Scare Tactics

scary
Function: adjective
Definition: frightening
Synonyms: alarming, bloodcurdling, chilling, creepy, hair-raising, hairy, horrendous, horrifying, intimidating, shocking, spine-chilling, spooky, terrifying, unnerving

Let’s agree on some ground terms as there are different types of horror films. I’ve split into four categories the techniques (tactics, if you prefer) commonly used in, and often defining, horror films.

The Gross-Factor: they pull out all the intestines and eye slashing stops; most zombie films I’ve seen rely on the gross-factor to get by.

The Creep-Factor: Ringu, Jacob’s Ladder and even Donnie Darko are great examples.

The Suspense Factor: this is my favourite – think of the part in Alien when Dallas was crawling through the ducts with a flame-thrower. Terminator, Jaws & The Shining had lots of it.

The “BOO!” factor: this is the one where your senses are assaulted by sudden flashes of visuals and audio – it’s all I remember about Event Horizon and it’s the cheapest kind of horror.

Now let’s look at a few really good horror films.

Alien. This came out when I was 9. I don’t remember when I saw it. Very little gross-factor, as far as I’m concerned. There’s the chest bursting scene and apart from a few short scenes of blood, that’s it. They’re all well done and I wouldn’t say they’re gratuitous. Oh, I guess the scene where Ash goes nuts is kind of gross, but still, I’m sticking with my low GF rating.

The Ring. High on the Creepy Factor. Disturbing and unsettling. I don’t remember any GF but there was definitely some Suspense Factor. If I recall correctly the BOO Factor was minimal to nonexistent.

King Kong (’76). I saw this when I was quite young, and it had an impact on me. Fighting with that snake had some GF but to me the most horrifying will always be the part when Kong was spinning that log to make the people fall down into the chasm. That was probably a bit too intense for me at my tender young age, so that’s stuck with me.

The Shining. Lots of creepiness, lots of suspense. No Gross-Factor to speak of. A real class-act.

John Carpenter’s The Thing. There was a fair amount of Gross-Factor in this – but it was divided between the blood ‘n’ gore kind of gross and the horrific-looking-slimy-shapechanging-alien kind of gross. Mostly it was suspense, with a touch of creepiness and a tiny smidgeon of BOO-factor at the end.

The Blair Witch Project. No Gore-Factor, no BOO-Factor. All SF and CF. I saw this in the theater and it actually had me shivering, but that could have been because the air-conditioning was up way too high. Also it played upon my fears of being in the woods at night (which comes down to bears, actually).

The Exorcist. Demon vomit definitely qualifies as gross, but I would say the main technique here is the Creepy-Factor.

Yvonne asked me if there were any movies that scared me. Well, if we’re talking about jumping in your seat because the scene went from quiet and serene to violently loud, then yes, Punch Drunk Love scared me when the semi came out of nowhere.

However, if you’re talking about a movie that leaves you with nightmares and noctiphobia, then the only movie that’s truly given me the heebie-jeebies in my adult life would have to be The Blair Witch Project. But they have yet to make a movie that is so scary that I wouldn’t watch it alone.

About Toren

Illustrator, comic artist, voice and screen actor, lead singer for The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, co-author Spaceship Zero roleplaying game.
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13 Responses to Scare Tactics

  1. Pingback: Toren's Absolute Blog » Back to the old drawing board

  2. ursula says:

    he blair witch project is a fabulous movie. danielle, stefan and i watched it a few days before we camped across the states. holy f. danielle needed to sleep in the middle, cause she was so scared! and i would’t go anywhere alone (for obvious reasons). that film totally traumatised me… at night i would close my eyes and see those hand prints, and dead bodies hanging. ugh. i can’t believe i’m even typing about it.

    good choices and good grouping. i’m going to agree on all of the movies i’ve seen, that you’ve mentioned. which is oddly a fair amount…particularly for someone who can’t watch scary movies alone. i remember watching jacob’s ladder with either my mom or my sister. i barely remember what happened. i must have been really young. but i remember how scared it made me!

  3. Michael says:

    Well for a science spin on things check out http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3537938.stm
    I think the math is very flawed, but what the heck, it’s better than sitting in grade 9 algerbra!!

    –michael

  4. marlo says:

    The Blair Witch Project scared me a lot too. I didn’t sleep very well for several days. The Ring was pretty scary, too.

  5. soosie says:

    bleh. i have yet to have on scare me either. but….when i was 17 and saw hellraiser for the first time, i laughed my arse off. hehe.

  6. Yvonne says:

    I snuck downstairs once when I was 6 and watched a birth scene in V, where a seemingly normal little cute tyke suddenly flicks out its forked tongue. I watched silently, went back to bed, and was plagued by nightmares for a full week, and intermittently for years thereafter. I think that incident has made me relatively impervious to that kind of can’t-sleep-clown-will-eat-me fear.

    Shining: creepy, not scary. Except for the twins. {shudder}
    Blair Witch: pretty scary, and I wouldn’t have gone camping for any amount of money in the few days after watching it. I’d eat mustard, though.

  7. marlo says:

    similar to Yvonne’s anecdote: I one saw a movie where a woman gave birth to a full-grown man. That shit gave me nightmares for a long time.

    I was an insomniac, nightmare-ridden child.

  8. janet says:

    i can watch any scary movie from underneath a blanket with other people’s hands in close proximity for me to squeeze till nearly bloodless.

  9. Michael says:

    When I first saw the movie Poltergeist, one of the people with me became hysterical and had to leave. It really freaked her out and when the scene where Jo Beth Williams falls into the flooded, unfinished pool and the skeletons appears, she just lost it and started sobbing and had to be escorted out. And she was studying to be a psychiatrist!

    The original “The Haunting” from 1963 scared the jelly beans outta me as a child and actually made my kid sister wet herself! What the heck was my mother doing letting us watch that stuff!? Look at the disturbed gamer it produced…

    –michael

  10. Toren says:

    Oh that’s funny!

  11. banks! says:

    blair witch was more like bore witch for me. i did NOT find it scary in even the remotest sense of the word. at the end i was wondering why the guy was taking a pee in the corner of the basement. i could have cared less if those kids died they were so stupid.

    i know the movie you are talking about the woman giving birth to a full grown man. that freaked me out too. the movie is called xtro
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0086610/

    the scariest film for me (aside from Angry Red Planet when i was six) was possibly Exorcist or Exorcist 3. they were both really creepy. i mean REALLY creepy. i hope the Exorcist new beginning is as good.

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