Mainstream horror films are worse than they have ever been. Although we all complained about the rise of watered down, neutered jump-scare fests in the late 2000s, the big studio offerings have somehow only gotten worse in the intervening years. There's some hidden gems to be found in there of course - last year's Unfriended and this summer's The Conjuring 2 to name a few - but the bulk of mainstream horror has hit the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the quality of acting, set-ups, and most importantly: scares.

But it's not as though studios aren't attempting to bring through new talent and make good pictures, it's just that so far these attempts to rejuvenate the genre have been god-awful. Dreck like Ouija has terrorised audiences for all the wrong reasons, while promising flicks like Lights Out - a feature adaptation of the hugely effective short film of the same name - have failed to live up to their potential. The latter is especially frustrating to see on the big screen; the mastery of framing, pacing, and lighting that made the original short so effective is still there in all its glory in the final movie - arguably even better executed - yet all that potential gets gutted by a truly terrible script.

Hitting the same tired beats that you've seen in every horror film in the past decade, the script is rife with clichés, archetypes and groan-worthy reveals that feel at odds with the innovation of the actual horror set-pieces. There's a jarring contrast between the silky smooth Hollywood puppet masters and the director's DIY leanings that makes you wish the film could have retained the raw, understated sensibility that made the original so effective. Instead though, Lights Out throws it all away for a Hollywood paint job - all sleek and shine and infinitely more studio friendly - that renders the horror vibrant and spectacular, yeah, but not something you'd take home with you. The film makes you scared of the dark, but only for the 90 minutes that it's on screen.

Fortunately though, where studio horror has floundered and declined, the popularly dubbed "arthouse horror" genre is rising to take its place. In the past few years especially, indie horror has exploded, yet it's not the same low budget, found footage fare that was so popular a few years ago. In its place a different kind of movie has been born - an approach to the genre that's more concerned with atmosphere and themes than it is about narrative or characters - providing a much-needed injection of adrenaline that's managed to make talking about these films interesting once again.

Brought to mass popularity by The Babadook a few years ago, the most inspiring and interesting things in horror right now are happening in movies that the vast majority of audiences don't care about. Between offering new takes on classic monsters (the absolutely gorgeous and haunting A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night) and taking daring approaches to naturalism and film technique (the creepily close-to-home Under The Skin), the explosion of this new sub-genre has stripped away the fat that's been bogging down its mainstream contemporaries for ages. With small budgets and even smaller scales, this alternate approach to horror isn't necessarily about being the loudest or the edgiest, but it's certainly about being the scariest.

One such film to hit screens this year, The Invitation, released to little to no fanfare on VOD and Netflix, and yet its intoxicating mix of slow-burning tension and unreliable narrators made for some of the creepiest scenes in any movie of 2016 so far. The plot itself is as small scale as you can get, featuring a handful of characters all moving through one location. Yet the sense of claustrophobia and uneasy social anxiety it creates around these mundane situations can be genuinely terrifying. There isn't a preoccupation with getting enough "trailer moments" or meeting a quota of jump scares; The Invitation takes its time, allowing the audience to fully assess the situation using what little information they have before exploding into a screeching crescendo of a climax.

It's an approach also taken this year by The Witch, a 1600s set thriller about an exiled family searching for their missing child. The film repeats the same sensibilities found in the other films mentioned previously - a distinctive visual style, slow-burning tension and narrative themes that can be read as social commentary - to mostly successful results. It's not much fun, but the cold feeling of alienation that effortlessly permeates throughout the entire film was more powerful and atmospheric than almost anything else released this year.

But while movies like these are refreshing for the moment, they are quickly becoming representative of a definable genre with its own set of conventions and clichés that will inevitably grow stale without any movies to complement or contrast against them. There shouldn't be only one way to make horror, and although this arthouse boom has brought a bit of a reprieve from the paint-by-numbers flicks lighting up multiplexes, it can't be all the genre has to offer moving forward.

Thankfully, there's been a few recent critical and commercial successes that have seemingly played by the Hollywood rulebook yet managed to implement the same winning sensibilities of the arthouse boom. This month's Don't Breathe more or less pulled off this mix as best as you could hope for, while the recently released Blair Witch also indicates a promising turning point for mainstream horror. Nevertheless, there's been anomalies like this before, and whether or not they point towards a change in trends won't be known for a while yet.

So we're at a bit of a crossroads as we move into the final moments of this year and into 2017. The independent circuit might be better than ever when it comes to producing quality horror films, but on its own and without change this new sub-genre is too limiting to remain the only alternative for long.

But that's the future's problem, and for now we can just be content in the knowledge that, although the cinema might be letting us down, there's plenty of quality horror films available right now at our fingertips - you just have to do a bit of digging to find them.