Don’t tell any preteens, but horror films used to be more than just brutal, shocking images of blood and entrails splattered across the screen. There was once a palpable sense of fear, sometimes only suggested, in the mix as well. No one would argue that today’s horror doesn’t have the shock part down, but what about the fear?

Ever since “Scream” rejuvenated the genre more than a decade ago, barely a month passes without one or two new horror movies. How new can they really be? It’s all been done before: the torture scenes, the endless parade of disemboweling and impaling, the contrived excuses for plot intended merely as filler between the money shots of gore. Every movie is made with the same formula in mind, and sadly, as the successes continue, so will the endless rip-offs.

Shelling out $7 to sit through montages of men and women being tortured is simply ridiculous. And yet films like “Hostel” and “Saw” – not to mention their numerous sequels (“Hostel II” and “Saw IV” are coming at you later this year) – make massive amounts of money. Today’s audiences are brainwashed into thinking that this is horror, that this is true fear. When we look back at the horror of our time, you have to wonder what will be remembered. “Saw?” “Boogeyman?” Hardly the stuff of horror classics.

Ever since “Scream” brought teen horror back into the forefront with self-conscious characters who knew they were in a horror movie, the trend has been ironically to go back to the genre’s modern beginnings of “Friday the 13th”-style slasher shows. It’s as if the whole Hollywood population got together and decided on two main goals: less plot, more killing.

Ever since this rather inauspicious beginning, horror films have continued to rely on shock above substance. As today’s teen culture continues to drown in Red Bull and “World of Warcraft,” it’s clear that real fear is gone for good. If a film like “The Exorcist” was released today, reviews would probably label it tame, which in today’s paradigm means certain failure.

In the late ’90s, it seemed as if horror might have found its savior with the arrival of intelligent ghost stories like “The Sixth Sense” and “The Others,” not to mention the arrival of M. Night Shyamalan, once hailed as the second coming of Steven Spielberg. But even Shyamalan soon resorted to the “gotcha!” scares of today’s horror movies with “Signs” and “The Village” (we won’t even go into “Lady in the Water”). But the idea seemed to work, and there’s no reason it can’t be revived now. At the time, audiences began craving a different type of horror film – one that actually involves thinking. Now it’s just up to Hollywood to deliver.

The very best horror of the past, like “Psycho” and, more recently, “The Sixth Sense,” left it up to the audience to piece together much of what wasn’t being shown on screen, a tactic that can be infinitely more disturbing than graphic gore. These are the moments where our imaginations take over. Once the guts (quite literally in most cases) of the film are revealed, the true element of horror often disappears.

If the onslaught of forthcoming films – “Dead Silence” and “The Hills Have Eyes 2” to name a couple – is any indication, we’re in for a rough road ahead. Let’s return the focus to less killer, more filler. Give audiences what’s been lacking in horror movies for years: clever plot and actual scares, not just the gore. Let’s put the fun back in being scared.

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