What's the best way to instil horror into someone through a piece of media?

In honor of October, let's get some actual horror related discussions going here!

Yaaaaaayyyy!

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So, what do you think are the most important techniques needed for a book, game, movie, or what have you, to instill a sense of horror into someone?

While it doesn't apply to all horror stories, I think that a major one is a sense of compassion. What I mean by that is that something becomes truly horrifying when you feel empathy or compassion for the people going through the horrible thing.

I am currently replaying Corpse Party: Blood Drive in an attempt to finish it this time and I've been reminded of what makes the horror in the game series so gut punching on an emotional level and so scary. The games show characters with connections and has them interact with each other in ways a that aren't just about the terrible things happening.

In the first game my favorite pair of characters were Ayumi and Yoshiki because the way they interacted with each other made me laugh. In order for me to be scared by something in media, I either need to feel like I'm in danger or feel scared for the danger facing the people in the media. Corpse Party, by showing characters doing normal things, even funny things, makes them feel more like real people and makes me care about them which makes seeing horrible things happen to them hurt me.

It's why people don't go to typical slasher movies to be scared, they go there to see entertaining deaths or see horrible people die because those movies, usually, don't develop any of their characters beyond having someone be generically nice or a gigantic ass. So that's what I think is most important, compassion.

Don't show, let the audience imagination make the monster. Give the bare minimum needed to give the impression of a monster but not enough to give a clear picture of the monster. Unless your doing something like the thing where the monster can be anyone and actually looks good.

Specter Von Baren:
While it doesn't apply to all horror stories, I think that a major one is a sense of compassion. What I mean by that is that something becomes truly horrifying when you feel empathy or compassion for the people going through the horrible thing.

That sounds a lot like saying it's important the audience cares what happens to the fictional characters. While this is true, it's true of any genre.

Anyhoo, on that note, people should act sensibly and try to avoid getting eaten by the monster. If their decisions are made solely so something can eat them, I want them to get eaten.

Worgen:
Don't show, let the audience imagination make the monster. Give the bare minimum needed to give the impression of a monster but not enough to give a clear picture of the monster. Unless your doing something like the thing where the monster can be anyone and actually looks good.

If done well, that can be very effective, but there's a reason why people keep saying "Show, don't tell", because being obvious makes what you are doing obvious.

When a friend comes over tell them that you have a new set of knives.

But the knives are sharpened pieces of Blu Ray discs!

Get them so hooked on the story itself, that they'll endure the horror to see how it ends.

Thaluikhain:

Specter Von Baren:
While it doesn't apply to all horror stories, I think that a major one is a sense of compassion. What I mean by that is that something becomes truly horrifying when you feel empathy or compassion for the people going through the horrible thing.

That sounds a lot like saying it's important the audience cares what happens to the fictional characters. While this is true, it's true of any genre.

Anyhoo, on that note, people should act sensibly and try to avoid getting eaten by the monster. If their decisions are made solely so something can eat them, I want them to get eaten.

Worgen:
Don't show, let the audience imagination make the monster. Give the bare minimum needed to give the impression of a monster but not enough to give a clear picture of the monster. Unless your doing something like the thing where the monster can be anyone and actually looks good.

If done well, that can be very effective, but there's a reason why people keep saying "Show, don't tell", because being obvious makes what you are doing obvious.

If you see too much of the monster then it becomes more of a puzzle to be solved then a monster to fear. Granted that puzzle comes down to how to kill or get rid of it, but that does hurt the horror of the monster.

Make them read your fanfics.

Worgen:
Don't show, let the audience imagination make the monster. Give the bare minimum needed to give the impression of a monster but not enough to give a clear picture of the monster. Unless your doing something like the thing where the monster can be anyone and actually looks good.

I very much agree with this. That's not to say that you can't have a good horror story where the monster is shown. In fact, there are cases where that can quite work (for example, having a killer in a story who seems to be just a normal guy). However, especially in supernatural or monster stories, I feel that showing the monster almost instantly dilutes any impact that it could have.

That is, showing the whole monster. You can get a lot of mileage by showing bits and pieces, while letting the audience fill in the gaps mentally. It's one of the reasons that, while I found The Conjuring to be quite effective, the first half of the movie was a lot scarier to me than the second half.

I don't think there are any "rules" in horror, and I think a lot of popular generalisations about what makes good horror kind of miss the point. Horror can include all kinds of emotions. Fear, obviously, but also disgust, discomfort, dread, revulsion. Add to that, people are scared of different things, and people have different tolerances. After all, horror is still supposed to be entertaining.

For example, the whole "don't show the monster" rule comes from the discussion around Alien. But personally, I think that's not giving the film enough credit. Alien's most viscerally unpleasant scene is undeniably the chestburster scene, which is incredibly overt and maximal. It literally happens under a giant ceiling light.

Slasher films got badly tainted by that awful late-90s/early-2000s era where every slasher film was trying to be Scream. Sure, those films weren't interested in being scary because that would get in the way of all the super-cool extreme meta irony. Those hip millennial kids were just too radical and extreme to take murder seriously!

But I do really disagree with the idea that you need to develop emotional relationships with characters for horror to be effective. Because the thing that saved us from horrible "ironic" Slasher movies is J-horror, which often didn't have particularly developed characters or relationships. J-Horror was revolutionary because it was so visceral, because it took that instinctive arousal response you get when something is wrong and put it front and centre. To put it another way if the situation is frightening enough, then you don't need to care about the characters.

I mean, true, we kind of have that to blame for all the shitty spooky jumpscare ghost movies which have taken over from slashers. But my point is, horror isn't one thing and we can't really impose rules on what does and doesn't work. Slashers got really bad because Hollywood ran them into the ground and tried to make them ironic to appeal to the fly trendy radical teens and their hip youth flavas, not because slashers are inherently not scary.

I think probably one of the most disturbing films I've watched would be Dead Ringers (dir: David Croneberg, ca. 1988). In terms of compassion, I'm not sure the relevant characters are really ones you will be rooting for. There are no particularly great shocks. But there is something deeply creepy and unsettling as you watch things unravel for them in a deeply unpleasant way.

Of course, an underlying issue is that Cronenberg was at the junction of "body horror" period as he moved into psychological thrillers, and it's getting a sense of deep discomfort coming from the (by Cronenberg's standards) subdued but deeply uncomfortable body horror; a sense of disconnection and general weirdness - the medical operations, in setting and dress, feel more like a cult sacrifice.

Another great horror movie is Don't Look Now (Nicholas Roeg, early 1970s). It's the unsettling slight remove from reality, like the characters (and by extension the viewer) is stuck half-way into dreaming state with a vision of mania, tangled in loss, grief, etc.

Maybe it's just that I watched a zillion horror movies in my youth from the 60s-80s, and the "slasher pic" from its evolution to 80s apogee (and ironic 90s revival) just became thoroughly passe. One can see the gross torture porn of the likes of Jigsaw, and okay, it's disgusting and unpleasant, but it never really generates for me that genuine sort of sense of unease.

evilthecat:
I don't think there are any "rules" in horror, and I think a lot of popular generalisations about what makes good horror kind of miss the point

That's a good point. For instance "The Shining" was not that well critically reviewed when it came out, some critics opining that Kubrick didn't really seem to understand horror movies. But it's now often regarded as one of the best ever made - at least one of those critics (Pauline Kael?) was good enough to revisit it and admit she misjudged it originally.

Drathnoxis:
Make them read your fanfics.

What kind of cruel sociopath are you?!

evilthecat:

But I do really disagree with the idea that you need to develop emotional relationships with characters for horror to be effective. Because the thing that saved us from horrible "ironic" Slasher movies is J-horror, which often didn't have particularly developed characters or relationships. J-Horror was revolutionary because it was so visceral, because it took that instinctive arousal response you get when something is wrong and put it front and centre. To put it another way if the situation is frightening enough, then you don't need to care about the characters.

I mean, true, we kind of have that to blame for all the shitty spooky jumpscare ghost movies which have taken over from slashers. But my point is, horror isn't one thing and we can't really impose rules on what does and doesn't work. Slashers got really bad because Hollywood ran them into the ground and tried to make them ironic to appeal to the fly trendy radical teens and their hip youth flavas, not because slashers are inherently not scary.

Indeed. I myself said that feeling for a character isn't necessary for all types of horror. I love Lovecraft's works and in the vast majority of them, while I don't dislike them, the main characters are designed to be erudite observers rather then sympathetic characters. The horror of Lovecraft stories comes from the bizarre and alien aspect of the situations and creatures and the feeling of being a fly in a room covered in webs.

There are different types of horror stories and the best techniques for them can be different.

Oh that's easy. Think of your favorite franchise, or at least one that you're very fond of. Got it in mind? "EA just bought exclusive production rights for it". Terrifying thought, isn't it?

More seriously, if we want to talk production values, it's all down to knowing how to manipulate tension. Take Jaws and The Thing as cases in point. They are masterful when it comes to tension. We may often say that the infrequent use of the shark prop is what sells Jaws, but it's less about how often you see the shark as it is the fact that we feel like the shark can pop up at any time. We don't know where it is, we don't know when it's getting ready to attack. Speaking personally, I think the tensest scene in the movie is when Hooper's doing a night dive to the check a wrecked boat (you know, the scene where he finds the tooth). I've seen Jaws multiple times. I know the shark has no presence in that scene. Even so, I still tense up and scan the water around Hooper, anticipating a jumpscare that never comes. And I love the scene for that. It manipulates tension beautifully and is all the scarier for it.

Suggestion.

Your mind knows what you fear. And as our minds are literally hard wired to fill in the blanks, The suggestion of unspeakable torments that will make one go mad just thinking about will usually set the mind of a person racing to piece together what that could be. And eventually will come up with some nebulous answer.

Then threaten it some more. Add regular horror as a kindness compared to the Big Situation, and you'll unnerve people.

Once people are unnerved, they are open for anything. Have fun!

 

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