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How Modern Audiences Respond to the Classics (And What it Means for the Future)

Halloween Most outrageous deaths in the Halloween franchise - Halloween Returns

This is something that’s been weighing on my mind for a little while now. It’s hard to say exactly what kind of movie will be remembered as a classic. It’s tough to say what will happen to that reputation over time. If a film is remembered as a classic twenty years from now, will it still be remembered as such in forty? It’s almost impossible to guess these things but, nonetheless, I’m going to do my best attempt. There are plenty of things right now that will worry people when it comes to how these classic horror pictures are perceived. Oftentimes, when someone of the younger generation, my generation, sees The Exorcist for the first time they insist that they found it funny. They couldn’t take it seriously. They don’t see what the big deal is.

A few years ago, there was the erroneous Yahoo study where they got ten millennials seemingly picked at random and showed them all Halloween for the first time. And, obviously to prove Yahoo’s point, every single one of them hated it. They thought it was the cheesiest thing they had ever seen. There is definitely a backlash right now against the original Halloween and the reasons given are numerous. Most people seem to insist that it’s boring, it doesn’t work for them and it’s just not scary. There’s not anything about it that they like. Then, there are the people who insist that they would like Halloween if it weren’t for the fact that it’s so beloved by so many. If it were an underground hit that still hadn’t been discovered, then they would give it a shot.

Linda Blair as Regan McNeil in the Exorcist.

Naturally, you have people who prefer the remake. With every remake, you’re going to have those people. Like or hate the film, it is their generation’s Halloween. But it’s worth pointing out, I think, that those are maybe the least argumentative of the groups with distaste for the first movie. You like your thing and they like theirs and for the most part they tend to leave it at that. It’s very live and let live.

It’s hard to say if these reactions are just the way things are now or if they’re focused more specifically on the Internet. Obviously, the meanest, most negative comments will be the ones you’d only find online. Nobody would ever (hopefully) say those things in person. But the general consensus that people have left those older films behind does seem to be pretty prevalent.

But it doesn’t seem to be the case with the hardcore horror crowd. You see people at conventions still standing in line for Kane Hodder and Robert Englund, both guys who haven’t played their iconic roles in years. Horror fans by and large love horror, period. They want whatever they can get their hands on. It’s not so much about shunning people for not having seen something, it’s about the opportunity to open their eyes to see things they may have overlooked. And you see that all the time with people who are just starting to get into it. It’s extremely inclusive and that’s what I love so much about the genre and its fans.

Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974Sure, a lot of people may not be won over by Halloween or The Thing when shown either for the first time, but they’re probably not the kind of people that would have been won over by those movies anyway, regardless of when they were made. The casual fan base is important, of course, because it’s the widest. But the people who only take a mild interest in the genre aren’t normally the kind of people who would passionately be heralding these things as classics anyway.

The popularity of Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street as franchises was waning when I was first discovering the genre. But when I was a child, my friends and I couldn’t get enough of those characters. We were astonished when we saw them for the first time. It didn’t matter that all the sequels had already come out, that—with the notable exceptions of H20 and Bride of Chucky—none of them really had a big event movie in the latter half of that decade. We were enthralled, in part because the interest was already there. If you show your kids A Nightmare on Elm Street, they’re probably going to have a reaction, in a similar way to if you showed them Star Wars. Kids don’t care when something came out, they just want to be entertained and see interesting and unbelievable things. Because they will believe them, at least to a degree.

It’s worth mentioning how kids take to the classics because that’s really the first thing someone brings up when talking about their relationship with the genre. The majority of us got into it as kids. Nostalgia isn’t everything, certainly, but it is a key factor in how you perceive something and the relationship you have with it. Obviously, taste can’t be discredited, either. We can talk the technical aspects of the medium all day and night but when it comes down to it, some people are just attracted to different things in a movie. We all have different tastes and even when arguing about a topic like this, it’s not something that can be discredited.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 1984It’s really hard to say what’s going to happen with views on the classic films. But I think if something has lasted forty or fifty years, it’s probably going to last a lot longer than that. My very first introduction to the genre was through the Universal monsters. All of those movies were pretty old by the time I saw them, but I didn’t care. The fans are always going to love them. Our current age of streaming content may even be a help as well. Now, practically everything is available at your fingertips (legally, that is, let’s not even get into the other thing.) That leads a lot of people to see something they may not have checked out initially, just because they saw it pop up on Netflix. A lot of the people watching Hellraiser and Rosemary’s Baby on Netflix for the first time really respond to them.

So, personally, I don’t think the classics are going away. I think the characters especially will continue. More than anything, that’s what I want to happen. We talk about Jason, Freddy, Michael Myers and Leatherface as the new Dracula, Frankenstein, WolfMan and the like but I would really like to see that proven to be true. I want these franchises to continue and I’m fine with them being retold for future generations. I think, eventually, we’ll look back at Halloween and Rob Zombie’s Halloween and stack them against each other the same way people do for Frankenstein and Curse of Frankenstein. And by that point, Zombie’s remake may only be the first in a very long list.

Opinions may change over time, but thinking that some pictures are going to entirely disappear is almost discrediting those films to begin with. They didn’t become known as classics for no reason, they earned their reputation because they were the best of the best. The hardcore fan base still seems to embrace them and hopefully that’s enough. I think if we have faith in the movies we love, if we keep them alive, then they’ll remain that way. It’s always hard to say how people will perceive something in the future, and its truly impossible to guess with any accuracy, but I think in the end that features like John Carpenter’s Halloween will prove to be as unkillable as Michael Myers himself.

Michael Myers in Halloween 1978

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Written by Nat Brehmer
In addition to contributing to Wicked Horror, Nathaniel Brehmer has also written for Horror Bid, HorrorDomain, Dread Central, Bloody Disgusting, We Got This Covered, and more. He has also had fiction published in Sanitarium Magazine, Hello Horror, Bloodbond and more. He currently lives in Florida with his wife and his black cat, Poe.
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