Has Hollywood lost its sense of subtle horror?

In an editorial online at Star-Gazette.Com, Horseheads High School student Erin Dennis proclaims that "Hollywood has lost its sense of subtle horror."

As you can guess from the title, the essential theme of the piece is that Hollywood used to make wonderfully suggestive and subtle horror films, but all they do today is wallow in gory special effects.

I can't blame Dennis for coming to this conclusion, after sitting through the likes of SAW and THE HILLS HAVE EYES. And I don't want to come down too hard on a high school student championing the values of subtlety over crude shock. But being the nitpicker I am, I do have to point out a handful of problems.

Our first warning flag should be the reference to HILLS HAVE EYES, which is itself a remake of a nearly thirty-year-old movie that was considered to be a crude piece of exploitation horror in its day. This is our first clue that Hollywood has not really changed all that much recently, and the championed Golden Age of yesteryear is a bit of a myth that exists mostly in imagination, not necessarily in actual history.

Dennis goes on to cite Alfred Hitchcock's PSYCHO as an example of classic horror. It's a good choice, but we need to remember that at the time PSYCHO was seen by some as a step down for Hitchcock - a move away from clever thrillers toward crude horror. And in fact the film was quite shocking in its day - the famous shower scene is hardly an example of subtlety, relying on jagged quick cuts and shrieking music to assault the senses and convey a vision of savagery and violence that is meant to blow the viewer out of his seat. (Dennis repeats the myth that you never see the knife touch the victim's skin in the scene, which though widely believed is not quite true.)

It is no doubt true that many alleged horror filmmakers do rely on gore, and there seems to be a contingency of fans who demand such on-screen violence. But the fact is that, at least in box office terms, the most successful horror films of the past few years have been subtle ones: spook stories like THE OTHERS, THE RING, and THE GRUDGE were certifiable blockbusters, earning over $100-million each, while the gory horror that Dennis derides has been relegated to minor cult status, championed by a handful of gorehounds who don't want their scares subtle.

Of course, THE OTHERS (pictured at top) was shot in Britain, and THE RING and THE GRUDGE are remakes of Japanese horror films. So perhaps it is fair to say that Hollywood has forgotten how to make subtle horror films. But Hollywood filmmakers haven't forgotten how to spot a trend and cash in on it.

2 Comments.

Posted by Erin Dennis:

I have to acknowledge that you make some very intelligent points, and I like a little constructive criticism. You made me re-evaluate my own opinion...that's rare! good article 🙂

Monday, December 25th 2006 @ 11:19 PM

Posted by Hollywood Gothique:

Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I do think you're right to champion subtle horror; I was just picking nits about trends.

Tuesday, December 26th 2006 @ 11:20 PM