When was the last time you were truly terrified by a movie? For me, it’s been since I was a tweenager, and my twelve year old self dragged a bunch of girls (I was the only one working. Being a 12 year old and being able to buy movie tickets for six girls at once is a pimp experience) to The Sixth Sense. I know what you are all thinking; this kid is a horror writer, and he was scared by that? I know, I’m not proud of it either. The movie resonated with me on a different level though. It stuck with me when I went home, and was scarier after the fact than in the viewing.
I’ve grown up since then, but I still want to find that old feeling. I want to be inspired to fear. To get a little nagging voice every time I get goosebumps or a cold chill. I know that it is much harder to scare me now, but surely, some clever movie studio is up for the challenge. I have a few suggestions for all of you Hollywood big shots that frequent this blog (I’m talking to you, single return visitor from Los Angeles).
Step One: better Music and Sound Composition
We’ve all seen it, a buxom blond / brunette / redhead walks through a random dark area that is probably never seen again for the films duration, and then BAM! SHARP NOISE AND A FLASH OF CGI MURDER!
I’m a complete newb when it comes to music and especially composition, but even I know that the music is a supplement to what you are trying to do, not be used as a scare tactic. Suspense isn’t linked to how loud or disturbing a sound you can make, but by the situations that the characters must endure. Movies that do this appeal to the primal part of our brain, and might jolt us, but will not resonate as frightening int he long term. Sometimes, this is the movie's only shtick. Hire Clint Mansell or something if you have too, but make it work.
Step Two: Relying On Gratuitous Gore is Not Scary, It's Lazy
After watching Dead Alive, you’re not going to shock me into a scare by how gory a scene is. I’ve seen it all. Hell, in video games, I’ve had to curbstomp scythe handed babies that crawled from the over lactating tits of a lust demon. If you’re going to flop some intestines on the ground, make it mean something, show me that soldier on the beach, crying out for his mother. Don’t just have stock-side-character-4 fall into a vat of lye and fire ants. The entire Saw series is an example of this. Massive amounts of gore with a shaky premise and some handy visual effects. Some of it is cringe worthy, I’ll give it that, but it isn’t lasting.
The scene from Reservoir Dogs, the one with Mister Blond and the cop, is an intense image of brutality done right. It isn’t even a horror movie and it did a better job than many horror films aspire to. What set it apart, besides the odd choice in music, how truly vile it made Michael Madsen’s character. The cop was terrified, and you have just enough info to understand both of their motivations. The only real gore you see is the stump left where the officer’s ear used to be. The pace was agonizing as well. Making the scene last longer than our comfort threshold will drive us inward, forcing us to hate the antagonist.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m against gore, or that I don’t enjoy some movies that are heavy with it, I just don’t think it’s frightening. Dawn of the Dead (Zak Snyder’s) is much closer on how it should be handled. While the movie isn’t exactly terrifying, it leaves you quite satisfied, and playing “What I would do in the zombie apoc” for weeks after.
Make the violence mean something, and make it last.
Step 3: Make Me Care About a Character, and then Drag Them to Hell
This can be said for all writing, but it seems especially bad in horror films. Make your enemies sinister, make your characters struggle, and force them to overcome. Don’t just drop them in bad situations; make them fight tooth and nail in each scene against a greater conflict. Give them something to fight for, not something to run from.
Alright, this post has turned a bit lengthy. Next week I may expand on this, or move forward with another horror theme post. Freaky Fridays is a name I really hope to change, but until that point, we’re all stuck with it. Now, if you all would be so kind as to tell me your favorite horror films, or perhaps some themes that chap your ass. I know I’m not the only one who can be disappointed with most of the horror genre’s films.