In a previous post I talked about what I think makes a good horror movie. Today I want to cover what I think makes a horror movie bad. The problem is that there’s a lot more elements on that list. Sometimes I will forgive an offense if otherwise the movie is pretty solid but these days that is getting harder and harder to do. Let’s jump right in and discuss what will get a horror movie on my “shit list” pretty easily.
To start with, the one thing I hate the most is jump scares being used either far too much or in false scare attempts. Now, most people wrongly think that jump scares being in a movie at all makes it bad. I don’t see it the same way. If a jump scare is used at the right moment (and sparingly) then it can be super effective. There’s nothing wrong with this type of scare element if you use it properly. The main issue are movies like Paranormal Activity which entirely rely on jump scare noises to trick people into thinking they were scared when really nothing happened. If you are like me (and a lot of people are) then you already know the formula for a jump scare. They either no longer work on you or are rarely effective. You know they are about to happen. Everything goes super quiet for a moment, the camera pans around the room, and bam…jump scare. I assume the reason this tactic is so popular is most people aren’t like me (or they actually think this is scary instead of just a loud noise) so people mistake these movies for being good.
Then we have overuse of CGI instead of practical effects. Any movie that relies on CGI way too heavily to create a monster or horror elements is just going to be plain bad. Even if the CGI is good for the time period or era, it will age drastically and going back to rewatch it will just make it comical. There is almost no instance where CGI in horror holds up even a year after the movie is released (let alone ten or more years). Practical effects are the best way to make something look real. If possible it should only be practical. I do understand that sometimes there is a need to use CGI to clean up practical effects (hide wires and what not) but it shouldn’t really be used more than that or to touch up what was already created in a physical sense. You play with too much CGI it will look too fake and then the movie isn’t scary it’s just lame.
Unrealistic behavior or dialogue. Things where the characters split up when there’s no reason to. Things where the characters don’t call the cops but it’s already established they have a working phone. Things where some plot element is thrown away in order to facilitate a new scare or a death. If we have a movie where a character behaves in the exact opposite that is what’s natural to human nature it isn’t relatable and it takes me (and a lot of other people) out of the immersion. A great example is in the third Annabelle movie (Think it’s called Annabelle comes home or something) the girl who goes into the room of cursed objects. First she has to pass by a door that says “do not come in here” and why. Though I can believe someone might break in there anyway, I don’t believe that same person would literally touch every object in there. Especially if she also believed in the curse (which she did). The premise of that girl being in there in the first place was she believed in the supernatural. It’s then unbelievable that she’d touch every object she knew was cursed. If it was a skeptic of some sort, sure, I can buy that. Why would they take it seriously? She should have and there was no reason for her to keep going with it other than to further the plot (and facilitate 100 different pointless jump scares).
Cutting down what should have been a rated R movie into a PG-13 movie so it can make more money. I’ve seen this happen way too many times and it has killed some movies with great potential. The movie, Stay Alive, for example. Though it does have massive issues with the plot (and the fact that at the time period there really wouldn’t have been any cross platform multiplayer gaming, especially not for a beta testing game that hadn’t even been released yet) the movie also suffered from the fact that it cut out some major scenes that would have also helped to explain the plot. Why? They wanted a PG-13 rating. As ridiculous as some of the elements in that movie could be (and this includes the CGI queen they used, even though it kind of made sense because she was also a video game character) I believe had they kept a lot of those scenes in, the movie would have been better. The same goes with remakes of classic slasher flicks like Prom Night where people die but there’s no blood or all the violence happens off screen. I’m not saying there needs to be violence in a movie to make it scary but if you are remaking a slasher flick, maybe don’t cut out all the elements that made it good in the first place.
Remakes or reboots that don’t add anything to the already established canon are also terrible. The Texas Chainsaw remake that came out in 2003 or so (around then) gets a lot more hate than it deserves. Though I do love the original, a lot, I think when they remade this one (the first time and only the first time) they actually tried to do something with it. They tried to establish characters better, do the settings right, give it more of a backstory that could be held onto than the crazy acid trip that the first one was. They had the same basic story but they fleshed it out and it wasn’t a shot for shot remake. So many reboots are just that, shot for shot rehashing of the first plot (sometimes even line for line) and are only there to cash in on nostalgia dollars. They lack any sort of real effort or attempt to create anything other than a way to make money from people who thought “This movie was good the first time I’ll pay to see it again”. We need to stop doing that.
The last thing I want to touch on is overly cliche situations or tropes. Now, the thing about horror is there’s only so much you can do and cliche situations or tropes aren’t always a bad thing. It’s mostly how they are used. There are ways to be innovative and change up the status quo while using the same old tired plots and cliche elements. The Possession Of Hannah Grace really did a great job taking a typical demon possession story and turning it on its head. There were familiar elements that everyone loves to see in a movie about demonic possession but at the same time there were other elements that had never been used before. The movie was a lot better because they had a good mix of old and new tropes, not because they followed the same old tired formula.
When it comes to criticizing horror (for me) I try to stay as objective as possible. I attempt to name only elements that can be seen or are objectively and universally thought of as bad. I avoid saying that I didn’t like a horror movie because a specific actor “sucked” because I know that can be a matter of opinion. I avoid trying to say things like “X type of monster isn’t scary” because horror is subjective. There’s a lot of times where even if a movie didn’t scare me, it was still good and I can still see how it might be scary to other people. I can recognize actual elements in a movie for what they are in a factual sense with trying to avoid my own biases. Of course, with anything, this is all just opinion and everyone’s free to disagree with me. I’m sure they will once I begin my actual movie reviews because I have very unpopular opinions about which horror movies are actually good these days.