We enjoy movies for many reasons; to laugh, to be entertained, to feel love, to feel excited… to hopefully provoke some form of emotional response. One thing that movies can do is scare us.
Scary movies have been made from the early days of cinema, from films like Nosferatu (1922) or The Cabinet Of Dr. Caligari (1920) up to the modern-day, like Hereditary (2018) or The Babadook (2014).
Horror movies give us a sense of fear, but in safety… Freddy Kruger won’t get us in our dreams, an alien won’t burst through our chest, there are no gremlins. We can put on a movie, be scared for a couple of hours, then turn the lights back on and not worry about the boogie man.
So What Makes A Good Horror Movie?
It seems like most horror movies tend to rely on the ol’ faithful of a quiet moment, then a big jump with a clash of music… the classic moment like this is Jaws, when Hooper is underwater and digging the tooth out of the boat hull and then BAM! A face pops out with a massive jolt of music.
When Spielberg and the producers added that scene, they said that popcorn flew everywhere in the movie theatres, with everyone jumping.
The ol’ faithful though is a bit of a cheat though, we are born with two natural fears, a fear of falling (which helps us to learn to walk) and a fear of loud noises (which is just a natural instinct), so having a jump moment in a movie is always going to scare us, it’s in our DNA.
Are there any movies that properly scare though? Give you a genuine sense of unease? That stays with you?
I’ve always found it best to watch a horror movie in a dark room, headphones, turn off the phone and alone. It really helps to soak up the atmosphere. If the director, cast and crew have gone the effort to try and scare you, then you can do your best to get in the right frame of mind.
I have two examples of what I think are great horror movies.
The Haunting (1963)
Directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson and Russ Tamblin, The Haunting is one of the most genuinely frightening horror movies ever made, in my humble opinion.
A psychic investigator (Johnson) invites people, who have experienced things of the paranormal, to a haunted house, to see if the paranormal genuinely exist. Based on a book by Shirley Jackson and, more recently, updated to a TV series for Netflix by Mike Flanagan, which changes the story somewhat, but was actually very good.
The original movie is a masterclass in horror. There are no monsters to be seen, as such, but there is evil in the house. The beauty of the movie is how it’s played out with excellent direction and camera work, sounds and the music and the wonderful acting, particularly by Julie Harris, whose character the house seems to fixate on.
The one scene that always scares me is when Nell (Harris) and Theo (Bloom) are in the bedroom together and something starts banging on the door from the hallway. As I say, it is just acting, camerawork and sound effects, but it’s so very well done, you genuinely feel the fear of the two characters, actually gives you goosebumps.
The entire movie has a very eerie feel about it and I always feel better at the end when I can put the lights back on.
Eden Lake (2008) – *SPOILERS*
Written and directed by James Watkins and starring Kelly Reilly and (pre-fame) Michael Fassbender, it tells the usual story, a couple go to get away for the weekend, but are hassled by some local teens.
In the first act of the movie, I was merrily saying to the couple ‘Just go home! Things are obviously going to go wrong, just leave!’ while pleasantly giggling to myself. By the end of the movie, I felt like I had taken a few kicks to the head!
This movie is obviously very different to The Haunting, not everyone believes in the paranormal, but local teens, we have all seen them, playing football down the park, walking by your house and skipping their way to school with a happy smile on their face… the teens in Eden Lake are not those teens!
The main leader, Brett (played by Jack O’Connell) is terrifying! We first meet him, and his gang, by the lake, Jenny (Reilly) is sunbathing and Steve (Fassbender) is having a swim. The teens are playing music loudly, so Steve confronts them, they give a bit of hassle, leave and that’s the end of that.
No, it isn’t! Steve has his tires slashed on his car and eventually drives around to find the teens. Through one thing and another, he ends up in the teen’s house and narrowly escapes without being found. They return to the lake (Seriously?!?!) to carry on their weekend.
The car gets stolen, Steve and Jenny find the teens and, as they try to get the car back, end up killing Brett’s dog. As they drive away, Steve gets stuck in the car, but Jenny gets away. She returns to find Steve, tied up with barbed wire, and Brett making everyone cut him, so they are all accomplices to the crime. One of the boys puts a knife in Steve’s mouth and jiggles it around, it’s very nasty.
Steve gets set on fire after they kill him, as does another young boy who tried to help Jenny.
Jenny’s situation gets worse and worse, every time you think she is going to get away, she doesn’t. She ends up killing one of the teens, which is half self-defence and half-justified revenge.
The last act is horrendous! Jenny ends up at a house and you think she’s finally free of the terror… she’s not. It’s Brett’s house, where there is a party going on and all the local teens parents. They find out that Jenny killed one of the teens and, well, it ends badly. The screams at the end of the movie are haunting, truly terrifying… especially the look in Brett’s eyes.
Because of the way the movie plays out and because local teens are a real thing, it genuinely makes you think twice about confronting anyone! It’s a movie I still play out in my head today, if you haven’t seen it, I wouldn’t recommend it, but at the same time I would, but be warned, it’s very uncomfortable watching.
Enjoying a good horror movie is a good thing, it can be fun and it can be entertaining (apart from Eden Lake).
They say to give yourself a scare every day, for me, that’s either looking at my bank balance or waiting until the evening, turning off the lights and enjoying a good horror movie.
Obviously, there are lots of titles that come to mind, I’ve only picked two, so what movies have truly scared you? Not just made you jump, but really left you scared?