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FANTASTICA Presents: The Circle of Fright

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If there’s any singular philosophy that has been proven time and time again, it would be that history does indeed repeat itself. And as much as that philosophy is valid in terms of politics, social dynamics and pop culture as a whole, it’s also very true in cinema, especially in the horror genre. While nostalgia may reign supreme in the horror genre, or at least it has been for the past decade and a half, the new content on both the independent and studio level have largely been inspired by or outright pull from techniques of horror past. And with the constantly changing marketplace that has seen the rise of VOD and streaming, the genre has struggled to figure out what will be the next trend in horror, even despite a glut of imaginative independent ideas by talented filmmakers laying in development hell.

But the problem with the philosophy of history repeating itself is to understand what part of history is circling around, and how the economics of filmmaking will support or hinder this inevitable cycle. Since filmmaking has become a cheaper endeavor than ever before, built on a system of favors, no/low/deferred payments and “free time” post-production, there are more people making the effort to become a professional filmmaker than ever before, compounded with the actual proven filmmakers currently pursuing their own projects. And while someone could be a hard worker and can know the right people, and by all means should pursue their dream, they are by no means entitled to filmmaking as a full-time (or even part-time) career.

And just as much as someone might say that sentiment is discouraging, the fact is that same entitlement is what is also keeping audiences away from theaters and original cinematic content. With the rise in quality (and quantity) of entertainment on television, streaming networks and VOD, audiences think that by paying $9 a month to stream a seemingly unlimited number of films and series, it’s no longer considered a “bargain”; it’s considered an industry standard. And while VOD is saving patrons the painstaking costs of bloated movie tickets, concession prices and discourteous theatre-goers, these patrons still don’t want to pay $9 for a single movie when they can use the same exact technology to watch an entire TV season on a streaming service or flat-out pirate it on torrent sites. And for those of us who champion the cinematic experience and are willing to pay for that experience, we’re unfortunately in the minority, which is forcing budgets across the board to go down.

But even in spite of the entitlement of myriad filmmakers and film fans, history is destined to repeat itself, and has the determination of time on its side. While some people looked at passing fads like “found footage”, “J-horror” and “torture porn” as new content, they more-or-less provided a new framework and perspective to familiar properties. After all, how many found footage tales truly broke new ground in terms of content instead of using a first-person POV for the exorcism, possession, vampire, Frankenstein, killer mutants or ghost subgenres? Hell, even horror on TV is mostly offering a new face on an old fear: THE WALKING DEAD recalibrated the zombie apocalypse, HANNIBAL has added a flamboyant and nightmarish elegance to the Lecter mythos, PENNY DREADFUL is world building based on the classic monsters of literature and cinema, etc.

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So, the “Circle of Fright”, as I have punningly dubbed it, continues to spin, waiting for the next genre to replace the ever-popular ghost story genre that has so effectively wreaked havoc on both casual and hardcore horror fans. James Wan certainly played an instrumental part in bringing it to the forefront, using his career comeback in INSIDIOUS to pave the way for box office behemoths THE CONJURING, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 2 and ANNABELLE. But the subgenre itself has the perfect elements to haunt the Youtube generation: marketable and consumable jump scares, unsettling imagery and a sense of voyeurism where you’ll be a little more careful to walk around your home at night. And by the looks of it, 2015 will have much more ghost fare to offer, with UNFRIENDED, POLTERGEIST, INSIDIOUS: CHAPTER 3, CRIMSON PEAK, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION, SINISTER 2 and BEFORE I WAKE getting wide releases later this year, not to mention the many more on the independent level.

However, like most horror booms, the haunting genre could be on its way out, especially if fright fans feel ghost story fatigue by the time Halloween rolls around. Despite a strong marketing campaign (having seen the trailer cause many audiences to jump firsthand), THE WOMAN IN BLACK 2 sunk after it’s decent debut and faded away to the back of the genre’s mind. And while the ghost story can help reshape established properties (as suggested in my FRIDAY THE 13TH Deaditorial in February), the divide between hardcore horror fans who avoid PG-13 studio output (such as OUIJA) and casual horror fans who avoid VOD is growing, which makes it only a matter a time before the top dog of the genre is dethroned for its successor.

And to be frank, I believe that the punctuation mark on the haunting subgenre is happening right before our eyes, as the potential crossover success of IT FOLLOWS might be clearing the way for something else to take the reigns of horror. Make no mistake, IT FOLLOWS does have the construct of a haunting film and well as some undeniable ghost imagery, but the film also contains similarities to monster movies and slasher movie concepts. After all, how often does a haunting film leave the house or follow someone out into the open, especially one that offers such faceless brutality as IT FOLLOWS? If IT FOLLOWS’ success is to a guiding light for upcoming studio horror to take notes from, chances are that 2016 will see the horror genre… well, give up the ghost.

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One part of this writer thinks that the time is right for monster movies to stage their epic comeback, drawing off the “boogeyman” aspect of IT FOLLOWS as well as the zeitgeist that not only allowed success for Scream Factory’s NIGHTBREED: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT but also Adam Green’s DIGGING UP THE MARROW and Gareth Evans’ GODZILLA. Horror fans want to see scary, new creations to root for and possibly iconize, while casual fright fans are looking for horror that’s relevant to their specific interests, and if the right filmmaker can come along with a contemporary spin on the tropes, the monster movie could have a SCREAM-like revival in the wings. There is a chance that the upcoming VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN might be the pre-emptive step in propelling the monster movie back into the spotlight, as well as Michael Dougherty’s KRAMPUS, but we’ll have to wait until nearly Halloween until we know for sure.

However, another part of this writer thinks that we might be in for another slasher revival, even if almost every angle of the genre has been pulled within the last three decades. With the slasher mentality that makes the premise of IT FOLLOWS all the more effective, as well as the upcoming next installations of FRIDAY THE 13TH and HALLOWEEN, chances are that the slasher genre could conceivably make a comeback, pending the arrival of the proper conceits. But that also depends on the availability of the proper filmmakers, as most excellent, up-and-coming horror directors have yet to show any explicit interest in a slasher property, outside of Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, and even he looks to be possibly transitioning from beyond his genre interests. And some of the biggest established names in the business are either nearing retirement, headed to episodic television or limited to anthology films, which have resurged in the name of low costs and high interest from streaming audiences.

And then there’s also the chance that I’m dead wrong and that the ghost story revival will hang on for a little while longer after 2015. After all, one of the genre’s highest marks coming out of SXSW was Ted Geoghegan’s WE ARE STILL HERE, which many are speculating might rejuvenate horror audiences who might be jaded with the onslaught of recent horrors. And for all the love that demons, witches, monsters, vampires and zombies get on the small screen, perhaps the ghost stories may seem like a reprieve on the big screen thanks to their jump-scare friendly and low budget origins. But, as with any subgenre, with repetition comes the need for ambition, and once people get scared of pale faces with dark eyes and mouths screaming into a camera, it’ll be a free-for-all as to which proven subgenre from horror history will take the top spot, at least until its time runs out again atop the Circle of Fright.

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About the author
Ken W. Hanley

Ken W. Hanley is the Managing Web Editor for FANGORIA and STARLOG, as well as the former Web Editor for Diabolique Magazine and a contributing writer to YouWonCannes.com. He’s a graduate from Montclair State University, where he received an award for Excellence in Screenwriting. He’s currently working on screenplays, his debut novel “THE I IN EVIL”, and various other projects, and can be followed on Twitter: @movieguyiguess.

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