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Horror Films That Boldly Reinvented the Genre

It Follows set the bar high for horror, putting its own stamp on the genre and steering away from creating a predictable film which runs entirely on jump scares. To celebrate the totally unexpected recent news that that a sequel entitled They Follow, was in pre-production with writer-director David Robert Mitchell and star Maika Monroe returning, Cinema Chords have compiled a list of some of the greatest game changers of the horror world.

There were some great slasher films released in the early 70s and 80s; Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday 13th all helped set a new trend in horror. Arguably, this began way back in 1960 with Psycho, but it was Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre which marked the true beginning of the dead teen movie and its huge popularity. Embracing many tropes that are now associated with slasher films, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre saw the infamous cult icon Leatherface stalk his young prey and slaughter them in horrific ways, until we are left with the usual final girl. The film is a master-class in building tension, suspense and delivering heart-pounding shocks that are still effective to this very day. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was a truly frightening horror game-changer which contrasted extreme violence and frights, against a backdrop of wonderfully charred cinematography.


Released in 1996 and soon after the 1970-80s’ peak of the slasher flick, was Wes Craven’s stab at the genre, Scream. Scream was a game changer because of its postmodern, self-aware attitude towards horror. Craven knew exactly what he was doing when he had his characters consciously analysing and breaking down the mechanics of the horror film. Thanks to film franchises like Halloween and Friday 13th, audiences began to have expectations when they settled down to watch the latest lot of teens get butchered and they were usually correct. Audience desensitisation became a problem and slasher films were becoming far too predictable. Fear not, slasher fans because Scream would save the day as it put a refreshing twist on the formula. Its surprising and reflexive antics, brought a brand new and refreshing take on a genre that was in danger of losing its shock value.


Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s collaboration in The Cabin in the Woods was a triumph for horror and cinema as a whole. The film managed to successfully manipulate the typical conventions associated with the genre, presenting something fresh, exciting and surprising for horror fans. Cabin’s level of self-reflexivity and awareness of the audience watching, shone a whole new light on the ideas touched upon in many theories of postmodernism. The literal construction of horror was broken down, scrambled and thrown back in the face of the audience as we told we weren’t the only ones watching. Taking what Scream did back in the 90s and cranking it up to 1000, Cabin changed the way we would view horror tropes, forever. Dramatic, but true.


Way back in 1998 a terrifying Japanese tale called Ringu came to our screens. In a similar fashion to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome and Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist it warned about the literal horror of film and technology. The story centred on a cursed videotape that brought death to those that watched it; death in the form of a long-haired girl crawling out your television set. Very unnerving stuff. Ringu was a game changer, because it triggered an onslaught of America re-imaginings of Asian terror tales. Ringu became The Ring and a sequel soon followed, then we had The Grudge trilogy, Dark Water, The Eye and many more. The beginning of the millennium was a dark era for American horror with remakes arguably ruling the roost and originality at a significantly low point. Most did well at the box office; The Ring grossed an impressive $249 million worldwide in the end, but they were arguably not quite as good as the Asian original material. Nonetheless, drawing attention to the Asian horror industry was a positive and it soon emerged as one of the greatest sources for truly spooky and creative horror.


If you weren’t engrossed in the supernatural happenings in Ringu and co. then maybe what Saw had to offer was more up your street. James Wan’s serial killer, psychological thriller Saw hit the ground running for the torture porn boom in the early 2000s. It may have had moments of extreme violence and gore, but Saw was far more than your typical torture film. It found a balance between shocking violence and intelligent storytelling, but managed to pave the way for films like Hostel, Wrong Turn and lesser-known torture flicks like Grotesque. Saw was praised for its original concept, high level of suspense and overall unpredictability, which arguably is missing from many of the films that attempted to imitate it. There are few films that can claim to have an ending as shocking or smart as Saw; it hits hard and the blistering soundtrack that accompanies it elevates the horror to even higher heights.


The beginnings of the found-footage genre seem like a distant memory, but it all began with 1999’s The Blair Witch Project. There were films that adopted a similar style before, particularly Cannibal Holocaust, but the latter was a game-changer for an entirely different reason. Real life animal killings, anyone? Blair Witch is usually the first found-footage film to spring to mind when thinking about where it all began; it was a massive hit and grossed phenomenally well at the box office on a meagre budget. It presented a whole new type of fear as it pushed realism to its limit, giving us a terrifying and unforgettable experience. Not only that, but Blair Witch had a remarkable, game-changing marketing campaign and was the first film to create a truly immersive experience as it tried to sell itself. Its “missing presumed dead” cast and low-budget trailers got the fear bubbling before the film even started; a fantastic and original idea that was probably more successful than expected. Paranormal Activity may have all the sequels, but it has a lot to thank The Blair Witch Project for.


So, what did we miss? Anything more recent that you think redefined the genre? Let us know in the comments box below or over on X or Instagram.


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