Most horror movies suck. This isn’t a result of a new phenomenon, where an over-reliance on jump scares and cheap tricks has lowered the quality of horror movies. No, this is something that has existed since the dawn of the horror genre in film.
Now, you might be saying, “There’s plenty of classic horror movies”, or “there’s been good ones all the time”. Yeah, I’m not talking about the classics. I’m talking about everything else.
Let me put it into perspective: in the entire movie medium as a whole, there is a very disproportionate level of bad movies to good ones. For every great film, there are plenty of okay or even mediocre ones that came out before it. The ratio for horror films is even worse. The horror film industry is a very prolific one, meaning that combined with the critically-acclaimed classics (some recent ones including Cloverfield, Get Out, a Quiet Place, and Hereditary) come many, many more bad horror films. And that’s just on the level of mainstream media.
The problem is, although the production value for horror films has increased exponentially (in the earliest years, most horror films were pushed to the side-lines, almost to the level of B movie films. That isn’t to say that any weren’t, however: quite a few were. The difference in levels of production value drew more attention to the really good horror films, making them classics.
The good classics were remarkably known for their story line and the emotional investment of the actors, paired with excellent and perfectly timed cinematography. Suspense was deeply intertwined with these films, causing the audience to actually be invested, even long after the further development of movie effects and realism to make films pop more. The bad ones by contrast knew they weren’t very good. They made the most out of lowered budget and “lesser” actors, becoming mindless entertainment. Even the high quality bad horror films knew they were bad, at least to some level. There was a distinction in how the bad movies presented themselves, specifically separating themselves from the good ones.
Nowadays, it’s much harder to tell. With the increase in production value all around, and the overall increase in popularity for horror films, even the bad ones take themselves seriously. They try to act like the good ones, hiding otherwise boring, similar plots under the guise of an enticing trailer. The only indication might be picking up the ridiculousness or the stupidity of the plot in the trailer, and even then sometimes they’re misleading. I’ve been tricked into seeing plenty of horror films that look promising, only to see the same story line played out. The only difference would be the positioning of the jump scares.
Another issue is, when a great horror film comes out, there are often sequels that follow. And usually with each sequel that comes out, the quality of the film gets worse (exceptions include Cloverfield). As a result, the whole series, including the first film, gets devalued.
Horror films have the unfortunate trend of having a few really good horror films within a few years, and tons of bad horror films. Although This trend is starting to shift (2018 was an unusual year for having more good horror films than bad ones), there is a long history of really bad horror movies. There’s nothing wrong with that, as rom coms also had the same trend. The difference is, there is still some creativity to horror coming back, which has kept it alive through a particular decade of flops. Rom coms and horror films had a shared decade of mediocre majority films, but rom coms, holding too much to the classic formula, fell to the background. Horror films were able to barely cling on, until recent films have fully pushed it back onto its feet. We’ll see how horror movies evolve over the next few years.