I like to think that everyone has moods on both sides of the spectrum in regards to what they want to see in a horror flick. Sometimes we desire a slow paced thriller with a high tension climax. Other times we want a relentless scary movie that drags us deeper into our fears; kicking and screaming the whole way and it never lets you sigh any relief. While we find ourselves changing our tune from day to day, there are a few aspects of horror films that we demand from every movie.
The absolute foundation for a great horror film. If you’re watching Killer Clowns from Outer Space… you want to hear corny dialogue with plain simple scares attached. If you’re watching Hereditary… You expect Oscar-winning performances and some brutally horrific scenes. The last thing you want to see in a movie is one character’s bad acting pulling down the film as a whole.
You gotta admit, a freaky environment is the secret sauce for a great movie. The creepy cabin from Evil Dead or the grisly torture chambers from the Saw series… This sometimes becomes a particular struggle in haunted house movies. If the house doesn’t give you chills down your spine, it’s probably not gonna make you jump out of your seat any time soon. The next ingredient however can alter that…
If a film is lacking a spooky environment it can still be redeemed by an unexpected scare. The jump scenes of a film can make or break a film. If the camera is positioned for something to take over half the screen, chances are you horror experts are just gonna roll your eyes. Films are usually successful in getting the audience to jump when the next shot is of something completely unexpected. If the girl looking in the fridge closes the door and no one is standing behind it… congratulations, you just outsmarted the majority of poorly executed scare tactics! Fear is an art, and there is a very particular science behind it. The best way to establish a movie is terrifying: subtlety. It’s what you can’t see at the end of the hallway. Leaving the majority of what happened or what something looks like to the imagination is a very powerful tool in creating anxiety and disturbance in the mind.
Can you already hear the music just by me saying “Insidious” or “Halloween”? If the score of a film is unique and catchy, it may just become your mantra for when you’re in a scary situation yourself. The music needs to create tension that builds upon itself and makes you twist in your seat. It is also very important to attach your jump scares with loud, traumatic music.