Horror Movies: The How-l and Why-ne
It’s been a while since there was a horror movie that really made a viewer afraid to watch the screen. But what exactly is it about the horror genre that has always made us frightened. When thinking about horror movies of past decades, what was it that made these films frightening?
It was and still is the little details, the conventions of a good horror flick, that make you jump out of your skin. With the right combination a director has the power to scare the audience out of their wits. Some of the most popular horror directors take our nightmares and use them against us and what does the audience do, we watch. Psycho takes a man and turns him into a killing machine. Halloween turns one day a year into a day one man hunts for his family, wanting to slaughter them all while Wes Craven uses dreams in A Nightmare on Elm Street and literally brings your nightmares to life.
Directors rely on what scares us to make their movie. In a time of silent movies, directors relied upon make-up and low-budget technology to put fear in the heart of its audience. Through obscuring vision with shadows or mist, viewers were encouraged to let their imagination wander and come to their own conclusions. This still applies to some degree in horror movies, but combine the perfect location where all the action happens, whether it is a house (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), a grave yard (Dracula) or your dreams (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and the right element of ‘evil’ (a poltergeist, an alien, someone from your dreams or an indestructible human) and you are on the right track. With some added mystery and a plot that can grab your attention to the very end, a success is in the works and eyes should be glued to the end.
The elements directors use to use to make a viewer scared however have changed because society has changed. In the 1970’s the thought of being possessed by a demon would have frightened anyone while over the last decade or two it was more likely to be the man next door. In the last 40 years we thought society had gotten over times of possession of demons, the Roswell crash and Jack the Ripper but on the big screen, directors have a way of returning past fears to a new age.
Society today can be a scary place, even more so now everyone questions what to and not to believe in. Are aliens real? Do ghosts exist? Depending on what you believe in will depend on what will scare you. If at one time the only escapism you enjoyed from the world outside was the movies, then you are in deep trouble. Directors are now able to bring your worst nightmares back to life and on an even bigger scale than before.
In the past, movies traditionally followed a narrative structure of order, disorder then order. At the start of a film the characters had ordinary lives then something would happen to disrupt the order and scare the audience before returning to safety at the end of the film knowing the evil has been defeated. Directors are now leaving more open narratives where audiences do not know whether the evil is truly defeated or will return to haunt them once again. This leaves the director free to produce plenty of sequels, although most are never as good as the original.
Will we soon become a world where we have seen everything and nothing scares us, or will directors find something new to terrify us with? We will just have to wait and see what lurks around the next corner.