WHAT IS HORROR? Horror is an intense and profound fear, something that inspires dislike. Horror films are movies that strive to elicit the emotions of fear, horror and terror from viewers. They can have the effect of mental paralysis, working their way into the minds of viewers often making us feel frozen, unable to move. Their plots frequently involve themes of death, the supernatural or mental illness. Many horror movies also include a central villain.
THE HISTORY OF HORROR. The first horror movie was the silent short film ‘Le Manoir du Diable’ directed by Georges Mèliès in 1896. It was the first horror and the first vampire film. The movie only lasted two minutes, but audiences loved it, and Mèliès took pleasure in giving them more horrors. As horror film budgets rose significantly in the 1960’s, public fascination with horrors led to a series of serious, supernatural-themed, often gruesome horror movies. The Exorcist (1973) broke all records for a horror film and is, still today, said to be one of the most feared movies to watch by audiences.
COPYCAT THEORY Horrors have been said to influence some people to imitate the brutal methods of the killers portrayed on screen. However according to years of research into the criminal, psychological side of the mind, horrors have been shown to have the opposite effect on normal people. Watching horror films lets us encounter our secret fears, share them with other viewers and eliminate the terror by meeting it head-on.
SO WHAT IS IT THAT SCARES US? This is open to interpretation. However, ever noticed the high-stringed music at particular points in the film like the one playing in the background at the moment? Observe a clip in a film and think about the effects with the music playing, and then mute it, see the effects without the music playing...
SO WHAT IS IT THAT SCARES US? Maybe its the camera effects and costume and make-up we are able to create with today’s technology.
CHARACTER There are always certain characters which we expect to see in a horror movie.
Ghouls, monsters, zombies, murderers, psychiatric patients, mentally disturbed, convicts, animals and even the environment or as demonstrated in final destination, fate.
Dumb character who falls straight into the trap or gets captured at the very beginning to provide entertainment for the audience.
Clever character that figures out clues or how to escape the clutches of the killer.
Always a main character or main set of characters that are hunted down.
The rescuer who helps out.
The girl who gets to the end and defeats the killer.
Clothes are often torn or dirty. If there is a killer in the horror then they are sometimes wearing things to disguise themselves such as masks. For example, Michael Myers in Halloween wears a boiler suit and a white mask.
Weapons are often used such as bloody knives, guns, clubs and general household objects.
Can be set daytime or night but the action in horror movies traditionally occurs in the night.
Often dark places, old and creaky perhaps. Abandoned, ‘middle of nowhere’ buildings. Damaged structures Crumbling or run-down buildings.
The setting creates mood. If a murder were shot in broad sunlight it wouldn’t have the same scary impact on the audience as if it was shot in the night time.
Examples of some places; Old mines, Derelict houses, Fields, House in a normal neighbourhood, Forest, Sorority houses, University grounds, Schools, Old farm Houses, Butchers, Lakes, The countryside.
NARRATIVE DEVICES “One might say that the true subject of horror, is the struggle for recognition of all that our civilization represses and oppresses” (Cook, The cinema book, 1985 page101).
Horror is based upon conflict and dilemmas the main characters endure. From the main set of characters, several character types are chosen, the heroine or hero, the evil monster and the supporting characters. Horror addresses the viewer with the expectation that the viewer will identify with the hero.
“Horror’s never-never land is bearable because its so entirely rational.” (Cook The cinema book, 1985 page99).
ICONOGRAPHY Iconography in horror films follow a standardised pattern, that won’t deviate from the original format. There is a specific pattern within horror movies, as they are set up to address the implied viewer, this makes the genre identifiable. The connotation of the horror genre, tells the viewer who or what is good and who or what is evil, and also identifies the codes linked with them. The traditional genre pattern of horror films is still followed in all examples of horror films. The original form of discovery and conflict is essential to plot structure, what the audience expects to see and hear, is consistent in the horror genre.
Iconography can be symbolic symbols which recur throughout all horror films, including: The haunted house, Symbols of death, The disfigured face or mask. The screaming victim (the ‘final girl’). The phallic murder weapon: Knife, meat cleaver, chainsaw etc. The binary oppositions of good and evil. E.G. Van Helsing. Darkened places where the ‘monster’ lurks: woods, cellars. Also the audience expect blood and body parts (body horror).
THEMES Social Themes in the horror genre are consistently similar. There is almost this ‘cause of conflict’ between the two character types. Some general themes in the horror genre consist of: Slasher (Halloween 1978), vampire (Van Helsing 2004), zombie (Dawn of the Dead 1978), demonic possession (The Exorcist 1973), alien mind control (Aliens 1986), evil children (The Orphanage 2007), cannibalism (Silence of the Lambs 1991), werewolves (An American werewolf in London 1981), animals attacking humans (Jaws 1975), psychological horror (The Changeling 1980) etc. The villain is a representation of persons fears from that particular era that the movie was made. In Western horror films, the monsters are consistent with the repression of sexuality. Whereas in European horror films, the monster is consistent with cultural myths.
SOUND Music adds tension. There is an audio sequence in horror films that most people recognize. A long eerie musical build-up of strings or horns as the victim, for example, approaches a closed door, then this is followed by a violent orchestral hit as the victim opens the door to encounter whatever is hidden behind it. This is a type of musical cue that seems to be quite common in horror films. Whenever the audience hears this build-up, they know that something is going to happen. There are many examples of other musical cues that are almost subconsciously recognized and identified by the audience. A long deep tone might indicate tension or a rapid and bright sequence played by a set of strings may indicate stress or panic.