A Rising Question About Classic or Modern Horror - Which Elicits Yawns Than Thrills?

Source - Blueprint

When you think of horror movies, what comes to mind? Horror films try to evoke the viewer’s worst nightmares as a form of entertainment. The ghosts, demons, murderers, and supernatural beings combined with some gore, torture, and jump-scares manipulate the audience into experiencing psychological thrills and fun. 

For a film to be included in the horror genre, it must incorporate incidents of physical violence and psychological terror. These acts of violence and terror can express themselves differently from film to film and create sub-genres within horror itself.

History of Horror Movies

In 1896 filmmaker Georges Méliès, who is best known for his 1902 film ‘A Trip to the Moon’, created what is now called the first horror film by film scholars.

Released 6 years before ‘A Trip to the Moon’ is a three-minute movie that showcased new and cutting-edge special effects, like a fake flying bat and realistic ghosts, which made it terrifying for viewers at the time. 

Though it had a plot that may not resonate with viewers now but surely spooked 19th century audiences. Thanks to Méliès’s influence, the horror genre entered what is now known as the “Golden Age of Horror” in the 1920s and 1930s. 

During this period films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), Nosferatu (1922), Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932), and the first color adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) scared audiences worldwide.

According to the New York Film Academy, this period also marked the first time in the industry that the word “horror” was used to describe the genre.

Instead of using the hallmarks of the 1920s and 30s horror film, movies like Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963), and Frenzy (1972), focused on amplifying the audience’s psychological thrill and opened doors for many classics that came out of the 1970s and ‘80s. 

Hitchcock added elements of suspense to his movies, separating him from the Golden Age of Horror in a way that deserves its own category. Thanks to Hitchcock, the plot lines of future horror films deepened, and themes became darker.

In the ‘70s and ‘80s, many horror films involved ideas of the “occult,” particularly when it came to demonic possession of homes and children. The fascination with the occult determined this period of horror films and created, according to some critics, the best period of horror ever.

Two incredible films that arguably defined horror for the rest of time came out of this period: The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976).

The Genre's Evolution

While some may feel the industry is not heading in the right direction, it is important to point out the industry will always be progressive. Meaning, contemporary horror films will always be scarier than classic ones. 

Not because modern plots are better, because modern directors are more creative, or because modern actors are better. Simply because of innovation in technology and film making.

I went back and watched some classic horror films, and frankly, they didn’t hold a candle to even contemporary films that would be considered mediocre in today’s society. 

The reason is because every year a new technology comes out that can make a gory scene more graphic, a reaction more realistic, and the unknown more suspenseful–ultimately making the film scarier regardless of the plot.

The main differences between horror films today and the classics are the plot and the directing. It is these two aspects that separate the cold cut classics to modern day flops and vice versa. 

However, critics of modern day plot lines. In terms of the plot, progressing should be rather easy; stay with themes and plots that are relevant to contemporary society. For the most part the horror industry has followed this basic rule. 

For example, the notion of the living dead has transformed from a spiritual sense of zombies being raised from the dead to a more scientific sense where men become zombie-like through some sort of viral disease. 

This type of transition in plot lines is progressive and more frightening than the traditional zombie because science plays a more influential role on society today than a few decades ago. 

The Transition - What’s New?

Terrifying people through stories? It’s been a pastime of we humans since antiquity, with a large swathe of folklore centered around things that go bump in the night (particularly supernatural goings-on, or anything related to and exploiting our innate fear of death). 

Although films produced today boast the newest technology to make the theatrical elements more lifelike and realistic to their audiences, the genre of horror predates the film industry. In fact, it’s been around for centuries. Since the genre’s conception, the horror industry has always found ways to incorporate new technology and themes.

However, as new technology develops and monsters, ghosts, and gore get more realistic on-screen, the current state of horror is widely contested amongst film critics. Although remakes and reboots are the new normal (how many Halloweens can they actually produce?).

The 2000s have seen some fantastic new films that may create a new type of horror genre as we know it. Films like The Cabin in the Woods (2012), Mama (2013), Hereditary (2018), and Us (2019) have given a new meaning to the genre and set the bar high for what’s next to come because of their more modern plot lines that reflect every-day life and society in more subtle ways, creating a bigger commentary on the intersection between horror and reality.

Classic or Modern: The Never-ending Debate

However, there still exist some modern day movies that do not live upto their thrills. One example of it includes the movie ‘Fantasy Island’ (2020). Also known as Blumhouse’s Fantasy Island is an American supernatural horror movie serving as a reimagining prequel to ABC’s 1977 television series of the same name. 

The movie when theatrically released in February 2020 generated many negative reviews from critics. You may be wondering why? For that you may read its review here.

Another movie, an Indian horror film ‘Ghost Stories’ (2020) comes with similar disappointments for people who love this genre. To know why, read its review here.

Since the movies of both times had their own pros and cons, the question remains - Is new technology enough to maintain its reputation? One may come across many such movies that may disappoint them in the same way and there always will be people supporting and opposing the arguments.

It stands to see what the horror genre has in it for us ahead and if it will continue to live up to the tradition of eliciting thrills.


While there are some critics who will always condemn new horror films as being far inferior to its predecessors, it is pretty evident to see how the horror film has progressed over the decades. 

The horror industry has to evolve with new techniques to frighten people or it would not be able to sustain itself. Just pop in an old horror classic and imagine the criticism it would get for this day and age.

Written By - Resmita Barai

Edited By - Umme-Aiman


Post a Comment