How Horror Captures Audience Attention

Photo Courtesy/ Pixabay

Michael Chintalan

A&E Editor

Halloween is coming and many are looking for a good spook or two.

Although it is sometimes harder to find something scary to watch or play and the horror genre is becoming oversaturated with cheesy jumpscare-fests that are losing their effectiveness.

Why is it so hard to make something scary when there are plenty of good examples of horror? What makes horror so effective and how come it’s becoming such a bad genre? How does horror even work in the first place?

First off, horror is incredibly subjective. This is why some may jump during jumpscares and others may find them dull and unoriginal.

It truly is hard to pin down what makes each person frightened, thus it is hard to master the creation of horror.

Because of this, people who make horror experiences tend to be broad with what sorts of scares they use so they can hit a more general audience.

Examining horror films is perfect for understanding how horror can be used and made effectively.

The first thing to understand is that jumpscares are not a good use of horror. They can be used to heighten tension, but they are more of a cheap gimmick to get the viewers to feel engaged in the movie and to scare them.

Jumpscares use two elements; a scary visual and a loud noise that would make any person jump if they heard it.

Sometimes they can be used right, but Hollywood “horror” movies believe this to be the best approach to horror.

With companies making terrible movies it makes some people believe that the horror genre is either dead or not worth their time at all.

The bad overshadows the good, but by digging around and even looking at indie and foreign films there are a few gems that are worth watching.

Films such as “The Cabin in the Woods,” “It Follows,” “The Ritual” and “It Comes at Night” are excellent examples of good horror. I’ll even argue that “Train to Busan” is a better zombie/horror movie than most of what Hollywood producers come up with.

What made the previous films so effective and scary is due to numerous choices made by the people making the films. It is hard to pin down the exact reasons why horror works, but it does not mean it is impossible.

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown,” is what H. P. Lovecraft, the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos, once said.

He is not far from the truth and horror can be double as effective when the viewers and characters within a film do not know what is lurking behind closed doors or what is pursuing them.

This is why the full reveal of a monster is best saved for the climax or later parts of a film instead of instantly showing what is killing people.

Zombie films are hardly horrific because everyone knows how to deal with them.

Comparing that to a monster no one has ever seen before is plenty more frightening because there are no known ways to defeat it or avoid it.

Sometimes knowing less can even make an experience more horrifying because then the audience starts to make theories or questions and feel more engaged instead of passively watching a movie.

One other major factor in making a horror film good is the characters.

People need to care for the characters or at least feel a sort of connection to them in order to fear for their safety and not feel as if the film is full of dull and uninteresting people.

Not every film, book and game needs interesting characters though.

Junji Ito, a horror manga artist, rejects the use of well-developed characters to focus more on the aspect of cosmic and abstract horror.

The characters still have at least some personality and that make readers sympathsize for them.

These two points are vital in making at most a good and entertaining horror experience, but it does not guarantee success.

There are many different factors that can make something scary, but as always it is a subjective experience that some will love and some will hate.

In the end, horror is by far the hardest genre to master because it has to evoke a feeling that most people are not comfortable with.

Horror will never please everyone, but it is truly a fascinating and frightening experience that can leave viewers haunted for countless years.

Email Michael at:

mchintalan@live.esu.edu

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