Halloween is rapidly approaching us and, inevitably, you might be looking towards cinema to set an appropriately spooky atmosphere over the coming days. Luckily, you won’t have to look far to find a film that will do this job. The horror genre has been through somewhat of a resurgence this decade after the comparatively weak output of the 2000s. It has led to the release of horror films that will be remembered not only as great films within the genre but essential classics within contemporary cinema.
Attempting to work out which of the many critically and commercially successful horror films will successfully make the leap to ‘classic’ status can be rather difficult
The horror films that most obviously spring to mind when predicting what might eventually be defined as a ‘classic’ are those that directly respond to the cultural issues of our time. Films such as Jordan Peele’s Get Out (2017) and Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook (2014) both jump out – the former grappling with the systemic racism in American institutions and the latter symbolically portraying the long-term effects of grief and depression on a family. Both films mesh unnerving and disturbing imagery with powerful social commentary in order to create narratives that deserve to remain in the cultural consciousness.
However, attempting to work out which of the many critically and commercially successful horror films will successfully make the leap to ‘classic’ status can be rather difficult though. Perhaps it will be films that (like previous classics such as Halloween, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street) have managed to spawn equally successful franchises. James Wan’s jumpscare-heavy paranormal horror The Conjuring (2013) has spawned an entire universe of similarly constructed films and, while the quality of these films certainly vary, their continued commercial success and the sheer quantity of them (which will surely only continue to rise) might create a large enough legacy to cement them in the canon of horror cinema.
Other films sought to revive sub-genres that have received less attention in recent years. Ari Aster’s brilliant Midsommar (2019) not only stands out in the decade by taking a slower, almost spiritual approach to horror but also marks a return to folk horror as a sub-genre. Unaware and naive American college students travel to rural Sweden, finding themselves involved in psychedelic (and often gory) rituals. It is heavily reminiscent of previous folk horror The Wicker Man (1973 – certainly not the Nicolas Cage remake) and, despite its lengthy runtime, could find a cult following due to the film’s distinctive colourful visual style and Aster’s occasional flashes of absurdist humour.
An over-the-top film but it takes itself too seriously, ramping up the insanity, gore and horror to a conclusion of oddly beautiful chaos
Speaking of Nicolas Cage, though, one of my personal favourite horror films of recent years is Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy (2018). It has all the features of a future cult classic: Idiosyncratic visuals that depict a hellish landscape, a truly eerie score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, and Nicolas Cage doing what Nicolas Cage does best, that being manic breakdowns, crazed rants and lots of yelling. All of this violently smashed together with a King Crimson track added on top of it all leads to a film that is bound to gain more attention in future years. It is an over-the-top film but it takes itself too seriously, ramping up the insanity, gore and horror to a conclusion of oddly beautiful chaos.
Perhaps the films that will gain the most attention as the years go by, though, are those that have garnered the most controversy upon release. Many horror classics are no strangers to controversy with now-classics like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho receiving mediocre reviews and public backlash upon release but are now held in the highest regard. Perhaps the same will be true for films like The House That Jack Built (2018), directed by Lars Von Trier (someone who not only expects but actively embraces angry reactions to his films), which received a great deal of controversy upon release for the extreme violence presented in the film (particularly the moments directed towards animals or children), with certain scenes in the film being completely censored upon theatrical release. Films like these might not seem like they have any chance of gaining popularity but, in a genre whose fans actively seek shocks and gore, maybe these films will stand the test of time.
The horror genre consistently comes out with films that feel fresh and original whilst incorporating the traditions and tropes of the past
And this isn’t even mentioning all the fantastic horror films that have been released around the world. Another film that absolutely deserves to be remembered in years to come is Julia Ducornau’s Raw (2016), a horror film from France about a vegetarian who goes to veterinary school and develops a specific craving after eating meat for the first time. It’s a film with strong, bloody imagery that evokes a strong sense of desire and disgust. It is just one of many powerful international horror films that deserve just as much attention as those released in America and the UK (others worthy of attention are Under the Shadow (2016), Knife+Heart (2018) and I Saw the Devil (2010).)
Ultimately, it’s nearly impossible to predict exactly what contemporary film horror fans will be raving about decades from now. Films that we now see as the peak of this decade’s output may end up forgotten and films that we regard as failures may be held up as the pinnacle of terror. Or, more excitingly, contemporary horror films and filmmakers that few may be talking about today might become household names in the future. The horror genre consistently comes out with films that feel fresh and original whilst incorporating the traditions and tropes of the past. The desire to scare and be scared will always be held in filmmakers and viewers alike and, as such, horror is a genre that is likely to continually innovate and evolve. Right now, horror films are breaking boundaries, whether they be cultural or aesthetic, and these films should be celebrated and embraced for doing so.