From ‘Child’s Play’ to ‘Midsommar,’ the summer of horror is cold and unforgiving

From ‘Child’s Play’ to ‘Midsommar,’ the summer of horror is cold and unforgiving

They’re reaping awards and competing with blockbusters — scary movies are out for revenge.

Art by Elle Shivers

 

I used to be so patient with horror movies. I’ve had to be, in the early years of this decade when the post-Paranormal Activity landscape still favored the supernatural, giving way to the likes of The Conjuring, Insidious, and Unfriended. I preferred something more grounded, more human: psychological horror and slashers, but very few of those were getting made at the time. 

So I risked wasting my time (which, spoiler alert, I did) with the small crop of low-budget productions that did fit the bill. If it had a masked maniac and a body count, I didn’t care, I was going to check it out. Who knew, right? But to nobody’s surprise, least of all mine, most of them ended up being poorly written, poorly acted, and poorly made. I knew better, eventually.  

Well-made, major-studio horror has been hard to come by in the 2010s, sporadic and repetitive. Every year, you could count the ones worth seeing on one hand — two, if you’re lucky. Sometimes, it felt like horror as I knew it had disappeared, and I was just waiting for the other shoe to drop and I’d find it dead, like that dummy who says “I’ll be right back” in one scene only to turn up later as a corpse. 

But maybe I was wrong, and horror has just been waiting to rise from the grave all along. 

This year, we’ve gotten a buzzed-about scary movie with recognizable names attached practically every month: Escape Room, Happy Death Day 2U, Velvet Buzzsaw, Us. There are plenty more from this summer alone, spanning April to July and released within weeks or days of each other. 

There was Pet Sematary, a back-to-basics remake of the Stephen King novel that confronts the dread and bleakness that come with grief and death. It was followed by The Curse of La Llorona, which should have been a chilling adaptation of the tragic figure from Mexican folklore — if only its protagonists hadn’t inexplicably been white people.

On their heels was Brightburn, which asked the question, “What if Superman were evil?” and unfortunately answered it with, “He would be a bratty little shit whose killing sprees are essentially the result of not getting what he wants.” There’s also Ma, starring Octavia Spencer as a lonely woman who inserts herself into the lives of a group of high schoolers in increasingly troubling ways, and the third Annabelle movie, Annabelle Comes Home, set four years after the events depicted in Annabelle and The Conjuring

One that I was absolutely excited for and actually enjoyed was the Child’s Play remake with Aubrey Plaza and Brian Tyree Henry. This time, instead of a serial killer doing voodoo, Chucky’s a high-tech toy with seriously advanced AI whose safety measures are removed by a disgruntled factory worker. It’s silly, but not too silly like the sequels, but also packs more gore than its predecessor.

Finally, there’s Midsommar, filmmaker Ari Aster’s follow-up to the base-breaker that was Hereditary, where he gives new meaning to daylight horror and codifies creepy cult shenanigans for a new generation. As a director, it’s safe to say that Aster has more technique than style — he has great restraint and (very technical) ways of affecting his audience long after the credits roll. My love for horror has desensitized me to its often scarring visuals, and I always finish scary movies unfazed, but I’m shuddering as I type this just remembering what my eyes have seen. Does anyone have brain bleach? 

All this is noteworthy for a number of reasons. For starters, in cinema, the summer season is usually reserved for big-budget, surefire blockbusters, like action and superhero movies. And if not one but seven (give or take) horror movies came out during that time, one after the other, to compete with these guaranteed moneymakers, it must mean that they’re doing pretty well. Which leads me to the next reason: it proves that we’re in the middle of a horror comeback. 

 

Horror isn’t going anywhere — if anything, it’s only on the way up. 

 

It may sound too simplistic, but scary movies are experiencing a resurgence because people who are good at them are actually making them, and people on the other side are paying attention. Blumhouse, home of The Purge and Split, has been at the forefront, and for that matter, so has A24, releasing not only both Ari Aster movies but also A Ghost Story and Green Room, among others. Other major or reputable studios and production companies, it seems, are finally following suit.  

More importantly, there are filmmakers and creators whose names are quickly becoming synonymous with horror, among them the surprisingly prolific Mike Flanagan, who helmed The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix and Ouija: Origin of Evil, and Jordan Peele, whose Get Out broke barriers, and not just in terms of race. It garnered critical acclaim, and was even a major awards season contender, which is not typical for a horror movie at all. 

Horror isn’t going anywhere — if anything, it’s only on the way up. 

I’d like to think the fact that It: Chapter One made $700 million in the box office was also a major push that led to where we are now. Chapter Two is coming out next month, and the rest of the year (and beyond) is looking just as great for frightening ourselves senseless. 

Don’t get me wrong, horror movies are still not always good. But I have more to choose from now, from slashers to suspense thrillers to even B-movies, and I can’t wait to remind myself that this genre I love so much is hardly ever a waste of time. 

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