What is it about horror films that scares us? It could be a number of things, or it could just be one element of the film. Whether or not you will admit to it, there will have been a film that has made you feel uncomfortable whilst you have been watching it. It could be the dialogue, the characters, the setting, the effects or the story line. While some films will scare certain people, others will not be so terrified by them. The tone of the film and what is in it is what determines who will get scared by it. I think that there are at least 5 different categories in horror and everyone falls in to one of them. Whether you like it or not, there is one film out there that will have had the hairs on the back of your neck stand up as the cold chills ride themselves up your spine.
We have all been there, you have just sit down to watch a horror film and as you begin to get into the story and know the characters there comes a loud bang and the appearance of the antagonist; which is usually followed by your arms flailing in the air and your vocal chords letting out a loud, screeching yelping noise. You have just been the victim of a jump scare. They are one of the oldest types of scares from horror films and generally are given when the antagonist, another character or an animal jumps out onto the protagonists. However after so many horror films have used them through the years, the building music followed by total silence and then a big bang has become a cliché. Therefore they have lost some of the ‘oompf’ which used to terrify audiences.
Example: The Descent
This aspect of horror films has been constantly getting improved on throughout the years (unless they decide to use CGI) which means bad news for anyone who is squeamish around the sight of blood, disembowelment or limbs being pulled apart. Apart from affecting the squeamish, gory films may also be so effective because if is done well it can make the film and the scenes which are depicted so much more realistic to the viewer. Sometimes gore can improve a film when the plot is lacking a bit; the make-up effects can keep you gripped throughout. For example with the 1979 film Zombie Flesh Eaters, it is an iconic film in the horror genre; not so much for the story as it is for its exceptional make-up work on its characters. I have seen a lot of gory horror films in my time, but the effects still astonish me, and on more than one occasion have made me clench my teeth together and make a disgusted face.
This is one of my favourite elements of horror films. It is great when you see a film that just sets the tone of the plot so well, that it can have you shaking just from listening to the dialogue of the characters. Like the imagination element creepiness is used best when not much of the antagonist is seen on camera, but just snippets or the feeling that an evil force is lurking nearby. What is great about the creepy aspect is that film makers can use nearly every part of their movie to give you that creepy feeling. Diegetic/non-diegetic sounds, lighting, settings and even silence can be used to immerse the audience into that state of them being in danger from a deadly presence. A great example of this is M. Night. Shyamalan’s Signs. In this personal favourite of mine Shyamalan uses all of these aspects to give a creepy notion throughout the entire film. Although you could argue that it was slightly ruined with the CGI ending, there is no doubt that you constantly feel as though the characters are being watched, something which is rubbed off onto the audience.
Our Own Fears
Probably the most obvious element of a horror film scaring a viewer is if they watch one that uses something they are scared of in their daily lives. For example with me it would be aliens and therefore The Fourth Kind brought the heebie jeebies to the surface. Other examples could include REC for a fear of disease, It for a fear of clowns, Ju-On: The Grudge for a fear of ghosts and Buried for a fear of small spaces. It just all depends on what you are scared of because film makers will have thought about what scares people when they aren’t watching films and will use that idea to make a movie which will probably force the viewer to be even more terrified of their fear.
Examples: The Fourth Kind/It/REC/Ju-On: The Grudge/Buried
Your imagination might be thought of as a fantasy place where you can create whatever you want and do whatever you want. However, your imagination is also the doorway to the deepest, darkest fears which lurk inside your head. They are just waiting for you to turn off that light or walk down that dark alleyway so that they can unleash whatever it is that scares you the most. I think that this element is quite possibly the best one to use for a horror film. As well as it delivering the creepy factor and playing on your own fears, it gives the audience the ability to form the idea of the antagonist themselves. Thus making them release their inner fears and project them into the film. Films which use this factor generally do not show the villain at all, or if they do it will only be a slight glimpse. Therefore they use suspense to their advantage. If the film makers can keep the suspense at a high throughout most of the film then that is great, but ending the film on a high without showing the ‘bad guy’…now there is the real challenge.
Examples: The Blair Witch Project/Atrocious/Paranormal Activity
Let me know what it is in horror films which scares you and why.