Learning Horror from the East

Image from “Arang.”

The horror genre in America has plummeted in popularity in the previous decades. Sadly, the genre’s popularity has seen much hardship since the 1970s. America used to be the leader in the world when it came to horror cinema and fiction, but it seems today that you are more likely to find a foreign film that will be more frightening and more suspenseful than anything American. We can learn much from example, so on to the genre discussion.

Horror was once a noble, if risque, genre. We all know and most of us love works of such authors as Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen, Shirley Jackson, and even Edgar Allan Poe. What has changed and why is it impossible to find a contemporary horror novel of any similar merit?

Horror and Gore- Somewhere along the way, those industry leaders became sidetracked with gore and sadly, most have never moved on. Horror is nothing more than gore. This transition has done far more to harm the genre than help it. This plays upon “shock” and no amount of shock will make up for poor plot or bad characters. Especially when it comes to full-length novels or film. Gore is nothing more than set dressing. It can be found by the gallon in everything from action to hard-core detective movies. The first SAW was not popular due to blood and gore, despite a plethora of it, it was the fast pace and the thrill. The plotline was so powerful and so immediate that it completely overshadowed the set dressing. This is also why no sequel, no matter how “extreme” it attempts to be, ever comes close to that original.

Horror and Horror- John Carpenter skyrocketed to horror fame with the release of his first, “Halloween.” Audiences had never experienced anything like it and the movie, which cost around $300,000 to make, went on to gross tens of millions of dollars. Even today it is considered the best, despite a remake. What happened with the remake? The story was completely different, the characters were so bombastic no audience could relate (or really like for that matter) and despite major changes, it was still billed under the same title. The genius behind Carpenter’s Michael Meyers was that he came from a good family had a good life, so there was no reason for his behavior. That was destroyed in the remake.

Horror and Remakes- Speaking of remakes, this deserves an entire section to itself. Stop. Don’t even bother. If you can’t find an original story, don’t try to copy a former one, it’s lazy and will not be successful, anyway. Make a prequel, not a sequel, or make it completely different altogether.

This series is not just to be a soap box to undermine or degrade. It’s simply to constructively point out what has worked and what does not. Mainly, where did that shocking wave of interest in Asian horror movies come from? What started around 2000 has not only maintained it’s popularity, but has grown into industries within themselves. How did America lose such footing and what can we, as writers, filmmakers and fans, learn from this?

Most importantly, send the children to school. The pseudo-extremism exhibited far too often today by those in horror merely makes the genre look like a high school carnival. The primary goal of the writer is to have work that speaks for itself. If you must resort to physical feats or stunts to get readers, your work stinks. It is not a sign of culture or intellect. It’s merely a distraction from writing, which is precisely what you should be doing. It can also be taken as a sign of arrogance, in that your work is just so good you don’t have to devote any time to it. Your time is better spent “showing off” and not writing. Easy writing makes poor reading.

Continue to Part 2

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