Elements of Horror

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All horror movies, or television series, are made equal. Some create a level of fear that make you jump, have a few nightmares, or maybe even rethink your safety. These horror series range from mad men with knives to demons from Hell. Their heroes and villains aren’t always the same. In fact, sometimes they couldn’t be farther apart from each other if they tried, take Jason, Freddy, and Weeping Angels. So, what is it about them that stays with us? Well, we made a list of some of the elements that truly bring the highlights of horror in a series. Here’s our list of the key elements of horror.

Scene from the 2007 French film Inside

Scene from the 2007 French film Inside

Setting: Some people will try to tell you that the soundtrack is a big part in creating a good horror story. But let’s face it, no one wakes up in cold sweats over a score and the horror genre has been around a lot longer than talking pictures. Setting has always been the main focus of a good horror story. You have to create a realistic, slightly believable location, and if it’s easy to escape or save yourself as it is to ride a bike, then the illusion of horror in the story is gone. You don’t care if the woman makes it when she’s had about three chances to leave and still hasn’t. She’s stupid and deserves to die.

Tension: A good horror movie, or episode, will have a great deal of tension. In the best horror stories, the tension will slowly build over time. Good horror should never break the tense feeling in the air too much, or arguably, at all. Lightening the mood may end up breaking the overall tone, rather than creating a false sense of security. If the goal is to create a film based around black comedy, that’s fine; it just won’t give viewers chills or nightmares. The film Sinister does a great job at building tension, because instead of calm moments, it slips in the truly disturbing.

Still of a Weeping Angel from Doctor Who episode The Time Of The Angels

Still of a Weeping Angel from Doctor Who episode The Time Of The Angels

Monster/Villain: The best monsters, or villains, are the ones that are truly wicked. They have no good side and an unwillingness to let their prey go. You can’t escape them. They are everywhere, all around you, watching, waiting for the right moment to strike. The person working her way through your home while you ready for bed (Inside) or the being that can only be stopped as long as you don’t stop looking at them (Doctor Who Weeping Angels) scare you because you understand, right off the bat, that surviving is going to be a trial. They don’t have the human elements that you can reason with.

A still of Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor) and her friends from Halloween, 2007 remake.

Relatability: Empathy is a strong human emotion. It’s a key element in how we learn to care about others. This is why much of the beginning of a good horror film is spent getting to know the main characters, because if you don’t grow to like, or see yourself in, the cast, you will not be drawn into the story as much as if you did. The most horrifying stories are always the ones that you could see happening to someone you know. They are the hardest to ignore and the ones that make you think at night. They make you want to double check your locks. There are many horrifying stories happening in real life; someone can stalk your family, break into your home just to watch you sleep, or randomly attack you in the street is far greater.

However, when you can’t relate to the central characters, you start picking apart the horror film. You’ll start asking yourself questions, such as: how likely is this to happen to me, or is it possible this kind of person could be real? Chances are ghosts aren’t going to toss you across a room, or that an undead army will come to hunt you down. This is why those types of films may be harder to connect with. Here’s a good case of this: the remake of Halloween. When the film finally reached the part where Michael escapes and starts killing teens, it was a bit boring. Everything felt fake, hollow. By the time you meet Laurie (Michael’s baby sister), the film is half way over. How can you feel for someone that you barely know, let alone their friends? You can’t and that’s why the film falls flat during the last half. Viewers couldn’t bring themselves to feel truly horrified by the death of most of the characters when they were unfamiliar strangers. Relatability matters a great deal in making people feel the horror over characters.

Featured Image: Freddy vs. Jason (2013)

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