Why 5 Once-Popular Horror Genres Now Just Look Ridiculous
You can tell a lot about an era by its horror movies, because the best ones always tap into whatever the culture is nervous about at the moment. Sure, there are some genres that never seem to go away, but others have popped up to yell "Boo!" at us a couple of times and then just never returned. Take a look at the weird stuff that scared the shit out your parents and grandparents, and you'll get a quick lesson in recent history. Like how ...
Evil Dogs Used To Be All The (Rabid) Rage
I have long believed that one of the laziest tricks a filmmaker can pull in a horror movie is killing the dog. We love dogs, and if you let the dog get killed by the ghost/demon/possessed ham salad, then you garner some quick sympathy and create a false sense of dread without earning it. But this trope is the exact opposite of what it used to be in the '70s and '80s, when dogs were the ones doing the killing. And you have rabies to thank for that.
In the 1970s, rabies was more terrifying than global warming, crack cocaine, exploding toilets, Ebola, and nuclear war combined. Hell, the UK had commercials not just about rabies, but about smuggling rabid dogs INTO Britain.
So clearly, everyone was shitting their pants over rabies on the daily. That's a very big part of why Cujo worked so well, and why we got stuff like The Mad Death. There was also Dogs, Devil Dog, The Pack, Play Dead, and Monster Dog, because sometimes they forgot about the rabies and just focused on mean dogs. We even got White Dog, a vicious canine movie that's about racism and is also in the Criterion Collection. It says a lot about how big this trend was that we not only got B-movies but also prestige films that you can find in the back of a Barnes & Noble.
We still have evil dog movies, but they're rarely about rabies and usually about wolves. This is likely because no one is really afraid of rabies anymore. Hell, they made an entire episode of The Office about how a modern fear of rabies is pretty foolish. When the biggest voice for a problem is Michael Scott, you know it's kind of a non-issue.
Swamp Monsters Apparently Aren't Scary When You Have Neighbors
One kind of monster I've always really enjoyed is swamp monsters. Mucky beasts that lurk in the forgotten corners of the world ready to, you know, do swampy stuff. The Creature From The Black Lagoon stands alongside famous novel adaptations like Dracula and Frankenstein in the pantheon of classic horror. B-movie archives are full of stuff like Curse Of The Swamp Creature, Strangler Of The Swamp, Creature From Black Lake, and The Alligator People.
That said, ain't no one making swamp monster movies anymore. Except for Guillermo del Toro, and that dude made it a romantic lead.
Swamp monsters very much represented a fear of the unknown for audiences back in the day, when the average person actually lived near a swamp, or muddy creek, or some wilderness in which some kind of slimy creature could be lurking about. A lifetime of Mom and Dad scolding you to steer clear of it probably made for some vivid nightmares, imagining what could be lurking out there (when Mom and Dad really just wanted to keep you away from snakes and vagrant sex predators).
These days, most of us live in the suburbs or cities. The swamp could be lousy with monsters, but what would it matter? It's no longer tapping into a primal fear. Those monsters might as well be on Mars. If a swamp beast actually showed up in a suburban neighborhood, it'd probably get hit by a Prius.
When We Learned What Radiation Does, Mutated Giants Became Ridiculous
For a short period of time, the most bizarre trend in horror was size alteration. The Amazing Colossal Man and Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman, as well as War Of The Colossal Beast and even The Incredible Shrinking Man, all represented a curious 1950s fear: that radiation was going to blow your ass up or shrink your ass down. This was huge in pop culture. The Incredible Hulk and Ant-Man both came from this time.
Fear of the Atomic Age also gave birth to Godzilla, a monster that was both made of radioactivity and a radioactive metaphor. Nowadays, though, Godzilla has been wiped of all that context. (The 2014 version explains that the awful nuclear tests in the South Pacific were attempts to kill him, so this is totally not America's fault.) Now Godzilla's just sort of always been here with his monster friends, and happens to enjoy the odd dose of radiation on weekends.
But fears of atomic gigantism grew a little stale once it became clear what radiation truly does. If you could be a ten-story human, you'd probably be much better off than what happens if you actually get exposed to massive doses of radiation. Maybe no one in the '50s had done adequate research before they set to writing films. Had they been able to watch a few episodes of Chernobyl, then they might have changed their tune. Real radiation is terrifying in a whole different way. In comparison, radioactive giants are just big assholes with questionable tastes in loincloths.
Possessed Cars Lose Their Allure If There Are Fewer Traffic Accidents
Stephen King has a real affinity for cars that want you dead. From Christine to From A Buick 8 to the classic Maximum Overdrive, he has long been afraid that a car was going to kill him or the rest of us. And he was once just thrashed by a car, so the dude WAS RIGHT.
Possessed or sinister cars had been a solid genre of film for a while. The Car, Killdozer, and The Cars That Eat People are all about pretty much the exact same thing: Your car is going to turn on you with little-to-no explanation, and now everyone is doomed. Why was Christine evil? Dunno. Why was Killdozer evil? A meteor did it. Why did the lawnmower want to eat that boy in Maximum Overdrive? An alien spaceship that literally only gets mentioned in an epilogue, showing up in text at the last second. Exposition doesn't matter when you're dealing with Death Hondas.
Audiences back in the '70s and '80s were constantly terrorized by vehicular mayhem, and that's probably because fear of cars was a legit thing. Traffic accidents peaked throughout the late '60s and into the '70s, as more and more cars were on the road with basically no safety equipment. Seat belts didn't become standard until 1968. Before that, you had to drive with a rabbit's foot on the rear view mirror, because luck was the only thing saving your ass.
With the advent of seat belts and airbags, it was a bit harder to convince anyone that death was on four wheels at every corner. Ironically, though, since cars these days have onboard computers and can drive themselves or be hacked by malevolent outside forces, they're way scarier than they were in the days when your dad's Oldsmobile was stalking you.
Tiny Gremlin Creatures Never Made It Past The Early '90s
Back in the 1980s, one of the coolest things in the history of ever was Gizmo, the adorable little Mogwai from Gremlins. Sure, there was a big chance that he might multiply and turn into an army of monsters capable of eating a whole town, but he also hummed cute songs! There was no reason anyone should have burned him alive within minutes of discovering him. Not one.
Gremlins proved to be so popular that it merited a sequel and a wave of imitators, all with similar one-word titles, as filmmakers simply looked up "gremlin" in a thesaurus and went with the first available synonym. Like, remember the Critters franchise? Those four movies were about aliens that looked like Fizzgig from The Dark Crystal eating hapless humans, and the shapeshifting bounty hunters on their trail. But my favorite of the small monster oeuvre is Ghoulies, based entirely on the fact that one of the titular ghoulies kills someone on a toilet. As a wee lad, that really struck me as the height of cinematic comedy.
But if Gremlins was Frosted Flakes, then you could find a number of store-brand "Sugar Square Cereals" in the form of knockoffs like Spookies, Munchies, Hobgoblins, and the incomprehensibly terrible Troll films. And their last major theatrical release seems to be 2011's Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark, a movie that might've signaled a return for the subgenre if it had made back its budget in the U.S.
Gremlins is still clearly the best of these films, since it was a rare one that got the comedy/horror blend right. That's super hard, because the immediate question you have upon seeing a poster for one is "Why should you be scared of being attacked by these little furball creatures that are inherently hilarious-looking?" And usually, the filmmakers don't figure out a satisfying answer.
For more, check out 4 Terrifying Psychology Lessons Behind Famous Movie Monsters - After Hours:
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