The Horror Genre: The Decline Of Storytelling

“When there’s no more room in Hell, the dead will walk the Earth.” – George A Romero,  “We all go a little mad sometimes” – Norman Bates – Psycho
“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti” – Hannibal Lecture
Listen to them, the children of the night. What sweet music they make.” – Dracula
“The power of Christ compels you!” Father Merrin and Damian Karras 

Count Orlok, from Nosferatu 1922

In 1922 Count Orlok was striking fear into the hearts of the audiences that were able to make it to the cinema.  Certainly not the first horror movie ever created, but definitely the first supernatural big bad to become an icon of the genre.

Fast forwarding 60 odd years and we see the film emergence of Michael Myers, Freddy Krueger, Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, The Wolfman, Zombies, Poltergeists, and so many more iconic creatures have given the horror genre its own identity.  I hold myself to being an avid fan of the culture.  There was something so immersive about the worlds being created before my eyes.

I could tear up at the Old Yeller being put down. You could visibly see my excitement when Superman came flying to the rescue, and I even felt furious at Lando Calrissian for betraying Han to the Empire.

Movies have the ability to draw out an emotional reaction when the story is engaging enough.

The moment I watched my first horror movie, I realized that a movie could actually have a lasting impact on a person, even at such a young age this concept intrigued me. My hatred for Darth Vader subsided when the movie was over and I turned back to my Nintendo, as did my excitement at seeing Superman in action, and my grief over the poor old dog. However, my first true experience in the horror genre made me walk a little faster on my way home at night for weeks.
Embarrassingly enough, that first movie was “Ernest Scared Stupid.”  It is not a masterpiece by any standards. I was young and didn’t see the decent-at-best story it told.

What I do know is that afterwards, walking home from my friends house up the street after dark at the age of 8 was a terrifying experience.  I would just remember seeing the Troll in my head and begin to hear his growl in the distance.  Sometimes I would actually sprint all the way home.

I was smitten by this feeling and literally have been trying recapture it ever since, with minimal success.  Wes Craven, Stephen King, John Carpenter, H.P Lovecraft, George A Romero, there’s so many icons in the genre that I grew up admiring.

Last week I saw “Chernobyl Diaries”… If you are intending on seeing this movie I have two things to say to you.

#1.  Please DON’T.  This kind of cheesy, lazy storytelling with questionably care taken into its production should not yield financial benefits.  Hopefully we can put an end to these kind of movies, but we can’t do that if they keep making money.

#2.  If you ignored #1, then you may want to stop reading because there are  spoilers in this entry.

I can still remember it.  The Blair Witch Project was in Theatres and everyone was petrified because they believed that it was real.  Of course now if you watch it you’ll notice that really it was shot that way to keep the operating costs to a minimum.  I watched it again as an adult and will admit the acting may be a bit on the needs-some-work end, but the movie isn’t all that bad.

The Shaky Cam was a big part of the suspense, making it very difficult to clearly see what was going on to it was up to dialogue, sound effects and brief glimpses to get your heart racing.

Chernobyl Diaries has a shaky cam feel to it, the camera is all over the place.  There really is no reason for it to be shot like this because it’s not shot from the point of view of any character.  One can argue the production value wasn’t all there so they had to shoot it that way to hide flaws and they couldn’t afford decent camera work.  With a budget of a million dollars to work with and very minimum effects that needed to be used, there is no justification.

The impression I got from this movie is just lazy storytelling. The characters were bland, unlikable, and just poorly written (and poorly acted to boot).  The use of shaky cam seems more like a decision of “humm.. how can we make this scary.  Oh I got It!! We’ll have the camera move all of the place.”  Shaky Cam is NOT scary in an of itself, you need to proper atmosphere.. Chernobyl does NOT have this

This is all cosmetic problems I have with this movie.  My main concern is that this movie is the ideal example I can think of to explain that Horror movie writers these days just don’t seem to care.

1. Drop random people in strange location after VERY minimal introduction.  (In Chernobyl’s case literally there are two people that come along that have 2 lines of dialogue to explain who they are)

2. Pick them off one by one while they run away.

3. Just when you think the sole one or two survivors finally make it out, surprise twist they die!


It’s depressing really.

Michael Myers, & Jason Voorhees, basically all followed a very similiar formula.  Strong, slow yet always ahead of you, masked man chasing victims to kill them.  Myers terrorized a neighborhood, and Voorhees terrorized a camp.

The difference is you can see the care in the writing of these beasts.  Voorhees backstory of being a young, innocent, deformed camper that drowned and no one cared… then his mother is killed while seeking vengeance.  And Myers was simply born as an evil incarnate, there was never really a soul in this monster and violence was always his only priority.

Chernobyl Diaries attempts to compensate for lack of originality by throwing clichés at the audience.  The little girl distracting the group while the big guy takes one of the group away.  In context this makes no sense, these are escaped radiation victims, they are feral and eat raw flesh.. why set up a distraction and take one when they have the numbers to just overwhelm the whole group.

If they were smart enough for this rouse… there’s no reason any of the characters should’ve made it to the end.

Sir Anthony Hopkins play Van Helsing in Dracula 1992

Anyway, what gets me is the ending.  I’ll admit that the first couple of movies I saw that had a total party wipe out.. as in no survivors, was a very cool and refreshing Idea.  But it has been taken to such extremes now that I feel like writers don’t even feel they need to write an ending any more.

Can writers come up with a way to have their character actually succeed? What story exactly are you trying to tell about a group that goes to Chernobyl and gets picked off one by one by monsters until they are dead?  It’s so unnecessary and now that this novelty has been shot to death the little appeal that a total party wipe out once held in the film industry is gone.

I long for the days when a horror writer is able to put a group of people in a seemingly hopeless situation and finds a way to endure it and survive, not stagger in the dark until they are all dead.

Maybe that’s what I’m getting at.  Horror movies now have been reduced to a competition of who can implement the most jump scares that require no previous thought or atmosphere (other than just making things really quiet for a second or two), and who can use the most elaborate special effects.

We are living in an age that has no horror heroes.  Our Van Helsings (Bram Stoker’s NOT Hugh Jackman’s)… Nancy Thompsons… Kirsty Cottons… Laurie Strodes… hell even our Ash Williams (Bruce Campbell FTW)…

I was so hopeful for this concept when I first saw the trailer.  With the radiation of the area and the mysteries behind the Chernobyl incident there’s a lot to work with here in way of a compelling narrative, it pains me that the ball was dropped so hard.

Come on “The Apparition” … it’s up to you to redeem the genre.

2 thoughts on “The Horror Genre: The Decline Of Storytelling

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