I watched 'The Fog' yesterday--it was the original version, not the re-make, but they had a trailer for the remake included on the DVD, and it's interesting to see. Because it does seem to be a snap-shot of the way horror movies have changed for the mainstream audience.
1) Everyone's younger. Every single character in the re-make of 'The Fog' (and from the looks of the trailer, it was a pretty literal re-make) is easily ten years younger than the same character was in the original. Some are twenty or thirty years younger. It's as though you can't make a movie about anyone other than photogenic twenty-somethings anymore. (Which could be a movie idea in and of itself...a mysterious force "deleting" everyone over a certain age from history, smoothing over things and leaving a Calvin Klein-ready community in its wake?)
2) There's much less gore. OK, this isn't immediately evident from the trailer, but it is evident from the rating they put at the end of the trailer. Back in 1980, every horror movie had to have the gore and nudity amped up to R-rated levels, because the big bucks came from teenagers sneaking into R-rated movies. They wouldn't bother with a PG horror movie--too wimpy. Now, theaters enforce the ratings more stringently, and so the big bucks come from skimping on the gore just enough to get that rating down to PG-13 and getting those 13-16 year olds to see the film. Which means that there's far less scares, and far more "atmosphere" (read: far less scares, and far more long shots of dark areas with spooky music.)
3) The technical elements of film-making have improved greatly. While the original 'Fog' did have some classic B-list actors and great direction from Carpenter, the overall cinematography and special effects did betray that it was an early 80s horror film. The current 'Fog', for all of the problems listed in 1 and 2 above, does look like a more lavish, slicker production. Less money now looks nicer than more money did back then, which is a good thing for future film-makers.
So what does all this mean? That most horror movies, as we see them today, are pale and weak descendants of bloody ancestors. They give not real horror, but the pretense of horror. Audiences haven't really been shocked and scared in a long time by these imitation horror movies.
I think, though, that what hope there is comes from 3. With the costs of making a slick, lavish-looking horror film dropping, it's entirely possible that we could see a new wave of horror films that don't need to be big hits in theaters, that don't need to wimp out to cater to bored 13-year olds. They can do what they want, be as edgy as they feel like, and see the profits on DVD. (Hopefully, 'Slither' will bear me out on this when it hits DVD.)
Of course, I think the most shocking thing to people reading this blog will be finding out I care this much about horror movies. :)