As far as cinema genres go, horror films are a perennial favorite. Audiences have always loved to be scared, and adaptations of horror fiction classics like Dracula and Frankenstein were among Hollywood’s earliest hits. Those stories have also been continually remade for each successive generation.
If you’ve never previously delved into the thrilling world of horror movies, there has never been a better time than the present. Not only are all the classics of the past still widely available, but horror cinema is experiencing an exciting resurgence. The genre continues to move forward, and some of the best horror films ever were made in the last couple of years. Plus, let’s face it: we could all do with a dose of visceral escapism round about now.
Horror helps us through tough times
Lockdowns and pandemic restrictions mean we’re all looking to fill up our free time and forget our worries, and there are few better ways of doing that than curling up with a good film – and thrillers and horror movies are among our favorites.
One reason that horror films are so popular is that they put our current situation into perspective. After all, it could be worse: you could be trapped, alone, in a shopping mall with a horde of ravenous flesh-eating zombies. We also identify with the heroes of the films, rooting for them as they continually battle against the odds, and we also take inspiration from their resilience.
Getting the blood pumping
Just escaping into a different reality for a couple of hours can make us feel good, even if that reality is a lot grimmer than ours. We’re still engaging with the power of a narrative to transport us and carry us on an exciting, emotional roller coaster.
In fact, scientific studies have shown that emotional shocks in films trigger adrenalin and endorphin rush in our bodies, releasing pleasure-giving and pain-killing chemicals into our brains. We react as though we really were in danger or pain and get all of the compensation with none of the actual sufferings. In short, horror films and thrillers will make you feel better, reaching parts of your nervous system that rom-coms just can’t touch.
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At the same time as wanting a healthy dose of escapism, we also look to films to reflect our current lives, giving us space to think about and discuss the issues affecting us. Horror films have always reflected the social concerns of the times they were made, with monsters and supernatural threats often acting as metaphors for the very real horrors of war, disease, and prejudice.
One of the big critical hits of 2020 was Host, Rob Savage’s low-budget “lockdown thriller” filmed entirely under strict pandemic restrictions. The setting was a Zoom call made by a group of friends, a situation that would never have made the best horror movies of 2019 but was perfect for 2020.
More than just a topical novelty, Host had a lot to say about how we’re all connected but still isolated and the anxieties this can create. Other 2020 films reflected this situation in less obvious ways. The Pool was a Thai film in which the protagonist was trapped in a deep, drained swimming pool with just a large and hungry crocodile for company. We’ve all been there, right?
Even before the pandemic, the last few years have seen a wave of thoughtful but still scary horror films that have explored the pressing social issues of our day. In some cases, these looked at gender and sexuality, as in The Babadook (2014) and It Follows (2015). Other films tackled racism, such as the award-winning Get Out (2017). Some of the best horror films of 2020 were helmed by women, for instance, Romola Garai’s Amulet, Josephine Decker’s Shirley, and Natalie Erika James’s Relic. Overall the genre is more diverse, creative, and relevant than ever, which is definitely a cause for celebration.
So if you’ve never really explored horror cinema before but are feeling curious, now is the time to dip in. It’s not all gore and jump scares, and the hyper-violent “torture porn” wave of the early noughties has receded, leaving the field wide open for a range of takes and stylistic experiments. From the folk horror revival to dark fantasy, feminist horror, horror-comedy, and distinctive takes on the genre from around the world, horror cinema is in rude health. There really is something for everyone: why not go down into the basement and take a look?