There's always trends in horror, just like everything else in pop culture. Scary movies are shaped by our current state of mind. They're the canary in the coal mine of pop sentiment, the emotions we wear on our collective shirtsleeves.
To look at horror right now and say the trend is "vampires" or "zombies", though, is to miss the point entirely. Even though that's fairly correct, it's only correct on a purely cosmetic level. You guys know I always like to examine things a little more deeply than that, (and so do you - that's why you're here). And in both these modern cases, it's not that there are zombies or vampires that's scary, it's the relationship components within those stories that's what really frightens and even compels us. The monster is always just a tool to show us what's really scary about ourselves.
For instance, let's look at the hottest horror sensation right now, AMC's The Walking Dead. Is it scary because of zombies? Not really. Just like True Blood isn't really scary because of the vampires.
The Walking Dead is frightening because of the risk of the demise of the basic human familial relationship. What's that mean? It means that we're compelled to this show not because it portrays the apocalypse of civilization (although that's a super cool component), but rather because it portrays the potential apocalypse of the basic family unit. And that is so horrifying to us that it's almost sexy. It's such a dangerous concept that we must play with it, like a child with a handgun.
And if you look at other significant horror in the past years, you'll see a similar trend. (And don't worry - when I say significant horror, I'm not trying to be a snotty cinephile, I'm just putting a spotlight on horror that MEANS something and is trying to SAY something, and not just frighten us.)
Some other cool examples of films that horrify and move us reflect this same trend. This same fear that we're losing the family unit... that we're losing the very children we're supposed to be protecting, that we're failing completely as stewards of our own race and even the planet itself.
How important is the family unit to us as a species? It's paramount. There's a reason that incest is taboo and forbidden in every single culture in the modern world. It singlehandedly can destroy our most important cultural survival tool - the family.
You'll see this trend of fear in other important movies over the past 10 years. Danny Boyle's 28 Days Later showed us the destruction of the family in stark light and using the zombie metaphor. In 2006's Children of Men, Clive Owen struggles to protect the world's only pregnant woman in an otherwise sterile world. In 2009's The Road, Viggo Mortensen takes up the mantle of protector as he fights to keep his son alive in a dying world. The Orphanage is all about a mother protecting her child in death as in life. There's a ton more, but I'll let you go find them. It's a fun scavenger hunt.
Going back to zombie films, if you turn back the clock to the 1960's when George Romero launched them into our collective conscience, you'll see that he was documenting a societal fear of the breakdown of civilization.
But now, zombies (and other horrors), are not there to point out how we're collapsing as a society. Torture porn put the nail in the coffin on how we feel about ourselves as civilized animals. No, zombie films are now there to show us that the next thing we may lose is our family, our children and our future...
So if you want to know what scares us now, look no further than your own home. It's what we could lose, and what that means, that seems to terrify us most...
And that's pretty scary.
Gaudium Per Atrox.