Every time two horror films are released at roughly the same moment, industry pundits start crowing about a revival of the genre. In late 2003, the signs seem more propitious: four horror movies (Wrong Turn, Darkness Falls, Undead and 28 Days Later ) congregated in Australian cinemas, hot on the heels of mainstream events such as Ghost Ship (2002) and special horror showcases in all major film festivals.
But what's happened to horror? These four offerings clock in at varying levels of inventiveness and efficiency, but all share one disturbing trait: meaninglessness. We are far from the golden era of modern horror in the '70s and '80s, when films by Wes Craven, John Carpenter, George Romero and many others used the genre as way of exploring potent personal and social metaphors.
Maybe Freud was right when he said – more or less – that sometimes a zombie is just a zombie. But current horror movies seem to be merely frittering any opportunity to do more than jolt us with the spectacle of various undead or supernatural beings swooping on their victims and hurling away the remains.
Without the deeper, more resonant levels, horror movies become video games, not true tales of terror and dread. The woeful Darkness Falls, an American production shot in Australia, is the perfect example of this lamentable trend.
Ostensibly a modern take on the Tooth Fairy legend – the treatment of which is jammed into an indifferent prologue – it runs on a single, frantic injunction issued by the traumatised, gormless hero, Kyle (Chaney Kley): "Stay in the light!"
When darkness falls, people die – and that is as far as director Jonathan Liebesman or writer Joe Harris have pondered the concept.
© Adrian Martin August 2003