GETTING GRAPHIC: Setting The Trend

From zombies to creature features, are video games paving the cinematic way?

By Brandon Trush · @soitgoes__13 · April 7, 2023, 5:01 PM EDT

Trends in modern horror have ebbed and flowed through every corner of societal fears, most notably since the early 20th century with heavy hitters Dracula and Frankenstein. Film became the primary medium for mass audiences to congregate and consume genre through the 1900s, from slashers of the '70s, to psychological thrillers of the '90s and early aughts. However, as we press onward into the 21st century, the playing field of how we consume horror is rapidly expanding. We no longer need to take a trip to a movie theater to get a taste of the genre zeitgeist, as we can experience it on our flat-screen TVs, computers, and phones. It's trickier now to pinpoint where the next ripple of a big horror era originates, and naturally, we have to ask: are films no longer the trendsetter?

Zombie media during the past twenty decades is a great case study of a horror trend that has transcended film and hopped between different media formats. (Important disclaimer: I'm using the word "zombie" here loosely as an umbrella term– "infected," murderous hoards of people not in their right state of mind, any instance of your neighbors falling victim to some sort of mind-altering state that makes them want to kill you fits here.) Zombies became seminal to the genre largely due to Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead.

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The trope found its way into the limelight largely in the late '90s and early 2000s–interestingly when Capcom's golden (zombie) child franchise, Resident Evil, took the video game survival-horror sphere by storm in 1996. While films like Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later and Francis Lawrence's I Am Legend were hit zombie films in the 2000s (again, using the term zombie a bit loosely here for all you "I Am Legend's Darkseekers aren't zombies" folks). Paul W.S. Anderson's film adaptations of the Resident Evil series, with its first entry released in 2002, seemed to capture audiences' attention when it came to zombies most prevalently at the time.

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Could it be that the critical acclaim and commercial success of the Resident Evil video game series in the late '90s foretold the appetite audiences were harboring for zombie content in the 2000s and 2010s? To this day, we're still seeing this trend continue, with Naughty Dog's The Last of Us holding the top spot for most watched and talked about TV show worldwide despite its video game predecessor being released in 2013. The acclaim of The Last of Us poses an interesting question of whether audiences are still craving the remnants of zombie content from the 2010s or if the pandemic angle of its plot indicates the masses seeking out pandemic-era horror in the context of COVID-19. Regardless, it struck a chord with gamers in 2013 and now mass audiences in 2023.


The slasher genre is another example experiencing a resurgence in recent years, possibly predicated by video games. I talked before about how the surprise success of Supermassive Games' Until Dawn (2015) was an indicator of a festering desire audiences had for classic slashers. There was even more in the 2010s that prophesied the trend. Behaviour Interactive's Dead By Daylight and Gun Media's Friday the 13th: The Game revealed that there was still a market for classic horror slasher characters like Michael Myers, Ghostface, and Jason Voorhees — just in a fresh format. A few years later, 2018's Halloween and 2022's Scream both smashed at the box office, with the infamous Friday The 13th legal battle coming to a head in 2021. Not only is there an overlap of trends in horror across mediums now, but a direct cause and effect between them as well.


It's no surprise that every month there's news of a new video game to film adaptation (earlier this month, Blumhouse announced an upcoming Dead By Daylight film adaptation). Whereas film was previously the primary source of original horror content catering to the masses, video games have proven that as a medium, it holds just as much (and perhaps lately even more) ability and authority to dictate the direction the genre heads in. The question is: where do these trends in horror originate? Do they stem from global events like a pandemic? Do they cycle through pre-established tropes, from zombies to ghosts, to creatures, naturally through the passage of time?


If I had to guess the avenue that horror is creeping toward in the coming years based on video games, I have a couple of theories. Remakes, requels, and sequels seem to be a continuing trend which may stem from the capitalization on nostalgia lately–we have the upcoming Resident Evil 4 remake and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre game among 2023's most anticipated horror games, which aligns with film's most anticipated titles tapping into existing fan base for Scream VI, Evil Dead Rise, and The Nun 2.


Additionally, there seem to be big reactions lately when it comes to creature feature tropes –many folks openly thirsted over the vampire baddies of Resident Evil Village in 2021 (to the point that it became a viral meme). Werewolves are entering the limelight (moonlight?) again with hits like Supermassive Games' The Quarry and the film adaptation of Werewolves Within. My natural inclination is to pin this trend on the pandemic and the notion of a life-altering disease mirroring fears surrounding long-Covid. Perhaps it's related to the divisiveness of American society lately–particularly in politics–and the notion of "othering" groups with different beliefs. Regardless, if creature features dominate the mid-2020s, you heard it here first! And if you're trying to get ahead of horror trends, I suggest keeping an eye out on the horror video games that find success this year.