The Great Debate – Horror: Old Vs. New

The debate between Horror: Old Vs. New has been raging for years in damn near every facet of our lives for years and I am sure that debate will continue for eternity. Which clothes were/are better? What technology was/is better? What food was/is better? Which architecture was/is better? Which era was the best? The list goes on and on and on. So of course, we in the society of horror enthusiasts will also debate which horror is the best. I will delve into this a bit from a few different angles to see if I can even make up my own mind on the matter.


I consider myself to be a pretty serious horror fan of all eras and decades from the classic black and white films of the 30’s and 40’s up to and including the films of today. I think that the classic black and white films are nothing short of brilliant. Those classics gave us our horror heroes such as Dracula, the Wolfman and my personal favorite, Frankenstein. Those films must have been great and were obviously influential; I mean, how many versions of Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein have we seen over the years? The number is staggering when you really sit and think about it. Film makers have been re-hashing the films, characters and ideas of that era for almost a century and I see no end to that for one very simple reason; those characters are outstanding. Lord only knows how many Frankenstein, vampire and werewolf/Wolfman movies there are out there and every single one of them exist as a direct result of those original characters from those classic movies. With all of that being said and from THAT point of view, I have to give the nod to the old classics.

evil-dead-2-behind-the-sceneWhen it comes to effects and quality of film, I don’t think that there is much debate to be had. The new stuff is simply better, folks. However, I think that this is merely a sign of the times; technology lends a hand in every aspect of our lives and that very much includes horror movies and just films in general. Films can be produced now using green screens and with characters that look amazing but aren’t even there. We live in a world today where entire settings and surroundings don’t even need to exist but look as real as looking out your window. Now, being the vintage horror fan that I am, I am passionate about blood and guts in my horror movies and I will always lean toward the practical effects heavily used in the 70’s and 80’s. I just feel like those are more believable and sincerely believe they can often look better when they are done well and by someone with the chops to pull them off; I will take Tom Savini or Greg Nicotero over a computer geek ANY day of the week. I guess the best examples of what I am trying to get across are films like District 9 and Chappie. Although these are not horror movies, they are both absolutely brilliant films by Neill Blomkamp that would have been virtually impossible without today’s technology. On a quick side note, if you haven’t seen District 9, you should be ashamed of yourself, go watch it.tumblr_mkdsreN7gz1qm60leo1_500

Now, when it comes to story-lines and characters, it is tough to say that new is better than old. When you give it a moment’s thought, it is pretty obvious why old is better than new here and that is because everything hadn’t been done before; ideas were not rehashed and turned over time and time again. When George Romero started carving his initials into our psyche, no one said “not another zombie movie;” when The Exorcist came along, there was not talk of “alright, another possession movie;” when Tobe Hooper gave us The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, nobody complained “great, another Leatherface movie.” That’s because they were all new and wonderful ideas. Now, we have hundreds of zombie, possession and slasher films. They are all their own sub-genres now. When speaking of characters, there is absolutely no thought involved in which is better; old horror has this one hands down and in spades. There is no modern day Michael Myers, Leatherface, Jason Voorhees, Freddie Krueger, or Pinhead. When your average person thinks of horror movies, there are the faces that flood their minds and the names that come across their lips and there is a very good reason for that; these are the greatest characters ever created in the world of horror cinema. They had impact on us emotionally, left their imprint on our souls and are what probably turned damn near all of us from that booming horror era into the genre fans that we are today.

jghjghgThe easiest and most obvious comparison of new vs. old would be the re-make. I can honestly say that in most cases, I am all for and a fan of the re-make. As a matter of fact, 2013’s Evil Dead remake (or re-envisioning) is in my personal all-time top 10 favorite horror movies. I enjoy seeing a fresh take using a few new ideas and modern film making technology to breathe new life into some of the all-time greats. In most cases, the originals are the better of the two based solely on them being the original thoughts and ideas of the writers and directors being portrayed on film as intended. In some cases, there is no real reason to produce a re-make at all (Martyrs being a glaring example in my mind), as the movie is either not really old or that the story really can’t be portrayed any better than that or the original. The Friday the 13th re-make combined aspects of the first three original films but really was quite a different movie. Jason looked badass and overall it was really well done. Was it better than the 1980 original? Hell no! Rob Zombie’s Halloween was pretty damn great; it was vulgar, it was violent, it provided a glimpse of the childhood backstory of the boogeyman that we have all grown to love. But, was it as good as John Carpenter’s movie? Absolutely not. There have been a few exceptions of a re-make being better than the original though (in my humble opinion of course); The Amityville Horror re-make was incredible, obviously I feel that the Evil Dead re-make was superior to the original campy Sam Rami film (sorry folks, I like horror movies to be scary/not goofy), and 2004’s Dawn of the dead was faster paced, bloodier and grittier than George Romero’s film. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed all three of these original examples, the re-makes were just better made movies.

dawn-of-the-dead-2004-truckWhen it comes to the newer horror movies in general, it is just more difficult to come up with new, different, and original ideas. This is likely why when we horror fans find a good one, it’s usually REALLY good or it’s just OK with not a whole lot of in-between. When a new idea comes along, we latch onto it like grim death and only begin to let go when that subgenre starts getting flooded. One of my personal favorite franchises of all time is the Saw series. I would consider this to be more new than old (less than 25 years old) but this is probably the only “franchise” considered new that I hold closely to my heart. Just about every other franchise that I absolutely love (Halloween, Friday the 13th, Hellraiser) would be in the old category. The Paranormal Activity franchise has a few outstanding installments, but also has a few clunkers. I would say that the strength in the new generation of horror movies are the individual stand-alone movies such as As Above So Below, Afflicted, At the Devil’s Door, Trick r Treat, and The Atticus Institute. These are just a few quick examples of what I consider to be great modern day one-off movies. Then you have the movies that have a sequel (or two) that are also modern day greats such as Hatchet, The Collector, Contracted, Wolf Creek, The Descent, and Laid to Rest.

Laid-to-Rest-laid-to-rest-14107166-1600-1280I believe that the future is bright in the world of horror cinema. But I also believe that the genre’s hey-day just might sadly be in the past. It will take a new generation of very strong, very imaginative and very twisted minds to top the likes of Edgar Allen Poe, Alfred Hitchcock, Tobe Hooper, George Romero, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Stephen King, Sean S. Cunningham and Clive Barker. To put as much of a mark on horror history as these men did is going to be a very daunting and possibly impossible task.

So, in closing I guess I would have to say that for the most part, I believe that old horror is better than new horror. The body of work and sheer impact that it had on us speaks for itself. I don’t necessarily prefer old horror over new horror or vice-versa, I just simply prefer good horror and love great horror. A few years down the road in the not too distant future, our new horror will be old and will be considered better than what the future generation considers new. We’ll be a bit older and a bit slower, but I’m sure we’ll all still be watching the genre we love; we’ll just have to read future debates such as this through our bifocals.

Keep It Scary!!!

John Ellsworth