Good horror reflects the cultural and social fears of the time and place in which it was created. And while certain cultural fears never seem to lose their edge, others crop up in certain time periods and are reflected by the horror films created during that time.
Consider the large number of giant monster movies produced in the wake of World War II, when fears of the atom bomb and radiation gripped America. Or how the uneasiness over changes in youth culture in the 60s and 70s led to the popularization of slasher films, where teenagers were routinely a target after participating in illicit activities.
The past decade or so has been no exception. American horror films have been drastically affected by several new cultural fears that rose up in the wake of the September 11th attacks. These cultural fears have manifested themselves into a slew of different trends and techniques that have become ingrained in our horror films. Not all of them are easy to directly link back to a fear of terrorism itself, but they all stem from the overarching fear and uncertainty of the years following September 11th.
Here are the most important trends in recent American horror…
4. Found Footage
Found footage horror films are not a new invention of the post-9/11 age. In fact, they aren’t even a new invention at all, with 1980′s Cannibal Holocaust serving as an early example of how a faux-documentary could be used to make horror seem more real.
But recently, the found footage sub-genre has absolutely exploded, leading to some hugely successful films (the Paranormal Activity series, Cloverfield) as well as other films that may not have matched that level of financial success, but still made their mark nonetheless.
One of the reasons for the explosion of found footage films is that they’re extremely cost effective for studios to produce. Low production costs better the chances of a profitable return, so it’s easy to green light these movies. But the audience still needs to respond in order for a film to sell tickets, so what is it about found footage films that taps into the audience’s subconscious and makes them afraid?
Most likely it’s because found footage films greatly resemble the type of news footage we see when a real tragedy or horrifying event occurs. Think of the last time you saw a news report about a mass shooting, violent protest, or any other upsetting story. Almost always, some of the first footage that comes in is taken from the scene, and usually features an amateur using a shaking camera to document the event.
This is how we’ve been trained to take in tragedy and horror, and so when we see a found footage horror film use the same techniques, it automatically feels more realistic to us. Even though the subject matter may be out of the realm of possibility – exorcism, zombies, or hauntings – the way it’s presented feels real enough to strike an authentic chord within the audience. That’s why these films have been so successful and popular over the last few years.
This article was first posted on March 11, 2013