We’ve all seen enough horror films in our time to know a classic from a turkey, but what exactly is it that separates the petrifying wheat from the soft-hitting chaff? Here are a few of the ingredients which need to be added together in perfect harmony to make a truly great horror flick:
Our day to day lives tend to lack any real sense of suspense. If we’re playing the slots at a casino site like Gaming Club or we’re waiting to hear what the Sub of the Day is (fingers crossed for Italian BMT...), we may well feel a little tension, but that’s nothing compared to what we can be made to feel by great cinema. Alfred Hitchcock used to say that rather than simply scaring audiences with the ‘bang’ of a bomb blowing up, it’s far better to show them a ticking clock that’s counting down until the bomb goes off – that way we get the tension of the suspense during the countdown AND the shock of the bomb blowing up! Think of Dr Heiter from The Human Centipede prowling the corridors of his house as his victims desperately try to escape... We know he’ll surely catch them, but we’re made to wait in suspense for a long time before he does.
The importance of the soundtrack in making a film brilliantly scary is easy to overlook, but you only have to think about the classically chilling soundscapes of your favourite horrors – those stabbing strings during the shower scene in Psycho; that menacing two-note masterpiece from jaws – to understand that without the right soundtrack, there’s no horror.
The iconic baddie
If there has ever been a classic horror film that doesn’t feature a truly iconic bad guy, we’ve yet to come across it. From Hellraiser’s Pinhead to Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street, all the great horror films feature distinctively frightening baddies who keep the audience on their toes throughout the movie. Sometimes these evil villains come out of nowhere – take the post-transformation Gremlins for example! If you want to create a great horror flick, you’d better have a terrifying and iconic villain up your sleeve.
Of course, great horror needs at least a healthy splash of gore. This scene from Zombie is possibly the finest example we've ever seen, featuring deeply uncomfortable gore and plenty of suspense all in one!