“THE LIGHTS ARE OFF, BUT THERE’S NO ONE HOME”- THE RISE AND DECLINE IN THE QUALITY OF HORROR CINEMA IN RECENT DECADES – PART 2

  • HOME INVASION SLASHER

The second sub-genre which will be considered is the Home Invasion Thriller. What I have done here is combined two prominent genres of horror cinema. The slasher film originated with the arrival of features such as George Archainbauld’s Thirteen Women in 1932 and Jacques Tourneur’s The Leopard Man in 1943. Both films focused on the premise of an unknown killer committing his crimes in total darkness and a group of young adolescents banding together to take out the killer. The classic example of a slasher film is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1961 feature Psycho. Everyone who saw this film remembers its infamous shower scene in which the woman who we first believed to be the film’s protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is eviscerated by a knife-wielding Norma Bates, at least that’s what we first assume. Our initial reaction upon watching this sequence is that it is visceral and gruesome but it was as a matter of fact, revolutionary to the development of cinema. A majority of film’s distributed by top studios such as Paramount Pictures before the 1960s had strict limitations with regards to what should be displayed on the screen. Absolutely no violence, no nudity and any graphic content whatsoever was to be portrayed on the big screen according to the top dogs in charge.

 

Psycho changed this by showing that cinema wasn’t just a method of escapism and something which could provide a positive outcome for most of life’s problems. It proved that cinema could be dark and was capable of confronting warped and upsetting issues right in the face. As the years progressed film’s such as HalloweenThe Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street continued the trend of the homicidal maniac committing acts of violence but with a twist: the killer was seeking revenge for something that happened in his past. By giving personality to the killer it did two things: it gave a legitimate reason for the psychopath’s inhuman acts and at the same time it removed the mystery and unpredictability of the killer’s actions. This was demonstrated in the Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre prequels/sequels which uncovered the backstory of these killers. A good majority of them were negatively received by critics upon their initial release as they literally gave away all of their tricks, taking away the mystery element mentioned earlier on. A good magician should never reveal their tricks.

 

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Hitchcock’s renowned shower scene in his 1960 classic Psycho

 

This brings me to another genre that is worth discussion: the home-invasion thriller. The popularity of this subgenre was due to the reflection of the sense that the outside world was more dangerous and unpredictable than one could have possibly imagined. The home, being a symbol of safety and security, was now penetrated by an outside force and the protagonist had to find a way to overcome this threat and restore the order to their home. This genre has also welcomed the sub-genre of the Slasher as the intruders are often masked assailants looking to cause terror. Examples of this genre include Funny Games, in which a family are looking to spend a nice quiet weekend in their lake house before two strange individuals welcome themselves into their home, You’re Next, which focuses on the interruption of a family reunion by masked thugs and The Strangers, which focuses on a couple who are looking to restore the spark in their marriage by retreating to a holiday home. As mentioned above, all of the environments in these films are familiar but it is the safety and familiarity that are disrupted through the arrival of the outside figures.

 

However, there have been alterations made to this genre which can be seen in particular with the release of a 2016 home invasion horror titled Don’t Breathe directed by Fede Alvarez who was known for his reboot of the cult classic Evil Dead back in 2013. The film focuses on three teens who are stuck financially and need some form of income. They resort to breaking into people’s homes and stealing money and one night when they break into what seems like the easiest break in they have ever taken part in, by robbing a blind senile veteran played by Stephen Lang, it turns out that they couldn’t have been more wrong. Lang’s character is ruthless well-equipped and will stop at nothing to make sure these teens don’t leave with both his money or their lives. The alteration made here is that the ones breaking into the home are the ones we are rooting for and the homeowner is now the threatening presence. Alvarez brilliantly spins the genre on its head and provides non-stop tension throughout. While the threat of a supernatural force can be threatening, there is something far more terrifying about a common everyday individual becoming capable of causing so much terror that is far more frightening than any boogeyman or spirit jumping out at someone. However, it’s not all doom and gloom, as it is often the case that horror can be just as funny as a comedy. Sean Moriarty

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