The Horror, The Horror
For us, the possibility of trick or treating is now a no go considering we’re adults, and well, adults just aren’t allowed to go to other adults houses in costumes and ask for sweets…unless we’re attending a Halloween party of course.
However, we do get several other perks from being fully-fledged adults. So this Halloween myself and Ryan have decided to spend it pumpkin carving, grabbing some themed sweets (not being a child means no limit on the tasty treats), and sticking on a film, video game, or maybe even TV show that we consider of appropriate ‘spookiness’. In short meaning, whatever we believe to be the most ‘horror-centric’.
Unfortunately with the recent few years, it has come to my attention that the idea of horror has become a little…distorted. Some people starting to believe that the one most important thing for this genre to include is sadly – Jumpscares.
If you’re one of the few who don’t place this aspect at the top of your list, I applaud you. However for many, a films horror rating is based off the cut-away slice of a film or video game trailer featuring audience reactions. Showcasing its authentic ‘scariness’ with the audiences jumping and screaming.
Take a look at this example from the Paranormal Activity social media marketing.
So, just in time for Halloween, I’ve decided to go through the important factors that I believe actually contribute to the creation of a good horror film, TV show or video game.
1. Good Sound Design
This is at the top of my list for a reason. Good sound design helps to set a scene; it immerses the viewer more within the environment and by having those awkward moments of silence, can create a room or an area with depth.
Hearing aspects of the characters environment that the camera is focused on allows the audience to place themselves right in those shoes. Whether staring at a tree through their window with audible rustling of the leaves, or slight breeze making a branch tap against the window. Another example is someone walking down a corridor and you can hear the slight creaking of the floorboards, the characters heavy breath as they get more frightened.
Then the soundtrack starts to ramp up, and you start to clutch your pillow. Whilst you can tell something is about to happen based off that single music cue, the character doesn’t and continues down the hall.
Adding more weight to the importance of sound design, when you next watch a horror film, try turning off the sound, and see how much the horror-atmosphere lacks without the sound effects and soundtrack amplifying the tension. Hey, why not turn off the video production all together and just listen to the audio, which by itself, can make you jump.
2. Well Written Dialogue
While good sound design adds into building tension, so does dialogue.
I have seen far too many films with an average plot, where the jump scares are incredibly heavy. Featuring a main character so unlikeable, saying the most obvious things in such a plain manner, that I’ve just had to turn off the TV. Because rather than entertaining me, it’s actually started to annoy me.
People creating these films get so caught up in building a horrific environment (jumpscares or otherwise), that sometimes they forget that the characters in their world need fleshing out. You can have an interesting plot, with dynamic music and wonderful visual effects, but create plain, boring 2-dimensional characters, and the film will end up making you laugh with their lines – because who says that?
When anyone watches a horror film or TV show, they’re following the story of the main character and perhaps a few friends. If the characters are not relatable or well written, it takes the audience out of the experience, and they don’t come back.
2. Appeal to Primal Fears
Everyone has something they’re scared of, almost always it’s the faithfuls, like spiders, the dark or small spaces. They’re fears we’ve carried our whole lives and are embedded deep in our sub-conscious. I truly believe that horror should focus on these primal fears and what makes people uncomfortable, rather then the current trend of placing stingers or ‘dummy scares’ everywhere with no pay off. The ol’ classic ‘boyfriend jumping out of the bush’ is no fun when he isn’t put in any karma-powered danger later in the film.
Fear doesn’t have to be the main element of the film, but having common, relatable fears somewhere in any horror movie creates a connection with the vast majority of audience members in some form. A lot of producers forget a good horror film doesn’t have to make you jump, making you uncomfortable or giving the ‘skin-crawling’ sensation can last long after the film has finished.
New horror film IT utilises the well-known common fear: Clowns, and has been highly praised. The classic film Jaws relies on the primal fears of, big surprise, sharks and water (or rather drowning) and was a massive hit. The basics of horror shouldn’t be underestimated and when used well, can really make an impact.
A good horror for me is something that makes me want to cover my eyes because it makes me so unsettled, so unnerved that I can’t help it. But at the same time I can’t stop watching, because I’m invested and interested in a well written character trying to escape their dire situation. At the same time, the music is telling more than the camera as it suddenly ramps up, bringing the tension up to 110%.
Those are my three top factors for an effective horror film, of course, there are many other different factors involved that could have their own article. If you have anything you think I have missed, or maybe you absolutely adore jumpscares and think I’m wrong, let me know on the Tiny Fire Media Facebook post for this blog.