After the successful release of Stephen King’s IT, and with Jigsaw now poised to scare up some impressive numbers at the box office, it looks like modern horror is alive and well. Not that we had much fear of failure in contemporary scream films, but it had us wondering what today’s horror films had that some older classics might have been lacking and vice versa. After all, the last time vampires were back in the limelight it was in a genre more akin to romance than horror, and we just want to know if some of the greats have run their course or, perhaps, they’re just lying in wait for their next chance to strike. After all, it’s what they do best.
Luckily, the older monsters can still be appreciated in game form with the likes of the ongoing Castlevania series and the Blood Suckers slot game, but modernisation can come at a price. Although Blood Suckers does seem to remain faithful to the original telling of Dracula where the night spook has powers of seduction, a weakness to crosses and a penchant for Victorian-era clothing, Castlevania tends to take some liberties. For example, although Dracula was still dressed as an aristocrat, he no longer preys on maidens to quench his bloodlust, but instead seeks to take over entire worlds with the help of his armies. In order to give players a challenge while fighting Dracula, he was also given the ability to teleport, launch fireballs and shoot rays of “dark energy”. And it’s in this enhancing that classic monsters seem to be losing a certain charm with viewers.
As familiar monsters transform and become more wicked forms of themselves in order to keep up with their terrifying modern counterparts, they lose the small bit of humanity that they had – a trait that kept them scary because of how close to chaos they made us feel. In the 1941 Wolf Man film, the monster happens to be the main character, a perfectly normal man that comes to console his father after the death of his brother. In his transformation he nearly kills the woman he falls in love with. So not only are we scared of the thought that somewhere in the uncertain depths of the darkness lies monsters waiting to tear us apart, but we’re terrified that we can be turned to such devilish ways.
This concept of dual fear is something that modern movies don’t tend to grasp as much. Sure, IT makes the audience look at what scares us and demands that we overcome those fears, but it never puts us in the mind of the monster and it never makes us fight against the possibility of becoming that monster.
According to director Fred Dekker, best known for 80’s horror-comedies House, Night of the Creeps and cult classic Monster Squad, it’s harder for newer horror to strike a personal chord with audiences because of the disconnect between the viewer and the monster. After all, it is difficult to relate to a sewer-inhabiting clown or a psycho in a hockey mask. But if you look at, say, Frankenstein or the Wolf Man, you can see a layer of humanity in both that makes us look within ourselves and analyse the monsters within.
Frankenstein, in particular, does a tremendous job of projecting the monsters within us onto the screen as it wasn’t Frankenstein’s monster that was the problem, but rather the mad scientist himself and his obsessive need to see his experiment come to fruition. In the original novel by Mary Shelley, the monster is persecuted because of his appearance. This is tweaked in the 1931 film as the monster accidentally drowns a girl he is playing with, but the monster is nonetheless misunderstood and destroyed in response by angry villagers as well as his creator. Dr Frankenstein himself is badly injured in the scuffle and ends up in a hospital bed. All of this chaos and hardship happened because of the reckless pursuit of knowledge in one man – a passionate pursuit that many humans share.
However, maybe it’s just our love for the classics, as Jen Yamato of the Los Angeles times does make a compelling argument for new horror films and how they’re reinventing scary. After all, even if most films nowadays don’t put us in the mindset of a monster, they can at least make us appreciate the fragility of human mortality and the pursuit to preserve it in the face of sheer terror.