In today’s horror climate, there are few themes that haven’t already been touched on, meaning that audiences are growing immune to all the recycled material out there. Conjuring that perfect essence of terror is becoming harder to do. There are fewer villains to introduce and the standard jump scare has grown tired and predictable. So, what is left to give #horror junkies that much-needed rush?
Answers can be found in our DNA. The key to uncovering what it is that makes a perfect horror film is to perform an autopsy on our own psyche; exploiting our primal instincts, dissecting the very foundations of human fear and finding new ways to project them further.
Pandering To Our Primitive Instincts
Jump scares aren’t the be all and end all of horrors, and a lack of them certainly does not lessen a film's value, but you have to admit: You feel slightly cheated if you leave the cinema with your underwear firmly intact. Apparently, the reason we crave the adrenaline rush of a good horror goes much deeper than the simple desire to be entertained.
The reason behind this harks right back to the days when we were watching movies at a big stone drive-in with the Flintstones. One theory states that our primitive ancestors used to prepare for potential predator attacks by psyching themselves up and making each other jump. Our love of horror films supposedly quenches this innate desire, though it is becoming harder to do so since horror fans are mostly able to recognize the patterns of an impending scare, lessening the effect and rendering the cave person within us unsatisfied.
Good horror films overcome this by spicing up the shocks, ditching the whole face-in-the-closing-bathroom-mirror scenario and sticking surprises in places where audiences will have their guards down, creating a false sense of security before spooking them silly.
Exploiting Our Innate Fears
As humans, we are naturally both tantalized and terrified by the unknown. Darkness, for example, is one of many aspects of the everyday that we are collectively unsettled by — not because we fear the dark itself, but rather what might be hiding within.
Again, we have our prehistoric pals to thank for this. Back in the good old days, the "boogeyman" lurking in the shadows posed a threat that was all too real. In order to avoid a predator attack, our ancestors learned to steer clear of the dark. Good horror films are easily able to exploit this innate fear, toying with lighting in order to create unnerving atmospheres or even using the darkness as a vessel for their villains, as was the case with David F. Sandberg's 2016 directorial debut Lights Out. Toying with lighting is one simple yet hugely effective way of ensuring scares in horror films.
Probing Our Phobias
When Stephen King settled down to create one of the most horrifying creatures in the entire horror-verse, he asked himself: What scares children more than anything else in the world? His answer: clowns. While it has been argued that King is mainly responsible for why clowns give us the creeps, the phobia had been knocking around for quite some time before the release of It. It is all to do with the "uncanny valley," which refers to things that appear human, but aren't quite right. This can cause a huge sense of discomfort in people and it is probably why surprising amounts of adults are often creeped out by certain animations intended for children, such as Coraline.
There is a wealth of phobias out there that have been exploited many a time. The only problem is that, for the most part, only a handful of people are likely to be traumatized. However, a truly great horror film would harness that fear and allow it to spread.
Horror in general is a pretty primal genre. With all the gore and raw human instinct involved, it is no wonder that the truly great horror films are the ones that dare to dissect the deepest regions of our nature. Films that continue to find fresh ways of using our own instincts against us will surely be the ones to thrive in the world of horror.
Would you agree that the ingredients to the perfect horror can be found within ourselves, or are the answers more external?