Why Do We Complain About Horror?

Have you ever heard anyone complain that “family drama” has been done to death?  Whether it’s The Magnificent Ambersons, Ordinary People, or In the Bedroom, family drama has been around for a long time and accounted for a substantial amount of movies.  How about war films?  Ever heard someone say, “Oh no, not another war movie?”  How about a good detective thriller?  Political drama?  Sports movie? Even the dreaded romantic comedy, aka the “Rom-Com,” doesn’t get the complaints that it’s done to death.  Oh, people may hate them, but they don’t think there’s an overload.  But mention zombies and, oh crikey, here we go.  “Zombies? Oh, I can’t take anymore zombie movies!”  In fact, every few years it seems like we tire of a specific subgenre of horror.  The seventies gave us too many devil movies, the eighties into the nineties, too many vampire flicks, starting with Salem’s Lot on tv, moving into the comic horror of Fright Night, and culminating with Francis Ford Coppola’s romantic opera, Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Also in the eighties we got slasher films and everyone got tired of those.  But like any good horror monster, they keep coming because everyone knows, no matter how much we complain, we’ll always want more.


The problem with the more fantastical genres, like fantasy, science fiction, and horror, is that when you get one hit in them, everyone rushes to make another one just like it and, as a result, it’s not so much saturation as sameness.  When that mold is broken, even slightly, it’s usually welcomed with a sigh of relief.  Let’s go back to the zombies for a moment.  Even though there are plenty of movies prior to 1968 concerning zombies of a different form than the modern kind we’re used to, it was then that Night of the Living Dead was released and that, more than anything else, has informed the zombie genre.   The slow moving zombie, menacing the living alive, was the staple until more than three decades later when zombies became better, stronger, faster.  The Six Million Dollar Zombie was born and with that, a renewed interest in the genre.  Now the genre has success on both television and the silver screen to the point that it doesn’t even have to be about scaring anyone anymore.  Can anyone honestly say they were scared by World War Z?  And that’s not a hit against the movie, it’s that I don’t think it was ever intended to be scary.  By the time of its production, zombies had graduated from shock monsters to cogs in an international thriller plot.  And still, the complaints come.  I see them online, on movie lists, articles, facebook posts, and twitter all the time.  People constantly complaining about zombie movies.  And yet, here we are.

Okay, so I haven’t tackled the question yet.  Why do people complain so much more about the horror genre than any of the so-called straight genres, the ones that take place in the real world and employ real people, so to speak?  Here’s where we go full bore into the realm of conjecture, mine.  No, I don’t have anything to back up what I feel may be the case but I’ve never pretended my opinion on the world of cinema was ever more than that, opinion.  And it is of my considered opinion that people have a very hard time seeing past the basic premise of the horror genre itself.  For most people, a zombie is a zombie is a zombie.  But it’s not and they’re not and we’re not here to just watch the same movie over and over.  No one would expect every movie made about a family in turmoil to revolve around the death of a child, as in Ordinary People.  No one would expect every war movie to revolve around soldiers in a prison camp building a bridge for their captors.  No one would expect every sports movie to be about a little league baseball team that’s nothing but bad news.  But many people seem to think a zombie movie should never be anything more than slow moving creatures, risen from the dead, terrorizing holed up normal folk just trying to survive the night.


Horror has so much more it can do than it’s already done and will continue to explore every avenue available to it as well as regurgitate what’s most popular again and again.  But when people complain that we’re getting too much of the same thing, I don’t think many of them realize that this is what any evolving art form looks like.  It means a lot of saturation, a lot of redundancy, and a little bit of innovation capped with occasional moments of brilliance and true originality.  Those moments will then be copied and rehashed until someone else comes up with a new direction that adds one more layer to the ever evolving sub-genre at hand.  I don’t care for Dracula as a romantic lead but I’m glad it’s been tried, and many more times than once.  I prefer my vampires more monster-like but not so much they seem sub-human.  I want them like Christopher Lee in Horror of Dracula but I’m glad we have Mr. Barlow in Salem’s Lot.  And even after a century of books, television, and movies, I bet the vampire sub-genre has barely been scratched.   The great film Let the Right One In, remade as Let Me In, did things a little differently and it’s become one of my favorite vampire movies, and just one of my favorite movies period.  There’s more to come and more innovation to follow.  That also means there’s a lot of dreck and shallow rip-offs, too, but that’s a part of the deal if the genre, or any genre, is to flourish.  We can’t just let the right one in, we have to let them all in.  In the meantime, let’s not complain about that, let’s celebrate it!  To death.

18 Responses Why Do We Complain About Horror?
Posted By Andrew : October 2, 2015 2:43 pm

I agree with your post and I think that an additional component is that the sub-genres of horror are perceived as archetypal stories rather than actual genres. When people hear that a film is a war movie, they ask” “Which war or battle(s)?” and until there is a glut of depictions of one particular battle, they are all viewed as unique stories. When you hear about a vampire movie, a lot of folks ask: “How many more times can they retell Dracula?” No Dracula is simply one vampire story in the same way that the Civil War is one war.

Posted By Autist : October 2, 2015 3:41 pm

I’m not sure whether you’re claiming that these subgenres are not played out, or explaining WHY they’re played out. It’s true that every once in a blue moon somebody makes a good vampire, ghost, or zombie movie, but that doesn’t deny the fact that the vast majority of these movies are recycled, boring, and most importantly, not scary.

Posted By gregferrara : October 2, 2015 4:36 pm

Andrew, good points as always. Like I said, I think it’s hard to see past the basic premise whereas with war, as in your example, people accept that the premise encompasses many things.

Posted By gregferrara : October 2, 2015 4:37 pm

Autist, I’m claiming that they’ll never be played out as we will always have new ways of looking at them but that that will entail years of crap, too. We get mainly retreads in any genre but we don’t abandon them because that’s a part of how they develop: the retreads hit a saturation point and a new approach is finally attempted.

Posted By Tom S : October 2, 2015 4:53 pm

I think one of the great strengths and weaknesses of horror as a genre is that even a bad horror movie can make you feel sick and disgusted, emotionally, mentally, and physically- it doesn’t take much, really. They have a visceral (ha!) quality that a drama or a comedy would have to be incredibly accomplished to achieve. But because that experience is, to me at least, a profoundly negative one, I generally feel like it needs to offer me something to make that impact feel worth receiving.

For me, that has always been the more fantastical or science fictional horrors- Alien, the Shining, the Fly, even something with less of a pedigree, like Splice- there’s imagination at work there, and the movies can get a lot of thematic depth (and sheer physical beauty) into something that I can’t not pay attention to, as well as getting at a sort of dark place in the back of my mind I normally don’t have to engage much. The ultimate one there, for me, is Del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, a fantastical horror movie in which the horrors of reality (presented fairly realistically) are much more terrifying, and in which every terror feels purposeful and deliberate.

I’ve never been able to stomach what I would call the Texas Chainsaw Massacre school of horror, though- I’m not going to say that it’s not a worthwhile, even a great movie, but even the snatches of it that I’ve seen make me feel sick to my stomach, and for me there’s nothing attractive about it whatsover. Just today I was reading about an Austrian horror movie that’s just getting released here, Goodnight Movie, which- from having read the spoiler- sounds like something I am entirely ok with never watching a moment of. I have political objections to it, in that I think it furthers a narrative of mental illness as a root of violence that has been glibly forwarded far too often in real life (a problem with which the horror genre is rife) but honestly it’s just… I don’t think I can take seeing it.

Posted By Autist : October 2, 2015 5:36 pm

Is the western genre played out? They hardly make them anymore. I like westerns and would like to see more good ones made, but I don’t know that I would like to return to the good old days of the ’50s and ’60s when every other show on TV was a western. The excessive number of westerns made then seems to have practically killed the genre. Maybe that won’t happen to horror, but then again maybe it will.

Posted By Emgee : October 2, 2015 8:06 pm

Too many horror movies cater to sadistic impulses that we probably all share to a certain extent, and that either delight or disgust, according to your taste. Me, i like my horror gothic; as soon as the slashing and maiming become the main event i’m out.
The abundance of zombie movies and series proves there’s a market for them, and like any market it can reach saturation point at some stage.

Posted By Autist : October 2, 2015 9:39 pm

I’m a gothic horror movie watcher myself. I prefer spookiness and atmosphere to gratuitous gruesomeness, which I don’t find frightening at all. For me, to watch that kind of stuff would require a masochistic impulse. Of course, I’m old and grew up on the local version of “Monster Horror Chiller Theatre”.

Posted By George : October 2, 2015 11:10 pm

I advise most of the people posting comments here to avoid Eli Roth’s THE GREEN INFERNO, which I saw a few days ago. It’s full of “sadistic impulses,” “gratuitous gruesomeness,” and quite possibly will make you “sick to the stomach.”

But it’s so well made, it deserves the three stars that the reviewer at RogerEbert.com gave it.

Posted By AL : October 2, 2015 11:15 pm

Greg–LET THE RIGHT ONE IN or LET ME IN–hard to decide, huh? This Chloe Grace Moretz kid is really Something. For me, my scariest Scaries are THE HAUNTED MIRROR, IN THE PICTURE and THE CHANGELING. (add Joss Whedon’s HUSH)…AL

Posted By gregferrara : October 3, 2015 2:28 am

Like Tom, and several others, I’ve never been much into the mad slasher genre of horror or the genre in which all of the horror is simply about one form of bloodletting over another, aka, the HOSTEL movies. Oddly enough, classic Gothic, also a favorite of mine, never has much of that even as it deals with classic blood-letters, vampires for example.

Honestly, fifties and sixties Hammer movies are probably my favorite horror.

Posted By gregferrara : October 3, 2015 2:33 am

I think Westerns will always be made. Maybe not as much as in the fifties but the sixties gave us everything from THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE to THE WILD BUNCH, the seventies and beyond gave us LITTLE BIG MAN, THE SHOOTIST, THE OUTLAW JOSEY WALES, PALE RIDER, UNFORGIVEN, TOMBSTONE, 3:10 TO YUMA, ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES… and so on. And there’s so much to build on. There may never be a heyday of Westerns again but they’ll always be around.

Posted By gregferrara : October 3, 2015 2:34 am

AL, so true about those two movies. LET ME IN is one of the best American remakes of a foreign movie I’ve ever seen, actually.

Posted By shuvcat : October 3, 2015 2:42 am

I haven’t actually heard anybody complaining about horror lately. Zombie movies, maybe. Certainly vampires movies, in the years after Twilight. If anything people are complaining about all the superhero movies.

Posted By Tom S : October 3, 2015 3:18 am

I’ve heard a lot of horror fans complaining about horror, thanks to the no-effort cash in strategy of Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes company- all remakes, all the time, and very few that even attempt to bring something original to the table.

Posted By Emgee : October 3, 2015 9:36 am

Westerns maybe, but what about intelligent comedy? Sometimes i get the feeling that woody Allen was the last director that made comedies not aimed at the lowest common denominator.

Posted By Emgee : October 4, 2015 9:54 am

What about a zombie romcom? A zombie western? A zombie buddyflick? Zombies On Ice?

Posted By Autist : October 4, 2015 1:47 pm

Zombie romcoms have already been done; in fact, more than once. I’ve not heard of a zombie western, though Harrison Ford starred in “Cowboys and Aliens”, which is close enough for me. I bet that a zombie buddy movie has been done as well. Zombies on ice is probably yet to come, but just be patient. “The Skating Dead”? Of course, these are all signs of desperation in a degenerating genre.

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