The Future of Horror: Returning to the Past?

Throwback films are nothing new to the genre of horror, but as technology advances, it can be assumed that we will be seeing even more of these films being released in the coming years.

Future of horror -- stranger things

The ever-popular Stranger Things is an ideal example of how the genre is using throwback narratives to ignite nostalgic feelings. Whether it’s from seeing our most cherished childhood toys again or hearing the soundtrack that reminds us of our favourite horror films growing up.

It also, conveniently, allows for the protagonists to enter realms of danger that would not pose as much of a threat if they had those handy gadgets that are now almost always seem glued to our fingertips.

On the complete other end of the spectrum, there are those films that use mobile phone technology as the cause of terror. I (unfortunately) remember One Missed Call, Pulse, and Cell. This theme has to have run its course by now, right? Perhaps not.

Technology does continue to adapt and the increasing number devices available to us can create new fears of what the limit of these may be, and what unknown control and threat over our lives they may have.

Black Mirror is a great example of how the horror genre can play on the fear of what future technology might bring but, most of it at least, isn’t anything we need to be apprehensive about… yet.

During the 1990s and 2000s, horror filmmakers had to come up with creative ways to eliminate the day’s technology – mainly mobile phones – in order to continue to produce feelings of dread and isolation that is often so vital to the genre. 

The most commonly used trope that comes to my mind is sending a carload full of twenty-somethings heading off to spend the weekend in the woods. I can’t even count number of films I’ve seen that started with a group of co-eds stopping at a petrol station on their way to a desolate cabin.

This, of course, is not something that was new to the genre (the pre-mobile Pumpkinhead is one of my favourites), but it’s a way of eliminating those pesky, perhaps lifesaving, mobile phones that would undoubtedly ruin the film with their full-battery, full-bars existence.

But, how many different ways can a screenwriter explain the absence of mobile phones in a modern-day film without it getting old? We’ve had the no service issue, the dead battery, the dropped and broken, the thrown in the fish tank, the stolen by vampires, and even those clever home intruders with their handy signal scramblers.

Perhaps, in time, the retro horror film will become an overused excuse of its own. But, for now, I think it’s still one that has a lot of room for growth and development.

They don’t just serve as an easy way to get around the getting-the-kids-to-get-off-their-phones problem, however.

Not only do these throwback films allow for an explanation for true isolation, but the style and music have been highly appreciated. Many horror fans and filmmakers today are children of the 80s and 90s, and modern films that are returning to the style of those from their childhood have been widely popular.

Synth scores have been splattered around the genre recently, and that doesn’t seem to be ending any time soon. Editing and camera techniques that were widely used in the past are being brought back to make those modern films have that retro feel, imitating such greats as Carpenter and Cronenberg.

2018’s Summer of ’89 was a huge hit at last year’s FrightFest festival for directors François Simard and Anouk Whissell.

In this retro tale, we follow a group of kids who believe their neighbour is a serial killer and we join them in their summer adventures of gathering evidence against him.

This childhood sleuthing, which ultimately leads to trouble, would be a completely different tale if it was set in modern days with the technology we now have.

Besides adding to the narrative, the nostalgia of the film adds to the enjoyment – reminding many of us of our childhoods. The poster of the film even looks like a perfect combination of an R.L. Stine ‘Fear Street’ novel and, one of the most memorable books off my summer reading list, The Face on the Milk Carton.

Although now 10 years old, Ti West’s The House of the Devil serves as a great example of a film that not only uses nostalgia by the choice of soundtrack, but he implements camera techniques that were popular in the 1970s and 80s.

Future of horror: House of the devil

The film was shot on 16mm to give it that grainy look that’s so synonymous with slashers of the time, and he implements the use of the zoom – another prevalent 80s style – rather than, the now more widely used, modern-day dolly shot.

In my opinion, there will always be a place for throwback films set in the past. People that grew up in the time will appreciate the nostalgia, and those that are younger tend to romanticise the eras which they didn’t have a chance to experience.

By Jennifer Dale Apel

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