Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Exploring the Scary

After my last post on cheap scares and tears, I've been itching to explore certain elements that make a movie scary. Furthermore, how to amp up the scare factor to spine-tingling, bone-chilling and eventually out right terrifying. I have an inkling that a lot of the scare factor depends on one's personality and receptiveness to differing tactics, however, there seem to be some tried and true methods. I've covered several below, please feel free to nudge me with pushy comments if I've left out a favorite.

First, "The Cheap Scare" (see my previous post for more detailed coverage). This tactic relies on a combination of music, timing and suspense. We all know its coming, and that is the beauty of it. The suspense of that knowledge without the key of knowing the precise moment amps up the scare factor. It is a similar feeling to anticipating the initial drop on a roller coaster. You know its coming, but you can't fully prepare yourself for the sensation.

Next is "The Grotesque Factor". Generally entailing blood spatter of some kind, copious entrails, or zombies chewing on a misplaced limb of some sort. The grotesque factor is for movies whose primary purpose is to disturb you into being afraid. The fact that this extreme disgusting-ness is taking place anywhere, even on your 2-D 42" LCD screen is just too much, and you are sufficiently freaked. This tactic is specifically targeted towards those with weak stomachs. Rob Zombie seems to be a master of such films. I try to stay away from films that employ this tactic, for the well-being of others around me.

Another tried and true is "No Escape". This one is primarily used in Zombie movies (and is also my biggest weakness). It plays on the underlying fear of being trapped. You may feel that fear in relation to a dead-end job, or due to the padded room that you recently left behind; no matter the circumstances everyone is subject to this fear at some point. For some, myself included, the feeling that there is no escape, and no viable option for success is terrifying. Zombie movies encompass this best of all since zombies have the potential to be anywhere that humans have been or will go. Also, anyone around you could become one of them at any moment, and ultimately, so could you. There is no trust, no solace, just chaos and failure...excuse me while I go cower in the bathtub.

OK, back now. The last tactic I will cover today (though this is by no means a comprehensive list) is "It Could Happen to You". This tactic is more of a subtle art. The goal is to make the story line close enough to real life that you begin to look over your shoulder, expecting the worst at any moment. This device usually employs a character who is encountering a spot of bother in their day-to-day life. A bullied student or a single mother, for instance. The story then puts them through the ringer with some sort of super-villain, crazed killer, or supernatural entity; ultimately ending with either their triumph, where they realize they are stronger than they ever knew; or their untimely demise. The reason this tactic works is because these are the events we view on the six o'clock news. Granted, they are generally less graphic, with less sharp pointy things and witty dialogue, but therein lies the entertainment factor. We begin to believe that if we are a victim of circumstance in one area of our lives, then we are also subject to a psychopathic next door neighbor who kills for nothing less than a pint of sugar (does anyone say pint anymore without referencing beer?). Even though these cases are few and far between, realistically, who doesn't like to believe they're special and deserving of a super-stalker from beyond the grave?

Alright, I'm spent. Your turn. Any other sublime scare tactics I've failed to discuss?

1 comment:

  1. No way out.. you need to play "Left 4 Dead" to experience a first person view of being brought down by a horde of zombies.

    What about the unprepared freak out? Like the first movie that had the girl talking to her friend, turning around and BAM! mowed down by a bus. Or, in the first Ring, with the cut shot of the scary "dried" screaming girl?

    Speaking of screaming girl, why do characters continue to do the "wrong thing" in movies when it's clearly obvious what the "right thing" is? Is it so the writer can justify the movie lasting more than 10 minutes?