Horror movies are crucial to the Halloween season. This time of year, almost everyone, exempting those who are too afraid, indulges in their favorite spooky movies. The ultimate challenge is to pick an effective, good horror movie in the midst of endless cheesy horror films.
There are a lot of campy horror movies out there. This can include intentionally cheesy movies like “Sharknado,” or poorly done movies like “Unhinged.” The scariest thing can be sitting down to a movie with your friends, expecting to have some good, spooky fun, only to discover that the movie is awful.
There are two things that make for a bad horror movie: cliché plotlines and overused jump scares.
“Unhinged” is guilty of the former cinematic sin. A movie about an insane person tormenting the innocent can be seen in films from “Misery” to “Split.” If the audience member can guess where your film is going, they are going to be bored and lose interest.
Overused jump scares are the most common trope in horror. Movies guilty of such tactics include “The Grudge” and “The Conjuring.”
Anyone can make someone scared with a loud noise and the sudden appearance of the villain. My mom jumps out at me all the time, which is often scarier than the movies themselves.
This is not to say a jump scare cannot be in a good horror movie. One of the most creative and well done jump scares that I have seen is in “Saw.” Adam uses his camera to take pictures with the flash on to get moments of vision. It is in one of these flashes that the pig-headed kidnapper lunges at him.
This is effective and utilizes tension in order to build fear in the audience. Tension need not be created by jump scares. In fact, there are many nail-biting movies with little to no jump scares.
“Hereditary” may be the best horror movie ever made. It is not conventionally scary with numerous gory images and serial killers running amok. It is instead a family-centered drama that is scary because it dares to suggest that you could be in their place.
The closest thing to a jump scare in “Hereditary” occurs when someone is lingering in the background. There is no musical cue and the camera is not focused on them, but the audience can discover they are there in their own time.
This is more frightening than any jump scare, as the discovery is not forced upon the viewer, but is gradual.
The movie that scared me the most is “The Blair Witch Project.” This film does not even show the titular villain, and yet it remains terrifying. How is that?
“The Blair Witch Project” is all about atmosphere and character. The whole movie is improvised and the actors were put into very similar situations as their characters. This made for believable reactions and a haunting look at a downward spiral into despair.
The fact that they did not show the witch is pivotal to this movie’s effectiveness. You do not have an image to reference and think, “Oh, that’s the witch? She doesn’t look so bad!” Instead, you are forced to fill in the blanks of what she looks like, which generally aligns with your own fears.
You do not need to be continuously tortured with cheap scares in order to enjoy a horror movie. With the right amount of suspense, atmosphere and character, a spooky movie can chill you to the bone and be a fun way to celebrate Halloween.