Get Out & the Horror Stepping Stones
Peele's film is transcending the Horror genre by building off of it's predecessors.
The recent success of Jordan Peele’s 2017 film, Get Out, has the Academy looking at horror films a bit differently. Taking home the gold for Best Original Screenplay and receiving nominations for Best Director and Best Picture, Get Out joins horror cornerstones, along the likes of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist (1973) and Jonathan Demme’s Silence of the Lambs (1999), as one of the few horror films to be nominated for the trifecta. Horror films have seen shifts in culture over the years, but 2018 feels different; a tone of respect for the genre is now present. The reality is, horror films are often plagued by expectation and tend to not do very well critically. However, that is changing as new auteurs are helping to redefine fear. Each era of horror has added something new to the mix and inspired the films we have today, including Get Out.
The 1980s started off with a BANG
As Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining was released in theaters, it was opening up to critical acclaim and terrified viewers nationwide. The film changed the formula for what horror films could be, combining a genius director and a huge budget to adapt a Stephen King novel. The result was one of the greatest horror films of all time helped inspire modern horror with ‘The Kubrick Zoom’ and a surreal perspective on fear. Jordan Peele mentions on the film’s DVD/Blu-ray director’s commentary that there are multiple references to The Shining sprinkled over the course of Get Out. The 1980s followed up the next ten years with some solid additions to the genre, but none as influential as The Shining.
More 1980s Horror Classics: Evil Dead (1981), The Thing (1982), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Fly (1986), Hellraiser (1987)
The 1990s weren’t exactly the pinnacle of Horror…
However, as sequels and remakes crowded the theaters, fear seeking filmmakers set out on a mission to make their mark on the genre. Jonathan Demme’s 1991 film, Silence of the Lambs, offered the concept that a horror film doesn’t have to have jump scares to be truly terrifying. Earning a tremendous amount of acclaim, winning the ‘big three’ of the Oscars (Best Director, Best Screenplay and Best Film), the film broke the genre’s mold and offered a blend of both crime thriller and horror. This genre-bending masterpiece served as inspiration for modern horror, including Get Out as Peele also mentions in the film’s commentary. Peele’s inspiration comes from the eerie sense of calm from Hannibal Lecter that is displayed in his meetings with Clarice. This tonal choice is what makes both films important to the genre, and a shift from apparent physical fear to a hiding psychological fear. The Silence of the Lambs is beloved amongst film fans, but the 90s had plenty to offer for lovers of the horror genre.
More 1990s Horror Classics: The Candyman (1992), Scream (1996), The Blair Witch Project (1999), The Sixth Sense (1999)
The 2000s is where things get a little weird…
With special FX makeup getting better and better, the genre took a gore filled detour from 2000-2010. It also detoured away from critical approval. However, the genre continued to push on and experiment with new effects that started violent franchises like Saw (2004) and Final Destination (2000). Films became increasingly violent through the 2000s, and filmmakers continued to try and top each other. This trend created the unofficial group known as ‘The Splat Pack,’ termed by film historian, Alan Jones, referring to a group of directors that made particularly violent films (Alexandre Aja, Darren Lynn Bousman, Neil Marshall, Rob Zombie, Leigh Whannell, James Wan & Greg Mclean). The decade saw horror franchises take over as crowds rushed out to see the next installment, but eventually, the market became oversaturated with gore. People became desensitized to the violence and the shock factor of an era labeled ‘gore porn,’ and horror lost the effect it once had. Audiences craved something different and wanted to break away from the physical horror into the unknown. Films like Paranormal Activity (2007) and Cloverfield (2008) were released, giving horror the personal connection and emotional draw that was forgotten once the extremes were reached.
The found footage genre may have died out for the most part, but the concept provided an insight that horror films previously lacked. To get true fear out of an audience, they must see themselves in the characters shoes, and Get Out does just that; receiving praise because of its relatable social commentary by making people feel something along with fear. The decade of 2000-2010 is an important one in horror because these films shifted the overall tone of the genre to a subtler slow burn; revealing the fear after oversaturation of violence and lack of shock to the audience. Although, without the gore era, we may not have reached the art-house era horror films are in today.
More 2000s Horror Classics: 28 Days later (2002), The Ring (2002), House of 1000 Corpses (2003), The Descent (2005)
The filmmakers are looking for fear in new places, often drawing upon some sort of social commentary. Films like Jennifer Kent’s 2014 cult hit, The Babadook, offer a perspective on grief that makes the audience emotionally connect with a mother and her son; as well as fear for what happens next. Additionally, first time director, Robert Egger, releases The Witch (2015), which also followed this pattern of thematic commentary. Bleeding with themes of mob mentality, the film is able to blend historical drama with horror seamlessly. Both films receiving critical and consumer acclaim, they act as leaders of an art-house era of horror films, breaking the mold of what an audience member expects. The technical proficiency in the camera work, the seamless writing of social themes and issues, and the lack of desire to go for the ‘cheap scare’ have all aided in the renaissance of horror films. Get Out just proved it is only the beginning. With Peele’s comedic writing ability, he was able to provide a horror film that feels real and relatable.
Using his horror stepping stones to aid his process, Peele was able to create a film that broke the barrier of the genre and reached the highest level of achievement in film. The punching social commentary combined with a surreal perspective of technical excellence (much like The Shining), makes Get Out a staple for the genre; reminding the audience that real fear often is the most relatable.
Check out Jordan Peele’s director’s commentary on Get Out here.