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How can Horror Films Make use of Augmented Reality?

Filmmakers are always looking for the next trick to make their movies even more enjoyable for audiences. 3D is fine but the glasses are uncomfortable, and many people get motion sickness or headaches from watching 3D movies so it’s certainly not for everyone.

Smell-o-vision was more of a crazy dream than an achievable reality – and to be honest most horror films would smell awful. In 1959, the theatrical release of The Tingler included some theater seats wired to vibrate which could be cued at a key moment. It was a fantastic gimmick but with more and more people consuming media at home, it wouldn’t work for today’s audiences.

Augmented Reality could be the answer. If people are already watching most of their media on their phones or on smart TVs, the technology required on the viewer’s end is already largely in place. AR is essentially virtual reality-lite: instead of fully entering a virtual world, virtual elements are placed in the real world (through the magic of a smartphone camera and screen).

How much more effective would a jump scare be if the figure popping out of the shadows was popping out of the shadows in your own living room?!

Current use

Other industries are already taking advantage of augmented reality to make experiences more immersive. Video games have been at the forefront in implementing augmented reality technology.

No one can forget how the whole world seemed to lose its mind when Pokémon Go! was released. Zombies, Run! also managed to bring gaming and exercising together, with the AR elements actually making it enjoyable to work out.

Alongside video games, online casinos have been leading the way in using augmented reality. Many online casinos feature live casino dealers, an element that would not be possible without the advances in AR technology.

You could always watch a stream of a dealer dealing the cards but until now it would have been impossible to interact in real time with the dealer and the other players “at the table”. It has brought online casinos even closer to brick-and-mortar casinos in what they are able to offer.

Imagining AR in classic Giallo horror

Let’s take a moment to imagine the possibilities augmented reality could open in horror movies by looking at how it could have been used to ramp up the tension and the fear in some classic Giallo films.

These Italian horror masterpieces often featured heavy and intense use of color, fantastical twists, and oh so much technicolor blood. The likes of Dario Argento, Mario Bava and their peers would have made great use of this technology if it had been available to them.

Phenomena (1985), Argento’s classic about a girl who uses her powers to communicate with insects to solve a string of grisly murders would be ideal for some added AR scares. How much more horrific would the bloody vat of maggots’ scene be if the viewer could look down and see maggots crawling up their arms too?

The dream sequence in Bava’s The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (1972) where the masked murderess is running down the hallway towards the viewer would be even more nightmarish for the viewer if she seemed to keep running right out of the frame. In many Giallos, light and color are used to tint an entire scene, giving it an unearthly glow. AR technology could mimic that in the viewer’s own home as they’re watching, with the colors changing to match the on-screen hues.

Tie ins

If including augmented reality elements within a film itself feels too gimmicky, there is also the possibility for AR content released as part of a companion app. A horror film photo app is one potential idea. It could have filters that put you in Freddie’s nightmare gloves or in the murderous red dress from In Fabric (2018).

A mobile game with AR elements that tied into the film also has a lot of potential. Walking to catch a cutesy character might have gotten a lot of people to start moving more but having to escape the Candyman would certainly get me off the couch and running!

Augmented reality is still new and is improving all the time as people in the creative industries realize the value it could have for their projects. Horror films might not need any fancy new technology or special effects to make them terrifying, but it could be fun to see what directors are capable of with this new toy.


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