I have been a big fan of slashers and paranormal films since I was a kid. Like many cinephiles, I was exposed to the genre too early, but it helped develop my appreciation for what is good and bad about the genre. One thing that I have discovered is that I enjoy horror movies that scare me and don't spend too much time explaining why the killer is killing. 

I know I am not the only one who agrees with this idea. 

Bret Easton Ellis, who often dips into horror, continues to talk about the current state of films on his podcast, The Bret Easton Ellis Podcast. Recently, Variety sat down with Ellis to talk about his horror film history, and the conversation landed on what the future of the genre could look like.  

Ellis believes that there is one major flaw that many studio horror films today often make—they explain the horror. 

Carrie in Pigs Blood'Carrie'Credit: United Artists Releasing

“Especially in the ‘70s horror movies did not have backstories or answers to them explain the horror,” Ellis told Variety. “Why is Regan possessed by a devil in The Exorcist? We don’t know. Why does the shark cruise Amity [in Jaws]? You don’t know. Where did Carrie White get her powers? I don’t know.” 

Ellis continued: “You could go on and on with the mystery of these movies, and what made them so much more frightening was that they weren’t explained. I often find now when a horror movie goes way too far into backstory, in terms of explaining why these people do what they do, or why this monster does what it does, it really minimized the horror.” 

Ellis points out that The Texas Chain Saw Massacreis a great example of horror that doesn’t overexplain itself.

“We just do not know what that family is. We get hints of what’s happened to them, but we do not get an explanation at all as to what created Leatherface.”

There is something beautiful about horror and a screenwriter’s ability to create something terrifying out of the unknown. Every writer knows that if you explain why something is scary or show too much of the creature, then the fear of the unknown is gone. Instead, we have an explanation as to why something is scary. 

Does too much backstory kill a horror film?'The Texas Chain Saw Massacre'Credit: Bryanston Distributing Company

Ellis underlined his point even further by analyzing the highs and lows of this year’s most experimentally structured movie, Barbarian.

“I like the movie,” Ellis said. “I had a friend who liked it too, but also thought that in its third act it over-explains. It wasn’t scary for him anymore, and there was something about that thing, The Mother. It was more terrifying just [to] think that this thing is living there and goes out hunting at night.

“This friend, a filmmaker, told me that was when the movie also went off the rails for him, as it didn’t really have the courage of its convictions, meaning that the Justin Long character had to be punished somehow and that the girl had to live,” he said. “I was hoping for a slightly more pessimistic ending, because it seemed that Barbarian was heading in that way. It seemed like a kind of throwback to ‘70s horror, and I loved the outlandishness of the monster. It was not afraid to look completely silly or dumb, and that was scary and I liked that it wasn’t CGI. It was a very scary, real, tactile, analog thing.”

Ellis went on to say that the current state of horror can be overly sanitized but it still manages to have a vibrant underground that can keep subversive ideas alive and well. 

These grittier and less “elevated” horror films don’t lean on certain tropes that have become notorious in the genre. Instead, many modern horror films like Pearl, Bodies Bodies Bodies, and Sissy are focused on aesthetics and the scares. 

One movie that has been on everyone’s mind is Terrifier 2, which Ellis cited as bringing back edgy, classic horror. 

“I was complaining about the lack of really gritty, scary horror movies,” he said. “But someone was telling me, ‘You know, Bret, if you really wanna find it, you can find the most disgusting horror movies. They’re out there. You just gotta look for them. They might not be shown in the mainstream, but believe me, you can find them.'”

Do backstories kill a horror movie?'Terrifier 2'Credit: Bloody Disgusting

The mainstream world of cinema has started to turn its focus to the power of the horror genre. It is one of the few genres that bleeds into others and lends itself as a creative space for all filmmakers. While every horror movie might not be perfect, horror films can provide you with something new, exciting, and challenging. The genre has so much to offer, which is one of the many reasons I love horror. 

If you are looking to show off your skills as a filmmaker, then try to make a horror film. They are relatively inexpensive to make and allow you to show off your skills as a storyteller. Show us what matters to the story we are being told. The backstory doesn’t always matter, but you can hint at it if it pushes a character’s dynamic or relationship further. 

A great rule to live by as a screenwriter is to leave out the details that do not matter to the story being told. It can be hard to figure out what should stay and what should go, but editing the story is a part of the process. Who knows, you might have enough material that you have edited out to write your next story. 

What is your favorite horror movie that doesn’t overexplain itself? Let us know in the comments below!

Source: Variety