I had the pleasure of reading a script that someone sent me over the weekend. In short, I liked it. It had all the elements that a horror film needed. But that sparked a conversation between us online about what he wanted to capture in his story and what exactly we considered “scary”.
Outside of the government, my last week’s paycheck, One Direction, and my neighbor who is a white man when he leaves his house in a suit but returns home at night made up as an Asian female dressed in a mini skirt, scary is rather subjective and whatever the viewer perceives it to be. There are differences though and you need to recognize them to achieve the right dramatic effect you are going for.
Please remember that scary and fear mean two different things. Scary is whatever causes fright or alarm.1 Fear is the human emotion that is caused by something that is an impending threat whether it is real or imagined. 2 So what do want to do? Do you want to make something scary or do you want to make something that will cause fear? One will last for a few seconds, while the other will leave the viewer screwed up for some time. Do this wrong and you are left with an audience that didn’t get it and may make you look completely stupid. Let’s dig that grave a little deeper.
Let’s look at your average “scary movie”. To most, it is probably a slasher film that someone brings a date to (so that he can cop a feel when she jumps in his lap) where the music swells when the buxom actress gets antsy from a noise, she checks it out (naked of course) a cat jumps out of nowhere, the actress is relieved as the killer comes from behind and hacks her up. The end. You go home and trash it on the old interweb.
Let’s look at the movies that cause fear. Take Jaws or Psycho for example. I didn’t go into the water at the beach after seeing Jaws. Or how about showers? Legions of fans did not take showers after Psycho was released. (Did you know the fear of showers is called “ablutophobia”?) How about Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure? I will never leave my bike anywhere near the Alamo again after seeing that!
Now at this point I have to point out to be careful of “shock” horror. This type or horror is when there is an overabundance of gore and exploitation just for the hell of it. Basically it goes against the grain of anything that is considered the social line of “acceptable”. These movies, books, or art contain an excessive amount of gang rape, blood baths, killing of animal or babies, imagery of violent mutilations, etc. I’m not supporting or condoning these mediums, because if that is what you are going for than, morgue power to ya. But what I am saying is…I don’t get it. It is shocking, (again, so is last week’s paycheck) but it is not scary (again, much like last week’s paycheck). Here’s why; a little blood goes a long way. Gore, expletives, violence, and sex is a much more effective image when it is done right, and by doing it right I mean sparingly. If you watch a scene that is drawn out where someone is about to cut off another person’s ear, when it eventually does happen, and those few drops of blood dripping from the wound are seen it is much more effective than seeing the victim drowning in blood from a lacerated ear. At some point it becomes more comical than horrific. This is when I start getting hate mail about “It’s not realistic when a chainsaw cuts off an arm and only a little blood comes out.” My answer is simple. HOW THE FUCK DO YOU KNOW? HACKED OF MANY AN ARM WITH A CHAINSAW IN YOUR DAY? So please consider your usage of such so that it doesn’t turn into a comedy.
To scare someone is easy. Startle effects are abundant, cheap, and easy to achieve. Kind of like my ex-ghoulfriends. To install fear in someone is a true talent. Thought has to be put into each scene and timing has to be just right. The difference between kill scenes from the Universal Monster years and the killers today is when they were done in the Universal years, the monster’s face was revealed and the camera held onto the image for several seconds before they slaughtered their victim so that the frightening imagery sat in. (Think of the scene in Phantom of the Opera where Christine removes Erik’s mask. That glare seemed to last forever.) Nowadays it is a quick flash of their blade and you might catch a glimpse of their mask.
To shock someone the right way is actually difficult these days also. To quote the king of shock rock himself, Alice Cooper, “What can you do to shock people anymore? Everything has been done before. I mean you can go up onstage and cut off your arm, but you can only do that once.” He’s right. Limits have gotten pushed so far now, that it has become too difficult to shock people. When the Exorcist first came out, people got up and left the theater at some of the scenes (think about the masturbation scene with the crucifix). Today, a new generation is so used to extreme visuals that to them, those scenes are child’s play.
Whatever you do, do it well. You will always have time to say “I wished I could have” to maybe a better plot, a better ending, a better opening paragraph or scene. But never make the mistake where you have to say “I wish I wouldn’t have”. I fear this all the time. It scares me to know that I occasionally do this. Know your influences, know your audience, know your boundaries. Push your influences, push your audience, and push your boundaries. But whatever you do, do not break your influences, break your audience, or break your boundaries.
Halloween is just around the corner and I need to get ready. I’m thinking about starting my own haunted attraction for the fall. I’m thinking a haunted house that will cost your whole paycheck to get in. Government ghouls (or clowns, same thing) will chase you from room to room. I’m thinking of putting it to the soundtrack of One Direction, and having my neighbor wait at the end while wearing his dress and cranking a chainsaw. That should cover just about everything.
This week check out Devildriver’s new album “Winter Kills” and the movie “Profile of a Killer” (Thanks Shawn).
Until next time, rest in pieces.
Renfield prefers if you are going to call him names, use the term, “Tombstone Trash”.