From M3GAN To Cocaine Bear, Camp Horror Is Back, And Here’s Why I’m Loving The Movie Trend

M3gan and Cocaine Bear
(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

M3GANs and Cocaine Bears, oh my! I see what you did there, Hollywood; camp horror is back! 2023 is just getting started, but I’ve sensed the movie trend beginning to reemerge into the mainstream. Horror movies are fun again! That’s not to say I didn’t have a blast getting absolutely terrified while watching recent horror movies like X or Smile, but I also love the unique experience of seeing a scary movie that is ridiculous and knows it, you know? 

Whether you do or don’t, I want to talk about the homecoming of campy horror movies, and no, I’m not talking about Crystal Lake, even though that’s coming back too! Let’s talk about it. 

Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show

(Image credit: Disney / Fox)

What Makes A Movie ‘Camp’?

First of all, if you’re not familiar with ‘camp,’ I’ll get you up to speed. Camp is a term that often is used to describe movies that are outrageous, corny, overly dramatic, theatrical and ironically entertaining. Think The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Show Girls, Barbarella and Death Becomes Her. Before the term became a descriptor for movies, it actually got its start in 1800s England in reference to the queer community, and has long been a term very much tied to LGBTQ+ culture when it comes to movies as well. 

Regarding ‘camp’ in horror movies, that has a long history as well. From the original Evil Dead movies and many of the Chucky movies to other classics, like Leprechaun, The Blob, Gremlins and Killer Klowns From Outer Space, so many movies from the genre have leaned into the ridiculous in the past to communicate scary premises. I think camp horror works so well because scary movies bring down your defenses with their gory and twisted concepts. Why not get us to laugh in the meantime or see something really outrageous? 

Camp doesn’t take itself too seriously, which makes for a really good foil to the often dark themes of a horror movie. Oftentimes these movies have stood the test of time. Take Jennifer’s Body. That was not a hit when it came out, but now it’s a camp classic! And while a lot of camp movies have the tendency to be labeled as movies so bad they are good, I do think camp can be truly good at the same time! 

M3GAN preparing for her next kill in M3GAN

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

The Movies Leading The Return Of The Sub-Genre

Over the past few years, we’ve certainly seen a resurgence in horror, with social thrillers like Get Out and It Follows leading the pack, along with movies like Hereditary and A Quiet Place additionally pushing the genre forward as of late. When it comes to the horror heavy-hitters that have really led horror to a place of incredible success at the moment, it’s all about what the movie is “saying” and how cleverly it’s using the devices of the genre to move along its terrifying plotline. However, now I think the horror resurgence is shifting, and the return of camp seems to be a major trend that’s just starting to strike. 

I feel like there have been so many pitch black concepts come out over the years that Hollywood is starting to move in the other direction to the ridiculous. Before this year, there were musings of it here and there. 2019’s Ma or 2020’s Malignant are a couple of examples that come to mind that were early signals of camp horror being made by mainstream Hollywood and finding audiences. I’d even count last year’s Barbarian within the subgenre. 

I find it interesting that Universal Pictures in particular is taking chances on new camp horror movies, like M3GAN, which did really well at the box office, making $171 million worldwide. Then there's Cocaine Bear, which exceeded projections with a $23 million domestic opening weekend recently. The trend doesn’t look like it’s slowing down either between upcoming horror movies such as Nicolas Cage playing Dracula for Renfield or this summer’s The Blackening. There are plenty of horror comedies on the way that very well might lean into the camp of it all, with the option to now watch Cocaine Bear on streaming service Peacock.

The bear from Cocaine Bear

(Image credit: Universal Pictures)

Why I’m Digging Camp Horror In 2023

Why am I rooting for camp horror? That's plain and simple: it’s fun, especially when it comes to many of us going back into the world and going out to the movies with friends and such more frequently after being in our houses so much and witnessing a lot of heavy turmoil in real life. It’s fun to laugh at and unground ourselves for a little bit with scary doll movies like M3GAN and straight-up ridiculousness like Cocaine Bear

Both movies are touching on big topics like the pitfalls or technology... or of giving bears hardcore drugs, but in both scenarios, it’s not that deep and that’s okay! There’s something inherently entertaining about the lack of pretentiousness of camp horror after so many complex concepts have gone through our eyeballs over the years. 

Georgina Campbell as Tess Marshall in Barbarian

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

Why It’s The Right Time For A Campy Horror Resurgence

Aside from camp horror really bringing people together and perhaps even saving the movie industry right next to Tom Cruise, I feel like Hollywood has been picking the bones on a lot of dead properties as of late (recently with the anti-climactic new Halloween trilogy) just to do it, and it’s about time for some wild and crazy ideas to start being thrown at the wall. M3GAN was an example of this, and it’s already getting a sequel. The horror genre has been reviving a lot of old franchises and using a ton of distressing string instruments to build tension in the more dramatic ones; it’s getting too predictable. 

Now, I’m not saying Hollywood should stop making serious, important movies – I love serious, important movies, especially in terms of the horror kind. And hey, there’s most certainly room for both types of horror movies to exist. I want to see Jordan Peele’s latest horror movie, but I also want to see M3GAN sing a rendition of “Titanium” in between killing people. Leave it to crazy original concepts to shake things up and perhaps inspire more filmmakers with their success to go ham on something weird as well. 

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

Sarah El-Mahmoud has been with CinemaBlend since 2018 after graduating from Cal State Fullerton with a degree in Journalism. In college, she was the Managing Editor of the award-winning college paper, The Daily Titan, where she specialized in writing/editing long-form features, profiles and arts & entertainment coverage, including her first run-in with movie reporting, with a phone interview with Guillermo del Toro for Best Picture winner, The Shape of Water. Now she's into covering YA television and movies, and plenty of horror. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.