The horror movie is an undeniable staple of the Halloween season, sitting up there with the pumpkin, the costumes and the satanic undertones. Viewers turn on films such as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” franchise, Stephen King adaptations or any recent Netflix horror movie that’s more of a jump-scare compilation than a film with a plot. Regardless of the selected title, every early fall, audiences seek out works that produce fear. There’s clearly a dedicated audience, as "The Numbers," a publication dedicated to box office figures and general film statistics, has the horror genre as the fourth most watched genre of the year.
However, despite this popularity, only six horror movies have ever been nominated for “Best Picture” at the Academy Awards.Audiences like horror movies, but they’re not very good movies, it seems. Now, being an amateur film watcher with over a dozen films logged on Letterboxd, I’m going to bravely stand tall and walk through how I would make a “Best Picture” worthy horror movie. Or, a movie destined for the infinite graveyard of bad horror flicks– be my judge.
First of all, we need a setting. “The Shining” is set in the mountains out west, “The Thing” is set in the Antarctic and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is set in Ohio– all horrifying places to find yourself alone with the supernatural. To me, a horror movie is spookier when the setting is more familiar, when it feels like it could happen here. Well, here is a college campus and that feels adequate for this picture. College campuses allow a lot of shenanigans, good, neutral and evil, and it is a place where many people come of age– that’s right, we’re Oscar-baiting.
Next, the film needs a disruption— a killer, ghost, spirit or Satan himself, like in “Rosemary’s Baby.”
The most scared I’ve ever been during a movie took place during my viewing of “Mulholland Drive,” which isn’t a horror movie. A nameless character explains his dream to a buddy, and then they live it; the dream is highlighted by a man doing something. What this man is doing isn’t clear, but he does show up on screen, and he’s just a dirty little guy who needs a shower and a place to sleep.
My disruption is a college kid, who doesn’t shower very often (if at all).
Our protagonists will be this rag-tag crew of college kids, like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” who all hail from the same dorm hallway. There’s a door at the end of the hallway that has never, ever been seen open, until- get this- the night before Halloween. The door is left open and our crew goes inside and stumbles upon a dorm decorated exactly how you think Satan would decorate a room.
The school has been alerted of this finding and tells students to be very cautious on Halloween. One of our crew members thinks it’s just a gag to scare some gullible kids. It’s not, and he’s the first to disappear. Slowly but surely, in the fashion of a “Dawn of the Dead”-esque zombie movie, more students disappear, until a sizable chunk are missing. The school issues a shelter in place order, an order our remaining three characters decide is stupid.
It turns out there’s an Ari Aster, “Midsummer” and “Hereditary” level of lore when it comes to this room. Specification is unimportant, just imagine lots of demons, curses, spells, rituals, etc. Our characters learn this lore from the school president and use it to try and escape campus. They fail, so we’re left with the administrators, who turn out to be descendants of this dorm room devil themselves. ROLL CREDITS!
In my very humble opinion, the image this brief, unimaginative outline puts in my head is better than any of Netflix’s cheap and trashy horror movies. “The Ritual” and “The Rental,” specifically. They are two bland, boring, close to cookie cutter films. The former is better, but they’re both spectacularly predictable and not very scary or gory at all. I want more terror, terror on the level of “Psycho” or “Funny Games.” If audiences want better horror, the real demons are in the executive levels of the production companies, who are scared to take the same risks that made all of the aforementioned titles so special.
Matthew Butcher is a sophomore studying English at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Matthew know by tweeting him @mattpbutcher.