My husband and I were discussing movies a while back and we started to think about why we liked some movies but not others, even when on the surface the films might seem similar. I had been watching a little bit of the computer animated Resident Evil: Degeneration but stopped because I was losing interest and neither engaged in the story nor frightened. The first two Resident Evil movies were decent enough. The third Mila Jovovich one was ok, but not up to the first two. This computer animated one really blew. Eventually I went back and watched the second half just for laughs.
Anyway, like I said, my husband and started to talk about movies, and drifted to horror, given my choice of recent viewing material. Here is his take (edited somewhat) on what makes a horror movie good (or bad.)
Me- What makes a movie scary if you don't want to rely on gore or cheap startles?
DH- There are a couple of things...cheap thrills aside, really good suspense flows well, actually, the cheap thrills usually stop good suspense.
Me- The suspense has to lead somewhere, but cats jumping out when you are afraid there is a killer is just plain stupid.
"Haha, it was just a cat, blah blah blah, the audience will love that laugh, they are so stupid"
I see THAT is a mistake writers make. But there is more to it.
DH- The key to good suspense is to keep building slowly, never letting it totally down (and avoiding the bum-bum-BUM moments.)
That means good plot, and some pay-off doesn't hurt when it's not cheap.
Look at 6th sense, leaving aside any gore, it would've been just as scary with no gore.
You make sure the audience KNOWS the bad things are about to happen, and that's really where the suspense is.
Me- The gore in 6th sense was not to shock the audience but more to give sympathy for Cole; a kid should not have to see that all the time.
Now, some other things...
Creepiness; this is really the function most hacks use gore to achieve.
Other common ways to achieve creepiness is by using things that people innately fear or avoid, like bugs and insane people.
Me- HP Lovecraft studied psychology to delve into what primally scares people; being eaten is a big one.
DH- The last piece I would suggest again comes to plot, but isn't so much a device... it's the timing and flow. Scary movies are like musical pieces when done right. They have to flow together from one movement to another with lots of minor apexes, but only one big crescendo. When you let it come down, you have to keep enough tension to keep the ball rolling. You can't have too many big points that detract from the finale, but you still have to have the minor points that make everything feel like progress forward and to keep interest.
You can't rely on one big scare.
Your plot is vital to this, because gimmicks just don't do it.
I hope that wasn't too hard to decipher, given that we were IMing at the time.
"bum bum BUM" Are a big cheese factor. Anywhere you can say (or hear an actor say, which is even worse) "It was the little boy all along!" or "Oh NO! Just as she almost got out!" or "The scientist took a sample to his lab!" These are sometimes accompanied by sweepy camera moves, to make sure you see it, or accenting music. bum bum BUM. B horror flicks do this a lot. Resident Evil: Degeneration did this so much it was amusing.
Not long after we had this conversation DH and I went to see Coraline. It is a children's horror movie. This meant the gore was kept to a minimum (Do splattered silverfish count as gore?) and the story would have to carry (or fail to carry) the suspense and horror. (And there was more likely to be a happy ending. There are very few things I want to take time out of my life to watch or read that I will be satisfied by a tragic ending. It just seems like a wild waste of my time.)
DH said Coraline was superbly done, one of the best movies he has seen in the last five years. (That sounds like a compliment, but thinking back on the releases of the last five years, it isn't saying as much as it sounds like it is saying.) There were minor apexes leading up to, but not detracting from the final climax.
I liked it a lot too, though the trapeze scene was a little...over the top. The creepiness was certainly up there on the scale. I have heard that adults are actually more creeped out than kids by this film. I can see that. There are nuances that kids either don't get or take as a given that mess with adults. It depends on the kids, of course, and the adults. The buttons really get me, eewww!
I don't think I would take my 8 year old to see this, but the older girls, sure.
The rhinoceros at the Memphis Zoo. I cannot remember what her name is. I keep thinking Rosie, but I would not bet money that is correct. Isn't she beautiful?