Picture yourself watching a horror movie on Halloween, with your friends in the dark. All of a sudden a jump-scare pops up! Your heart rate just sped up and you jolted. Now did that moment really scare you, did it really make you feel fear? Or did you just flinch and move on?
In the more recent years, horror movies have been made sloppy with their screenwriting, scene settings and mood placing, most adding only jump scares. However, there are a few that stand out from the rest, that are actually quite good. Some would say enjoyable or scary. There are many key things that you could say make a horror film “good” or “scary.” But what makes one stand out from the rest? It’s all about the execution.
What we think of as “scary” actually includes a lot of different feelings. Jump-scares create a very short-lived, jolting, fight-or-flight response, which is one feeling of fear. Blood, dead bodies and other traumatizing things create a feeling of disgust and aversion—“horror.” A lot of the highly-rated horror movies often utilize what we might call, “terror” into their films: the dread and anticipation of something bad about to happen.
A lot of “bad” horror movies often put the protagonist in a hallway or room with some kind of weapon, waiting for something to happen. Then after a short moment of silence, a predictable jump-scare would occur. It’s effective, but pretty unimaginative, and it doesn’t stay with you.
A much more sophisticated kind of horror is created by Jordan Peele’s films. He followed up his breakout hit, Get Out, with the psychological horror-thriller Us. In the film, a vacationing family is attacked by what appears to be their doppelgangers or clones known as the “Tethered.” The Tethered only have one goal and it is to kill their counterparts to take their place. Throughout the film the family struggles to stay together and fight off their clones.
Although the script is a little weak and opens up a lot more questions than it can answer, the performances are pretty great in a terrifying way. Lupita Nyong’o’s performance was on point. She had to play two different characters in the same movie, Adelaide Wilson, a mother trying to protect her children, and Red, her clone. Red, had a lot of characteristics that were created by Lupita herself and it gave the character a unique and different feel, like nothing ever seen before.
Peele does a great job at building suspense and tension. Us is a masterpiece in the horror genre. It was very close to perfect, setting up the perfect mood for the movie. Every element in this film served a purpose and is set up like a chess move. Even with little to no jump-scares, it keeps you feeling scared the whole time. Additionally, the violence is pretty intense without being gratuitous. While there are some scenes of Us that could’ve used a little more work, this horror film succeeds in keeping the viewer tense and on edge for the whole duration of the movie.
The horror genre isn’t limited to movies and books of course, horror is also a genre of video games. Subnautica, at first appears to be simply an adventure-seeking survival game. You play the role of a scientist exploring an ocean planet alongside your crew. But upon landing, something goes wrong and your giant mothership crashes. You are the only survivor and must use the new planet’s resources, salvage parts from your ship, and scavenge for materials through the deepest oceans to eventually build a new ship to go back to Earth. But as you delve into the deep and dark ocean, the game turns to horror. The natural sunlight will disappear and your left with your flashlight. Before you know it, you end up in the lair of an unseen sea leviathan. Drifting through the dark in your makeshift submarine you hear its horrifying shrieks as you start to get closer.
The Reaper Leviathan in Subnautica
Credit: cfowler7-SFM on Devianart
The game creates terror through darkness and sound effects, causing your mind to race to imagine the threats. Playing with headphones on is a must, if you have a strong heart. As you get deeper and deeper into the unknown, you have no idea what to expect and intense anticipation starts to fill your mind. You start to flinch at every sound, the game really gets to the best of your imagination.
Although horror movies tend to be rated poorly, people still end up watching them. All the cheesy lines and poorly-made jump-scares flow right past audiences and they end up doing well in the box office. For example, It: Chapter 2, was more of a comedy rather than a horror film, but a lot of people still enjoyed watching it. A lot of the highest rated (reviewed by film critics) horror movies are purely horror without much comedy being very scary, I find them much more enjoyable.
“Part of what horror is,” Jordan Peele explains “is taking risks and going somewhere that people think you’re not supposed to be able to go, in the name of expressing real-life fears.” A good horror story will have a double meaning, something that tells us something about ourselves.