If you’ve read my past movie reviews, you’ll come to understand that, while I like watching horror movies, I rarely come away with a good opinion of the films I do watch.
This is because today’s horror movies/thrillers tend to focus too much on the blood, gore and even sex than they do on trying to scare people.
One of the questions that is asked to me quite often is what elements I believe a good horror movie should have. So, I decided to take some time today and list things that will always have me on the edge of my seat.
First, the movie has to have some realism to it. Space aliens attacking or a criminal coming back from the dead to seek revenge can give you a few intense scenes. But, a good horror film will have you making sure your doors and windows are locked before going to bed because you’re afraid of an escaped mental ward patient or a family of cannibals. I’ve also found thrillers that take place in a hospital or dentist office tend to stick with you because those are places with plenty of sharp instruments that will bring back memories when you’re there in real life.
Secondly, mystery builds suspense. A lot of horror movies make the mistake of giving the movie watcher too much background information; something that ends up distancing them from the characters in the film. If you want to create suspense, you need to keep the audience in the dark about things the characters themselves wouldn’t know. I don’t know why people were coming up from their graves in Night of the Living Dead or where the monsters came from in The Mist. But, I do know they are there and I’m on the edge of my seat because they are pounding down the door. Not knowing makes me feel like I’m actually in the movie, not just watching it.
Third, strong characters make the best victims. If I see a topless woman screaming for her life as she runs from a guy with a knife, I end up laughing. If you want me to be scared, show me someone who isn’t afraid to fight back but still finds themselves in a hopeless situation. If the captain of the high school football team can’t overpower the bad guy then what chance would I have? And please, don’t insult my intelligence by casting good looking women just to do a nude scene. If I see that, I know you’re trying to distract me from a weak plot.
Fourth, don’t give me a chance to take a breath. Horror movies without action are dull pieces of crap. Yet, many have lulls of several minutes where the characters do nothing but talk or worse, fall in love with each other (that’s what romantic comedies are for). If you want to give your characters some depth, do it while they are barricading a door or are watching one of their friends being hacked to pieces.
Fifth, when in doubt, the more legs the better. I’m not afraid of bugs. But, seeing someone covered in spiders or centipedes always makes me feel like I have something crawling up my back. In fact, I’ve been known to do spot inspections of our bedroom before turning out the lights after seeing creepy crawlies like that in a movie. Believe me; the biggest psychopath you can come up with will never outdo a penny-sized spider crawling up someone’s neck.