Horror Movies and What Makes Good Horror

Last Updated on October 6, 2021 by

What to expect from a horror movie? Can you go in with the same expectations when watching a horror movie as when, for example, you sit down to watch a comedy? Yes, you can, since all films, regardless of genre, have a goal to awaken a physical response from the viewer, whether it is to make one laugh or shudder.

The film is a medium that should arouse emotion and that is exactly what sets a good movie apart from a bad one. A film can be directed with the strongest hand, the clearest target, and with the most talented people in the industry, but in the end it does not matter when you are left indifferent in the cinema chair.

But then comes the question, if a horror movie doesn’t make you scared, can it still be considered a good horror movie? Yes, it can. A good horror movie should make you scared, but it’s not just the feeling of fear that makes the movie an effective horror movie. This is where The Shining comes into the picture.

In The Shining’s case, the photo was exemplary, with a camera that almost constantly moved horizontally, as if you were viewing the events taking place in a small dollhouse. As the camera moves inward it is usually behind someone’s back, as if the dollhouse perspective was not enough and we were forced, like on rails, to accompany them into Overlook Hotel’s worst spring.

On it, the scenography and the detail of everything from the clothes to the props were insane and the script, and not least the dialogue, was fantastic. Stanley Kubrick’s fingertip feeling is seen throughout the film and the acting takes it all to new levels. But was it scary? Not at all.

If The Shining was a perfect movie, even though it wasn’t really scary, how does a movie like Annabelle, which actually had its scary moments, but which was a complete failure to film? As a movie, it was incredibly mediocre, and as a horror movie even worse. But how is that possible? The Shining should be a worse horror film on paper because it doesn’t make you pee your pants.

The two thousand’s attempts at horror movies have a tedious tendency to rely far too much on jump-to-effects and base all their “horror” around this particular “will it / won’t it jump a cat behind the curtain” mechanics. As a consequence, one becomes more afraid of one’s own sudden reaction than what actually happens.

The Shining is almost completely free of this kind of jump-to-the-moment and instead puts all the gunpowder on characters and mood. There is an uncomfortable mood over the film from the first frame to the last and everything is in the details. From the job interview in the beginning to the completely incomprehensible end, there are more memorable pictures, quotes, and insanities in The Shining than it does in both Annabelle and her overlooked predecessor, The Conjuring (2013).

So what can we say after all this is said? Since what is scary is as subjective as what is funny, we can not say anything.

But what I want to bring out is that modern horror films lack what Kubrick so perfectly built-in The Shining; fingertip feeling and a belief in their craft. The shock method that permeates the modern shakers is cheap and used to create immediate fear of their own physical reaction, not of what is happening in itself. And that’s a shame. For both Annabelle, Tusk and Insidious: Chapter 3 contains memorable moments that, if the directors had trusted their craft and dared to spend more time on unique moods than building up to the next jump to effect, they could have lifted over the swamp that is now called the horror movie genre. Now they become films in the crowd that fall apart on very different points, but which at the same time reinforces my view that a horror movie does not automatically become good just because it scares. Dare to place higher (or is it lower?) Demands on your fear.