How shocking that Retrospace would contend that horror movies were better in the 1960s - 80s than today, right? Well, for many of you this is a no-brainer, but others may need convincing. For that, I say look at each genre of horror movie and make comparisons.
I'd like to mention beforehand, that this is by no means a comprehensive comparison; it's anecdotal at best. We'll leave the in-depth comparisons to the full-time essayists. So, I'm sure to have left out some shining examples within each genre. I'm just standing on the soap box for a few minutes; feel free to take your turn atop the box in the comments section. I'd love to hear your take.
Halloween (1978), Psycho, A Nightmare on Elm Street and the early Friday the 13th films are the gold standard.
Scream was enjoyable, but it was basically a parody. The Saw films are entertaining, I guess - but they're fairly repetitive. The fun has been drained out, and so it's just set after set of methodical tortures.
Foreign horrors like Inside and I Saw the Devil are amazing films which give me hope that Hollywood will follow suit. Dare to dream.
Haunted House Films
It seems almost unfair to pit The Shining (1980) against anything but such is the superiority of vintage horror. The Amityville Horror (1979) is also a personal favorite; The Changeling, Hell Night and Poltergeist are none too shabby.
I honestly can't think of any modern day contenders. Insidious and Room 1408 were awful. Of course, some foreign films have given the vintage stuff a run for their money. Ju-On/The Grudge and Tale of Two Sisters are pretty damn horrifying.
The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby, The Omen, The Sentinel, Race with the Devil
What is there to compare them to today? The Omen remakes? The Last Exorcism? Emily Rose, The Devil's Advocate, End of Days? Please, don't waste our time.
Drag Me to Hell was a fun ride, but nothing compared to the old-school Satanic stories. The House of the Devil was amazing, but then it owes its brilliance to borrowing from the past. No contest in this genre.
Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Pet Semetary, Return of the Living Dead, Zombie 2 (1979)... need I go on?
Shaun of the Dead was fun, but it was more comedy than horror - more like Scream in that it was a parody and not the genuine article. How many good, serious zombie films have been released in the last twenty plus years that really deliver the goods? 30 Days of Night and 28 Days Later didn't do it for me.... and the Dawn of the Dead remake was entertaining, but pales in comparison to the original Romero films.
The Spanish Rec films stand up to anything this genre has to offer. I'm also a big fan of The Walking Dead, but that's a television show, so it's disqualified.
Hammer horror vs. Twilight. I won't waste any more time on this genre except to say that, once again, foreign films are perhaps the only saving grace for modern horror via Let the Right One In.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Hills Have Eyes, I Spit on Your Grave, Henry: A Portrait of a Serial Killer, Last House on the Left.... all these films fit snugly within the scope of horror, but don't quite have a genre to call their own. "Splatter film" doesn't quite fit, and "Grindhouse" is closer, but perhaps not as fitting as the "Exploitation" label.
The modern equivalents are The Devil's Rejects, High Tension and Hostel - worthy competitors, but no dice, I'm afraid.
The seventies sure had their share of duds (Grizzly, Piranha II, Ants); however, it also had the mighty Jaws which more than compensates.
We haven't seen much of this genre of late; however, Piranha 3D was refreshingly fun. Today, you have a lot of contagion films popping up, but none have been particularly scary.
Science Fiction Horror
Does anyone want to put a modern sci-fi horror film up against Alien, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Thing? Good luck with that.
It's probably not fair to make this comparison considering the genre didn't come into its own till fairly recently. Cannibal Holocaust is easily the bleakest, most intrinsically horrifying film I've ever seen. It single handedly lays waste to all the modern attempts at the genre. Faces of Death also provided a similarly nihilistic offering.
Paranormal Activity (1 and 2) may be the worst widely released horror film I've ever seen. The Blair Witch Project was a yawn, and Grave Encounters was only just a shade better. Rec1 and 2 are nothing short of amazing; but they are anomalies.
Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt, The Twilight Zone, Black Sunday, and host of Amicus releases ensure that vintage horror reigns supreme in the anthology department.
This genre nearly went extinct; fortunately, Trick R Treat came along to resuscitate it. Planet Terror/Death Proof was a blast, but probably doesn't qualify as an anthology.
I suppose I could go on, there's plenty of genres left to cover; but, I think you see my point. I certainly don't mean to say that there's no good horror movies anymore. The Ring (or Ringu) and The House of the Devil are among my favorite horror films of all time. That being said, we have a long way to go to reach the levels we once enjoyed. Here's to hoping we are on our way!