It’s neither surprising nor a tragedy that the Poltergeist remake has slightly under-performed at the box office. A horror movie coming out in May against a selection of the most anticipated films of the year just isn’t good business to begin with, and it being a dreaded remake of a film that simply doesn’t need updating adds to a less than captivated potential audience. One of the unexpected knock-on effects of Poltergeist‘s box office burial, however, is that it has caused Cory Fukanaga to part ways with the upcoming adaptation of It from New Line amid concerns over the budgeting of the film against what it could make on theatrical release. While it is somewhat saddening to know that we’ll have to wait a little bit longer to see what the True Detective director would do with a film, especially a horror film, we should rejoice at the fact that Pennywise the clown has avoided the unadulterated slaughterhouse that is the remake/reboot Hollywood machine.
Poltergeist is one of an already long line of remakes of classic horror films that has yet to buck the trend of simply not being as good as its predecessor. Friday The 13th, A Nightmare On Elm St., Texas Chainsaw Massacre, House Of Wax, Day of the Dead; the list goes on and on of bona fide classics that have had their heart and soul removed in an attempt to update or re-imagine their terror. Even when it does go right, such as Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead or the recent Evil Dead, fans are split as to its merit. Purists, newbies and everyone in between ponder the cognitive dissonance of hating the need to resurrect, while also acknowledging that what came out is actually pretty good (and made by the original film-makers, as is the case for Evil Dead). But why do they keep attempting to shill these old gods to us over and over again? Because we’ve somehow avoided birthing another one for this generation.
Just this year, we’ve had It Follows and Unfriended. Two strong if somewhat flawed horror movies that have come from independent film-makers. They did well at the box office for their budgets and reviewed quite well amongst critics. Last year, we saw The Babadook, one of the best horror films of recent years and a completely independent production from Australia. These are among a growing sea of independent horror productions, which keep the spirit of the genre alive and in its truest form – which is to say rebellious, distinct and with something of a hefty analogy about our current society. What they’re all lacking, though, is a devil behind the mask. A figure to grab onto and from which to pull the concept further.
Horror, as much as it’s about scaring an audience, is also about worship, psuedo-idolatry. Characters like Freddy Kreuger and Jason Voorhees are horrifying on their own, but they also represent something as figure-heads that fans can identify and cling to. Jason is pure unrequited rage because of a dysfunctional upbringing, Freddy is childhood neglect personified, Ghostface represents the dangers of unchecked peer pressure and the anxiety of never living down past trauma – they each, throughout their given series and era, portray something to be identified with and to be followed.
They are the more focused grandchildren of the old guard of horror icons Dracula, The Mummy and the Wolfman, somewhat formless concepts given definitive shape and substance. Much like I did as a teen seeing the Saw series in cinemas as a yearly ritual, so too did fans of Scream in the ’90s, flocking to see who would be Ghostface this time, and in the ’80s for A Nightmare On Elm Street, wondering how Freddy would infect his victims’ nightmares once again. Each is a still relevant bastion of their time and a time capsule for new fans to dismantle and ponder for themselves. These idols, these gods, are timeless in a way their films wouldn’t be without them.
But this decade’s series are still iconless. The ongoing sequels for both Insidious and Paranormal Activity pick a different fodder every film, running with a bare-bones haunted space narrative, shifting from film to film with no tangible link other than cheap scares and a wobbly camera. The teenagers searching for horror outside of their laptop screens aren’t being given a representation of themselves the way we were, they’re being given a set of tropes but no ringleader to make them jump through hoops. They’re getting the circus, but no clown. The aforementioned Babadook would have been a contender, but it’s been made clear sequels are not on the table (and quite rightly, too). Sinister‘s upcoming second instalment may produce something with the child capturing Mr. Boogie, but the second one would need to turn more heads in order to do so. There’s a slight malaise surrounding mainstream horror that is only being spurred on by ignoring the obvious talent and strong work from smaller film-makers in favour of beating a horse already neatly laid to rest. We don’t need another It adaptation, we need another ‘It’.