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Why I dare to be scared by horror movies

PUBLISHED: 15:08 11 December 2017 | UPDATED: 15:08 11 December 2017

A scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Picture: Cinema City

A scene from Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. Picture: Cinema City


I am an aspiring writer and film fan. I enjoy watching how films unfold and I am particularly interested in the way they are structured. I like seeing how the story has been put together as this helps inform my writing by giving me a better sense of plot and structure.

I mainly watch drama and comedy, however I have recently decided to delve into horror films.

I used to think it was weird that people would voluntarily be scared and were willing to pay to be confronted by their fears. Why would people want to see their worst nightmares played out in front of them?

I recently changed my mind when I explored the horror genre a bit more.

On a whim, I decided to watch Psycho. I already knew of the story as it is near impossible to avoid spoilers for a film that is so iconic, but I was still gripped by the twists and turns throughout the film.

I realised that it is about more than just working out the identity of the killer, but also about the chase to find and stop them.

This is a similar case in John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween. The identity of the killer is apparent from the start as Michael Myers is established as a killer who has escaped from the sanitorium. What makes the film scary is not the gore (there is very little) but the fact that you don’t know where he will appear next. He looms in the distance as a masked bogeyman looking for his next victim.

The scariest part for the audience is the anticipation. You know to expect something to happen yet feel uneasy because you don’t know what this will be.

The horror genre is simultaneously predictable and unpredictable. The audience knows what to expect, as there are certain ‘rules’ that horror films follow, but the director plays with this to build tension and keep the viewer guessing.

Surprises and jump scares are used when they are least expected. This means the audience can never quite guess what is going to happen, but is given an idea.

Horror films are almost like pantomimes for adults. The audience is one step ahead of the character by knowing what to expect. They want to shout out to warn them what is about to happen. This engages with the audience on a primal level; the viewer is willing the character to get away from the monster so that they survive the film.

There are a set of rules that have come to be expected of horror films, so much so that they formed the basis of the 1996 film Scream. However, this genre is all about the unexpected so these rules only provide a false sense of security by making the viewer think they know what will happen.

This makes it all the more uneasy when something unexpected happens, such as the killer appearing from under the bed. Normal rules don’t apply to the monster so it is impossible to feel safe when faced with an unknown that doesn’t follow the rules we have come to expect.

The monster may be a deranged killer who lacks a concept of right and wrong, or could even be some other entity, such as a vampire or alien. This means that the characters in the film, as well as the audience, are unable to feel safe as they don’t know what they are faced with and have to work out how to deal with this threat.

Horror movies make you feel something. You’re unable to just sit back and take it in; they command you to engage on an instinctive and emotional level so you feel as much a part of it as one of the characters. It is a relief when the evil has been defeated so all can return to normal, providing a sense of order in our otherwise chaotic world.

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