From Paramount Pictures studio horror release Mother! breaking away from horror’s hold on the independent feature to the mass popularity of Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to the Halloween franchise, there is no escaping the appeal horror movies now have on the masses. Once an esoteric niche, now it’s a genre that everyone can enjoy. If the It memes prove nothing it’s that horror films have entered the public psyche as an acceptable form of general cinema. Indeed, the trailer for It amassed 246 million views in two days, breaking most-viewed trailer records. TV series American Horror Story, Scream, and Scream Queens also helped bring the horror genre into the mainstream. But, just how mainstream has the horror genre become? And should it make us worried of the direction it’s taking that may water down the key themes of the genre?
The End of Silent Hills
Warner Bros 2017 adaptation of Stephen King’s terrifying novel about the town of Derry and Pennywise the evil clown, It, grossed $123,403,419 in its opening weekend, which is far greater than 1999’s Blair Witch Project’s opening weekend $1,512,054 gross. What does this tell us? That horror has moved away from arthouse and independent releases and into big production houses, mass marketing campaigns, and into the zeitgeist of the many – It even has its own Buzzfeed article about the Pennywise memes! Perhaps another indication of the move towards mainstream is the abandonment of several of the big video game franchises by their developers. Silent Hills was dropped by Konami in 2015, despite getting Guillermo del Toro and Norman Reedus (Darryl on The Walking Dead) on board. Dead Space 4 was abandoned in 2013 due to poor sales of the 3rd instalment (it needed 5 million sales just to post profits). A good example of mainstream horror is the Resident Evil franchise, one of the few AAA horrors on the market. Indeed, the 7th instalment had a sales target of 10 million. But can other titles such as Agony, Scorn, and The Evil Dead 2 – more niche titles – compete with the mainstream machine? The horror genre is even creeping into online gaming, with casino games provider Betway Casino offering two horror-themed slots, Lost Vegas and Immortal Romance. This shows that the niche genre is being used for more widely accessible gameplay, bringing horror into the mainstream.
Better, Scarier Material to Come?
The horror renaissance seems to come at the right time, with many aficionados claiming that horror films weren’t as scary anymore. Some credited the marketing of the films and some cited the ways in which filmmakers valued cheap scares over actual coherent plot. But the drop in quality and interest for horror in recent years definitely looks to be abating to make way for a new and more successful era. Some claim that the darker current events of 2016-17 have inspired within us a reaction of viewing films to channel our anxieties. Watching Ice Age just won’t cut it anymore when the thought of a possible Ice Age is bandied about. Instead, channelling our real fears into ones we can better address (fears of monsters, clowns, and unkillable slashers) acts as a sufficient coping mechanism. By marrying up real-life issues with horror plots, films are becoming more mainstream and accessible. American Horror Story: Cult features the US election of 2016, an extremely polarising time, as a key plot point – allowing viewers to be scared by the cult of clowns right next to the real anxieties released following the election.
Indeed, in 2014, Australian indie flick The Babadook was met with commercial ignorance yet cult success. Flash forward to 2017 and the Babadook, the title monster character, has gained another accolade: gay icon. The monster shot from Tumblr meme to Pride figurehead down to the power of social media and viral sharing. This further shows how horror is becoming more mainstream. May 2017 saw the release of a Friday the 13th game, bringing Jason Voorhees out of retirement. The game averaged a score of 7/10 on Steam, which goes to highlight how successful horror is doing. While the renaissance is relatively new, studios and developers likely won’t waste the changing trends and we’ll hopefully see an increase in quality horror films, Netflix shows, and even video games. In fact, the entirety of horror’s golden age of the 70s-80s could be developed into a series of games.
There is no doubt that the horror genre is now more mainstream, but, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. With more money being pumped into it, the likelihood is that the quality of the horror genre will increase. With more people getting on board, it could signal for horror to even creep its way towards the Academy Awards.