What Makes Popular Horror Films Super Scary?
To horror film fans, horror films are as much a part of Halloween as trick or treating. Trick or treating may not be a big part of Halloween this year, but horror films are still around, waiting to scare the pants off us. Great horror films get into our psyches and tap into our most primal fears. They can trigger a real fright reaction, making us forget it’s not real.
Anyone who’s ever seen a horror movie knows the physical reaction that it can evoke. The great directors in the horror genre have mastered the art of making us feel real fear, and doing it again and again in each film. But what are the elements of horror films that make them so scary?
Here’s my list of 5 things that make horror films super-scary:
A scary horror movie must have suspense. The anticipation of knowing something terrifying is about to happen can be as scary as it actually happening. A sense of foreboding comes with suspense, knowing something bad will happen but not knowing when. Our brains continuously prepare us for action as we watch with anxious anticipation. Great horror films have plenty of suspenseful moments.
- The Dark.
Have you ever seen a scary horror film that takes place entirely in daylight? Of course not. Dark places are scary, even familiar dark places. Most of us feared the dark when we were kids. Darkness is disorienting, making us fear what we can’t see. Light switches often don’t work and flashlights have dead batteries in the scary world of horror films. The characters are often stuck in the dark. Darkness we can’t control sets the scene for the terror that lies ahead. We may need a night light to get to sleep after watching a scary horror film. Fear of the dark is a primal fear and great horror films make full use of it.
- Scary locations.
Every time I see a basement in a movie, I anticipate something bad happening. The film doesn’t even have to be a horror film. That’s the effect some locations can have on us. People get killed, chopped up and buried in basements. We don’t have happy family gatherings there. Graveyard locations automatically go into the scary category. Graveyards mean dead bodies ripped from coffins or the undead crawling out of graves. Some locations are just naturally scary, and good horror films make the best of these spooky sites.
- Suspenseful music.
If you’ve ever muted the sound as you watched a horror film on TV, you understand what an enormous role music plays in creating the scary mood. Horror movies just aren’t as scary without the suspenseful music. The music helps create fearful anticipation of what will happen. No horror film would be as scary without the appropriate eerie music to keep us on the edge of our seats.
- Scary weather.
Have you ever been home alone during a violent rainstorm with thunder claps and lightening? It’s definitely spooky and those thunder claps can surely make us jump. Put those elements into a horror film and let the fear begin. Warm sunny days aren’t scary, but stormy nights with thunder and lightning loudly crashing sure are. Even more so if the lights go out.
There’s actually a field of study called “neurocinematics” that examines the connection between the mind and the experience of cinema. Researchers have found that people watching a scary film have similar reactions in their brains. As technology in filmmaking continues to advance, I anticipate the intense fear reactions to great horror films will only increase. We may truly find out whether it’s possible to be scared to death.
The horror film genre has a huge fan base, and so, of course, there's a wide variety of products paying tribute to the genre. Here are a few worth checking out if you're a horror film fan:
Disclosure: I have an affiliate relationship with the products mentioned. That means, at no additional cost to you, I make a small commission from every product sold. That helps cover the expenses of running this blog.
The Art of Horror Movies: An Illustrated History (Applause Books), by Stephen Jones
A chronological chart of the history of horror films over the past 100 years. Lots of unique images of posters, lobby cards, advertising and promotional items.
Get many of your favorite horror characters all in one painting. Probably too spooky to hang in a bedroom, but would be fun for a den, office or media room.
Of course you need horror film characters on the Christmas tree. Why should Halloween have all the scary stuff?
Place on cards and gift bags, or give the stickers as a gift to your favorite horror film fan.
Horror movie characters on lollipops? Yep. Because horror movie fans can never get enough of their favorite scary characters.