In every genre of literature or film, there are many subgenres. One could even say that each of these subgenres can be deconstructed further into smaller pieces.
Horror is no exception to this rule. However, one thing is constant across all of the different categories of horror: Those watching, listening, or reading horror expect to be treated to a something that will make them have some kind of emotional response. While some is intended to disgust, excite, or make its audience laugh; only the select few instances can make even the most hardened horror fan feel actual fear.
How many times have phrases “Horror movies don’t scare me anymore” or “I haven’t been scared by movie in a long time” been uttered?
A horror fan that has seemingly seen every kind of gore effect or ghostly design is very difficult to actually scare. This is not an indictment on the horror genre in general. In fact, some horror fans fully expect not to feel fear when they watch a film or read a horror novel. This does not stop the horror fan from continually seeking out more material. Horror has so much to offer besides just scares.
This article isn’t going to discuss what else horror has to offer. This article is going to examine what it takes to be one of the few pieces of horrorrelated material that is successful in scaring its audience. There are many ways in which a writer or director can attempt to entertain its audience. However, there are a few elements that are necessary to be present in order for the audience to feel a real scare.
The first element that must exist in order to create truly scary horror is suspense. Some of the greatest authors and directors have perfected the art of suspense. For instance Alfred Hitchcock, who has been referred to as the Master of Suspense, has made a career on making his audience holds their collective breath only to gasp in horror when the reveal is presented. Many times instead of merely exhaling with the reveal, Hitchcock has made audiences scream.
Great suspense isn’t limited to early horror films by the likes of Hitchcock, however. There have been many great horror movies to be released, even in the last few years. One, for instance, is 2007’s French film Inside. This film combined pregnancy (something scary in and of itself), with overstated gore. However, what made this film truly scary was its large helping of suspense. It doesn’t require a pair of scissors, bucketloads of blood, and a struggling pregnant woman to make a successful suspenseful horror movie. In fact, with the right mix of circumstances, even a movie with little to no blood, starring a apparently normal couple living right in the middle of the burbs, can be a big success. Paranormal Activity, which debuted in Screamfest Film Festival in 2007, ended up pulling in over $141 million on a budget of $15,ooo (budget according to The Hollywood Reporter
A big part of suspense is the fear of the unknown. H.P. Lovecraft has not only perfected portraying the unknown in his stories, but he has taken it to the next level by not only presenting ideas that are foreign and unknown, but he has upped the ante by adding the fact that someone will go insane if they attempt to wrap their head around the idea of the elder gods. To some people, this idea is laughable, but to others, this is a complex idea that requires real thought. It all comes down to a person’s willingness to let themselves consume the story and buyin to the ideas.
There are many ways that writers, directors, and other horror artists attempt to gain audience buyin. This is in, and of itself, is a complex discussion. However, the one thing that that no director or writer can have any say in, is the willingness of someone keep their mind open to what they are presenting. That is why there are people who just don’t get it. They will never get it. Because they aren’t willing to open themselves to be accepting of what is being presented, they are preventing themselves from enjoying the experience. This is not to say that if someone doesn’t enjoy a particular work of horror, they haven’t boughtin. Nonetheless, being a horror fan practically implies the willingness to give a director or writer the chance to gain your buyin.
Creating great horror entertainment requires pieces of a film arranged by an artisan. There are many building blocks upon which a horror movie can be constructed. However, without suspense and audience buyin, horror films will not truly scare its audience.