The classics, the films that work, they bring about a sense of utter dread in the viewer. When you're simply at a loss as to what the character could POSSIBLY do to stay alive. Of course, it helps if you're not Jamie Lee Curtis in 'Halloween'.
Good Freaking God! I'm pretty sure the character she plays in the 1978 original is the dumbest human being on the face of the planet. Like that scene? In the kitchen, when she's pushing on the glass-paneled door that won't budge because there's a rake propped up against it from the outside? It took her like 9 hours before she realized glass breaks when you hit it hard enough!! And then not once, but TWICE she stabs Michael Myers thinking he's dead, she's holding the butcher knife he wields ... and then she drops the knife right next to his lifeless body, walks a few feet away, and sits down with her back to him for another 22 hours! I don't know about you, but those kids she was babysitting ... they'd be fucking TOAST in my care, because I'd be hauling ass down the middle of the street, not stopping until I hit either the police station or an I-Hop; because killing lunatics is hungry business.
But, this brings me back to my original point: 'Halloween' is one of those that work. It does its job. If you're impressionable enough, you're seeing Michael Myers in every shadow imaginable after it's over. That's what makes John Carpenter a fucking master of his craft.
He invented the Halloween Series (but didn't direct any of the lesser-liked remakes). He directed the original 'Fog' movie. He did 'The Thing', 'Escape From New York' and 'Escape From L.A.', 'Christine', 'Big Trouble In Little Fucking China', and the last one I truly enjoyed, 'Village of the Damned'.
Here's the thing, though. John Carpenter hasn't made a good movie since the mid-90s (with 'Ghosts of Mars' being a particularly brutal endeavor). He hasn't made a good movie in more than a decade because he's NOT one of those horror-flick directors who takes advantage of the technology of the times. His films are almost painfully low-rent and are immediately dated as soon as they hit the screen. That's the beauty of a John Carpenter classic; it's not about the shiny, glossy, "Realness" of the film, it's about the mood and the music and the use of shadows. His movies may start off slow and mundane, but it's setting you up for that second half where you're completely engrossed in what you're witnessing.
The only film I've seen in the last ten years that's even come close to fulfilling that kind of gripping theater - aside from 'The Descent', which seamlessly blends both the creepy feeling of being lost under the surface of the earth and the current advances modern-day production affords - is 'Frailty'. And Frailty isn't even your generic, run-of-the-mill horror flick by any sense. It's creepy, though, because the characters are believable and you're put in the position of being a child with nowhere to turn while your only parental support is seeing demons and killing humans. The eldest son is in no danger himself, but he's grappling with the concept of honoring his father vs. doing what he believes to be right. In that sense, he's not being hunted - like Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween - but he's still involved in this fucked-up universe full of killing.
I dunno. There have always been the B-rated movies of yore, so it's not like the horror genre went from being super-amazing to utter crap over the course of a decade. But, it just seems like there was a higher frequency of quality horror films before movies got all technical and fast-paced. Before producers automatically assumed audiences all have A.D.D. and couldn't possibly sit longer than ten minutes without a murder, a chase, or some obnoxious soundtrack manipulating our emotions only to find out it was just a friendly jumping out from behind a curtain.