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New Horror Vs. 80s Horror

Updated on March 16, 2015


The differences between these two eras will be much easier to illustrate, so I decided that we should begin with the commonalities.

  • Directors- There are only a handful of horror directors that have really become well known by the general public. This hasn't changed over the years.
  • Sequels- The concept has been around for a very long time, but we saw a ton of horror sequels springing up in the 80s. This was especially true for the late 80s, and the trend continued into the 90s. Today, we still expect a sequel from every horror movie we see.
  • Franchises- The horror franchises of the 80's like, for example, Friday the 13th, are back in theaters as 'reboot's. As well as new franchises, like Saw.

Differences in MPAA Ratings

Today, if a horror film is going to be shown in theaters, it will most likely be edited down to a PG-13 rating. This goes for all genres now, actually. The PG-13 rating was created to be a standard for films to strive for if they wanted to appeal to both adults and teenagers. It also helped that in the 90s more adults and teens were starting to go see children's films. So, today the rating is used to guarantee the largest audience possible. Films with a PG-13 rating are now for kids, teens, adults, and possibly even seniors too. Every studio wants that for their films, so PG-13 is the most popular rating.

There were 80s horror films that were PG too, but they were in the minority at the time. That minority of PG horror was filled with kids and family horror films. They were just a tad spooky, but mainly just fun. Gremlins is a good example. It is the most popular PG rated horror film of the 80s. The movie has some scares for the kids, fun and comedy for the rest of us, and all the sci-fi horror tropes we remember from other great films. This is the biggest difference between 80s horror and horror movies today. If a film today is PG-13, it is not a family film like Gremlins, it is a serious horror film that should have been rated R.

The majority of 80s horror films were rated R. Many of them had to be cut too because they would have gotten an X rating. A few were released as an X at first, such as Evil Dead, and had subsequent cuts upon their various releases over the years. Nevertheless, without the pressure to tone down a script for a PG or PG-13 rating, the filmmakers had more room for creativity. This is why horror fans look back so fondly on films from the 80s.

The Numbers

The 80s
Rated PG or PG-13
Rated R
I took a sample of 200 films from each era. As you can see, there is an increase in PG/PG-13 rated horror films.

PG-13 horror film, The Lazarus Effect, Trailer

80s PG-13 horror movie, The Monster Squad

Differences in Scares

Because of the MPAA factor, big budget horror films have had to jump on the PG-13 bandwagon. What does that mean for horror films today? A lot less blood and gore, first of all. When you tone down on the make up and gory special effects, what else do you have to make a movie scary? Jump scares. This is the one complaint you will hear most from critiques of horror today: too many jump scares. A 'jump scare' refers to anything that happens in a sudden manner, causes the character to gasp or scream, and/or jumps out at a character from off screen, which is often accompanied by a loud sound. When this technique is used throughout a film, the audience can easily predict when they will happen next, and that predictability causes boredom.

In the R rated or unrated horror films of today, you will find all of the blood and gore you expect from horror films. As you can see from the table, there are still many R rated horror films. Many of those films decide to have an unrated version as well so they can show everything that they had to leave on the cutting room floor. In some ways, you could say they are similar to the other great horror films that came before them. There is one big difference, though...

Differences in FX

That difference is in the special effects. Anyone who has seen movies since the 80s knows that computer generated images have taken over the film industry. The horror film side of the industry is no exception to that. Although there are some lower budget horror films that rely more on practical effects, you will find more CGI blood and gore now than ever before. This is both helpful and harmful to the movies.

There are many more gory effects that can be created now which would have been ten times more difficult, or even impossible, to create with make-up and other practical effects. On the other hand, it is more obvious now that the effects are fake. In the 80s, the effects were so realistic that films were banned over concern for harm to the actors (among other factors). The art of horror and sci-fi film make-up, puppets, and props was very intricate in this era. Fans even knew the names of the top artists in the field, Rick Baker and Tom Savini, for example.

Special Effects in the 80s: Friday the 13th Part 4

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