Recently, the esteemed Brian Keene wrote a short post regarding the absence of new horror icons to take the place of the old. And he’s right, really. It’s so easy to pick out the names of well-loved actors and characters from past decades, but once one approaches the year 2000 … not so much.
And, as usual with horror, I think the cultural environment had a lot to do with it.
The post-9/11 era saw a massive shift in American perspectives. This was reflected in the entertainment industry, and speculative drama fell right off a cliff. Yes, there were exceptions, but by and large, television and movies reveled in realism. I’m not talking about procedural accuracy (most police and legal shows/films take extreme liberties with the way the real world actually works), but the threats presented. Over the last decade, viewers got every flavor of terrorist, serial killer, and rapist imaginable. The villains are indeed despicable, disturbing even, but there’s something lacking.
The element of the unknown.
Every one of these “monsters” is still a person, and he can’t become anything more than that. No matter how awful the villain presented, he can be outmaneuvered, overpowered, and killed by any person more capable than himself. The only things that can set him apart as a “monster” are motivation and method. And after a point, that’s … kind of dull.
Playing with the whole “since these are human beings, this could happen to you!” aspect can’t elicit any new fear after the thousandth time it’s screamed at someone, which is probably why some of the more recent crime thrillers have been so outlandish (*coughThe Followingcough*) in their efforts to stand out.
Worse, the new millennium heralded an unprecedented period of money-grubbing unoriginality on the part of studios. The only stranger stories they seemed willing to touch were ones they believed had built-in fanbases ready to throw money at them, leading to a slew of terrible remakes of genre classics. And when so many of them flopped and/or got panned, it was easy to say, “Well, they won’t even go for the classics, anymore. Why on earth would we take a risk on something new?”
True out-there entertainment has only really been coming back in recent years (thanks in large part to the Marvel movies, which proved a little crazy can be a lot of fun), and I really hope it starts creeping into horror as well. Because when the best genre fans are offered is another serial killer off an assembly line or a half-baked remake of an old icon, it’s time to open a vein and let some fresh blood pour out.