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Insidious might be the most influential horror movie of the 2010s

By Dany Roth

Horror movies have been incredible in the 2010s. There have been so many mind-blowing indie, art-house horror flicks in the last decade that no listicle could ever adequately contain them all.

Mainstream horror has been solid, too. There's been a massive focus on hauntings, ghosts, and demons this decade, and, if the box-office returns are anything to go by, people have been pretty happy with that.

And if you've been enjoying all this haunted house/object stuff we've been seeing en masse lately, you've got one man in particular to thank: James Wan.

While Wan very recently has been using his experience of directing Furious Seven to catapult himself into more comic book fare like Aquaman and the wildly underappreciated Swamp Thing, his real claim to fame remains horror movies.

In the 2000s, James Wan helped set the tone for that decade with one of the most popular torture porn franchises of all time: Saw. But elaborate puzzles that mostly (but not always) lead to the death of an unlikable protagonist were never meant to be Wan's final resting place.

In 2013, Wan kicked off another wildly popular franchise-turned-shared-universe with The Conjuring. By taking on the non-Amityville adventures of the late paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, Wan discovered a seemingly endless well of haunting stories to adapt. The Conjuring found a sequel, inspired spin-offs like Annabelle and The Nun — and it's not showing any signs of stopping.

But what a lot of people forget is that before James Wan and Patrick Wilson teamed up to take on the Warrens, they started another franchise together in 2010: Insidious.

Without Insidious, there would be no The Conjuring and no spin-offs. There would be no Sinister, maybe even no new adaptation of Stephen King's It. In fact, for better or worse, the overwhelming majority of mainstream horror in the 2010s was influenced by Wan and Insidious in particular.

So why is Insidious so special? What did it do that wasn't being done in the decade previous?

Well, the 2000s were focused on certain things. Torture porn like Saw. Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Wrong Turn all tick similar boxes, and all became storied franchises. Found footage also became massive. Paranormal Activity absolutely ruled that decade. Zombies, of course, were also wildly successful thanks to 2002's 28 Days Later.

But hauntings? The non-found-footage variety? Those were something horror was not finding much success with in the 2000s. In 2002, The Ring, an adaptation of a Japanese horror film, found success with its own offbeat VHS haunting. But what The Ring inspired was a crop of other J-horror adaptations that virtually all failed to find a foothold in the horror landscape. The Grudge, Dark Water, One Missed Call, and a host of other Ring-esque films had little to no luck becoming horror mainstays in America. Even The Ring's own sequels were considered completely off the mark.

Enter Insidious.

Insidious, I would argue, has more in common with a television series like Supernatural than it does with the J-horror adaptations of the 2000s. And the commonality is that both Supernatural and Insidious are pitched far more toward an American audience specifically.

Supernatural, especially in its first three seasons, focused on American and European folklore. Insidious is similar in that it chooses imagery that most Americans already find scary.

For as long as I can remember, Americans have had a fear of home intrusion, specifically that someone's out to take their children away. Most Americans are also some denomination of Christian, which bakes in a fear of the devil. And every kid growing up in a rural or suburban town has that one old woman on the block who's rumored to be a witch.

Insidious is a perfect-storm combination of all three of these things. It's a story about a child whose soul is kidnapped by a red-faced demon and whose family must go up against both him and a mysterious old woman who's been frightening the father character (Patrick Wilson) since he was a child. That's an unholy trinity of tried-and-true American superstitions and anxieties.

On today's episode of Every Day Horror Presents The 13 Days of Halloween podcast, the show is joined by co-hosts of the Question Box podcast Brent Black and Kate Sloan. Together, they dig into what works (the incredible Lin Shaye) and what doesn't (that infamous third act) and utilize some of their best Question Box questions to help us get inside the head of a red-faced demon and a creepy, old, ghost lady.

On tomorrow's episode, the hauntings continue. This time co-owner and creative director of Pittsburgh's Scarehouse Scott Simmons joins the show to take on the Roddy McDowall classic The Legend of Hell House.