The spooky season is coming, and we’re all long to make a mug of warm cocoa, get ourselves nice and cozy in the apartment and… turn on those horror movies you missed since the previous Halloween. In case you are a student of cinema studies, we bet you’ll have quite a few classes related to the Halloween themed classics followed by writing assignments (usually, expository essay) based on the films. But which Halloween movies are canon, and what techniques do they use for us to understand that this is indeed a horror movie? This essay is at your service in case you’re given the task to investigate the most common and way too obvious tricks the directors do to make your skin shiver. Let’s see the list with examples from the golden library of horror.
Anthropomorphism of the monsters/evil spirits
Nothing scares us more than the understanding that something really demonic can actually have a human resemblance. But the trick that the movie-makers do is that they depict the villain in the beginning as a normally looking people to set us in the state of belief and accumulate suspense gradually when all of the sudden the human side turns into the limb of the devil. Remember “Shining”? “The Exorcist”? “Constantine”, at last. Many characters from those switch their appearances from human-like to monster-like, and this creeps the hell out of the audience.
Dark Music Theme
Old but gold, as they say. The music in horror movies is a paramount ingredient in case one wants to cast the chill on the viewers’ backs, and rightly so. Every expository essay you might find on the topic includes solid research on the service of sounds to our acceptance of imagery. What usually comes across in those writing is that the more doom and gloom it is, the more suspense it evokes. Of course, it will be low scale, rich in bass, preferably played on the organ, especially at some church locations. We can bet every essay mentions “Psycho” by the Father of Horror, Mr. Alfred Hitchcock. Like in the case with the bath scene, it amplifies the sudden effect and paired with our not seeing the face of the murderer, makes us sit still with our blood getting colder. The infrasounds are the whole other story as whenever we hear something our ears aren’t built for, we get alerted.
Another classic that can go 2 ways: it’s either intended by the circumstances but not actually happening (when you expect something to jump out from nowhere because “it’s supposed to”), or something does jump out, but nothing betokened it’ll happen. “Friday, the 13” is known for the trick, but so are many modern movies and series. “Stranger Things”, literally almost every episode, but the combination of the plot, graphics, camera moves, and sounds make those pop-outs are dreadful indeed.
“Devil’s Advocate” isn’t necessarily a horror film, but do you remember the mirror scene in the bathroom? Didn’t it give you the silent “Oh my God!” feeling? The thing is, the mirroring and reflecting are the great tools to make the audience uncertain about the reality that the character (and themselves!) is set in. And what emotion describes this the best? Right, fear. We are scared to see there something we don’t want to see, and the characters usually avoid it deliberately until the camera does focus on it and bang, here we have the monstrous reflection (or no reflection at all if we are talking about “Nosferatu” and other vampire-related films). The scriptwriters are doing a great job at placing these scenes, so the audience gets frightened easily.
Not Showing the Villain’s Face
The state of the unknown is scary because we, as social and conditioned beings, are used to all be clear and predictive. Panic and fear are caused by the directors’ deliberate decision to keep the intrigue of the antagonist’s face until the very end. Just like in “The Phycho”, all we see is a silhouette of a man, not his face. Speculation on this can go a long way in case the other imagery is well-thought-out, and the shadow doesn’t resemble any of the characters.
People Acting Abnormal
“An American Psycho” is a great example of how the character can creep us out by looking like… a normal person. With a weird behavior or music choice or preferences. The category of non-normal is an absolute must when one wants to create a psychotic, toxic atmosphere intended to frighten. That can be achieved by showing abrupt body movements, tics, behavior that reminds of those in psychiatric asylums. Believe us, you’ll find this in most of the expository critical papers of the horror films.
David Lynch is famous for this in “Twin Peaks”, particularly. It happens subconsciously that we define the “needed” length of the scene, and when it surprisingly doesn’t end, we find ourselves unease because of “what’s going to happen next?”. What this trick does is conditioning us to perceive the following information in another psychological state. And this is the major condition for the horror movie to be successful – to temporary alter our mental state and play with our minds.
Any horror movie you find will most likely have the mentioned techniques, which make this or that movie scary. Some of those made in the early years of cinematography, however, can be rather funny to watch now with all advances in graphics and visual narration. What remains, though, is its tremendous influence on the film-making process of our times.