What Makes Horror Movies Scary?


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If a horror movie only had one job, it would be to make it scary. It is what the genre is based on . Over the years, many methods have been employed to make these movies more frightening. Some of these methods are more effective than others, but which method makes these movies the scariest? Out of the five most prevalent horror elements, only one can be the scariest.

A clear contender for this award is jump scares. It would be a challenge to find a horror movie that doesn’t have one or to find someone that doesn’t know what one is. It is an incredibly easy method to get a quick scare out of the viewer. However, it is short-term. Almost shortly after the scare, the moment ends. This leaves it overall less scary than some of the other entries on this list, which have longer-lasting effects.

Another obvious inclusion is disturbing imagery. Unlike jump scares, this leaves a lasting effect on the viewer. If you’ve ever watched a horror movie, especially a slasher, the most memorable moments are the gruesome deaths that befall the cast. The more messed up it looks, the more we will remember it, and the more scared we all are. For example, in a recent Fear Street movie, someone falls victim to a bread slicer. This scene instantly becomes the most memorable scene due to this. Though just like the jump scare, it has faults. Using grotesque imagery doesn’t have as strong of an initial effect of fear, just disgust. Its main fear component comes in the long term within your memories.

These next two elements are the opposite of each other, but are both quite effective. The first is the soundtrack. Having a suspenseful or creepy score to go along with your movie puts the viewer on edge. It accentuates all of the other methods. Having suspenseful music before a jump scare makes it scarier, playing mysterious music when everything seems okay scares you even when nothing is happening. It’s not as scary by itself but makes all of the other elements scarier. Conversely, silence also has a similar effect. Everything going quiet when a character is hiding makes it all the more frightening when the killer suddenly appears. A great example of using silence to be scary is A Quiet Place. While it isn’t the scariest horror movie, it manages to set a scary atmosphere despite having very few jump scares and almost no disturbing imagery. Using silence made a movie that likely wouldn’t be scary at all, into a terrifying film.

However, the scariest thing in horror movies is something you wouldn’t initially think of. One of the easiest ways to ruin the horror of your horror movie is to have the cast be incredibly stupid. The more mistakes they make, the less scared you are. You begin to think that if you were in that situation, you would have done better. On the other hand, if the main characters are smart, and still get caught around every corner, the threat seems much more real. A horror movie is at its scariest when you know in your heart that if this happened to you, you wouldn’t stand a chance. It’s hard for a movie to pull it off, but if they can create a situation that makes it easy to put yourself in the character’s shoes, and make you feel no hope toward the characters, it is the most effective way to make the scariest horror movie. Making the situation seem real and hopeless is undeniably the strongest method to turning a horror movie into a truly horrifying experience.