
And slowly, time reversed itself and the teacup, once in a million pieces on the floor, gathered itself back to together again.
“We can only learn so much and live.” – Thomas Harris, Hannibal