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What Makes A Movie Scary?

Horror movies play to our fears and phobias. So often, the horror genre is dismissed as something juvenile not to be considered by serious movie-goers. The truth is that horror movies, perhaps more so than most other genres of movies, requires getting into the heads of the audience. You can put gore and scary imagery on the screen, but if it doesn’t play to innate fears, those images come across as unrealistic and even funny, or worse, goofy.
If you want to get into people’s heads, it takes a real knowledge of the psychology of fear. Nightmare on Elm Street worked when it came out and it still works today because it played to the audience’s real fears. It made you afraid to go to sleep!
What are the elements of a horror movie that scare us the most?

Fear of Death

Right from the top, the Fear of Death. This is the ultimate fear. Death is forever. It is not only a psychological fear, but an existential one. There is no coming back from death and it puts everything else in to perspective.

Fear of the Dark

When you talk about innate fears, you have to talk about a fear of the dark. As an infant, the fear of the dark is already something that is inside of us. Parents put night lights in our rooms and we are never truly in a place completely devoid of light. The darkness itself is not what was is so terrifying, it is what is inside the darkness that is the fear. Darkness leaves us feeling vulnerable and exposed. We are at a disadvantage since we are helpless when we cannot see. Fear of darkness was actually an evolutionary advantage, since we instinctually avoid places that put us in danger.

Creepy Crawlies

We all know the line: Snakes. Why’s it have to be snakes? Besides the fact that a bite from a snake or a rat can actual be fatal, these animals are terrifying. Even in the Book of Genesis, the epitome of evil is represented as a snake or a serpent. Snakes show up again in Exodus in Pharaoh’s Court and again in the wilderness in Numbers. In the New Testament, Jesus and John the Baptist both condemned the hypocrisy of the Pharisees by calling them a “brood of vipers” and “snakes”. In fact, there are over 80 mentions of snakes in the Bible, including Revelation where Satan is referred to as an ancient serpent. Visually there is also something unsettling about bugs, snakes, or rodents when they are moving in a group. The ground seems to be moving and you feel like you can be engulfed with no place to go. The aforementioned Raiders of the Ark along with its sequels used snakes, bugs, and rats to great effect to create the scariest or creepiest scenes in each of the those movies.

Disfigurement or Dismemberment

Next to losing your life, one of the biggest fears is losing a body part. There is the true story of the mountain climber who got caught in a rock formation. His arm had been crushed. The only way out was to literally cut his way out. Using a pocket knife he severed his crushed limb to free himself and save his own life. The story itself, while heroic, is cringe-worthy. The reaction from most people was that they would never have been able to do that and they would have probably died on that mountain. However, if you are ever stuck in the situation where you have to make that sort of life and death decision, you have no idea what you are capable of doing. Oddly enough that fear and that decision that seems so impossible is the whole premise of Saw movies.

Suspense and Anticipation

When you think about horror, you tend to think about movies like Saw, as we just mentioned or Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th. Movies by suspense master Alfred Hitchcock are on a completely different level of horror. With these movies, you do not get the jump scares as you do with newer horror movies. Hitchcock movies are not the torture porn movies we have now. These movies start with the theme and they build up the suspense and anticipation to the point where you are quite literally sitting on the edge of your seat with your heart pumping.

What makes these movies so frightening is that in most cases, we have set expectations of what is going to happen, and so often, our expectations are violated when the movie or scene takes a completely different, yet totally satisfying turn. The psychology here is also extreme since the twist has to be satisfying or you risk losing the audience, and when it comes to the psychology of horror, if you lose the audience, you are finished.

Clowns in Modern Horror

Clowns are a standard in the our pop culture and they are loved by all. From a young age, clowns have always been there to entertain us on television and help to sell us Happy Meals. Clowns are a staple of a child’s birthday party with the crazy colored hair, the big feet, bright clothes, and blow up balloon animals making kids laugh. The party clowns get the kids excited with party games and songs at the same time hyping them up with candy and exhausting them so they sleep on the car ride home. And what would a circus be if it weren’t for the clowns and their horns, exaggerated moves and tiny cars that seem to fit hundreds of them. Everyone loves a clown, right? RIGHT???

Tell then to someone who suffers from Coulrophobia. Literally: Fear of Clowns. While not an officially listed phobia in any diagnostic manual, the Fear of Clowns is a very real thing for so many people.

The staple appearance of a clown is meant to thrill and entertain, but look at a clown. They have exaggerated facial features with giant smiles or frowns, giant eyes and eyebrows and shocking afro of rainbow colored hair topped off with a giant red bow. Clowns have big feet and big hands and really comes close to the line of looking like a parody of a person and looking like a seriously deformed human being, akin to Joseph Merrick, who was not a clown, but was part of traveling show of, shall we say, curiosities, under the well-known pseudonym of The Elephant Man.

Horror is about taking what is fun and comforting and turning on its head.

In Halloween, Michael Myers is known for the mask he wears, which is a repurposed William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask, but in the backstory of Michael Myers, when he committed his first murder at 6 years old, he wore the mask of a clown.
Steven Spielberg’s Poltergeist (1982) took a child’s doll and brought it to life as a vessel that stalked and tried to kill Robbie. The previously smiling and innocent face twisting with hate and rage.

From there, clowns became a staple of the horror movies genre, each one more and more grotesque. The Killer Klowns from Outer Space is about a clan of evil aliens from an unknown region, who all resemble circus clowns. They arrive on Earth in a small town with the sole intention to capture, kill and then harvest the human inhabitants to use as sustenance. The film received generally positive reviews and has been considered a cult classic.

If you feel like double-dipping into your fear, Zombieland combined zombies and clowns. At a Playland, activating some of the rides draws the attention of the zombies in the area. Fighting through the horde, Columbus successfully evades and shoots through several zombies facing off against a clown zombie.

In “Saw” At the intersection of scary clown dolls and ventriloquist’s dummies lives Billy, the tricycle riding harbinger of Jigsaw. He’s ultimately harmless, but when Billy shows up, unimaginable pain and misery will surely follow; the last thing you want to hear him say is: “I’d like to play a game.”

The 4th Season of American Horror Story, Freak Show, is a fan favorite, and that has a lot to do with Twisty the Clown. He’s a tormented character who’s equally pitiable and petrifying. His wooden, static grin conceals a bloody, gaping maw, the result of a failed suicide attempt. His clown-cap, adorned with red, yellow, and green hair, looks like it was peeled off of someone else’s skull.

You may not consider Batman to exactly be a part of the horror genre, but you can’t talk about clowns without talking about the Joker. From Cesar Romero, to Jack Nicholson, Heath Ledger and, most recently Jared Leto, that giant smile, white skin, green hair and purple jacket and known far and wide as the costume of a psychopathic killer with a penchant to violence who is quite capable of anything and everything. Few villains out there so perfectly personify unbridled chaos as The Joker.

When it comes to killer clowns, everything else is prologue compared to the main character of the Stephen King Classic, IT. It will probably be a very long time before anyone dethrones Pennywise from It, played by Tim Curry, as Supreme King of Killer Clowns—if ever. That includes the new version of Pennywise in the upcoming remake.

Clowns are always going to be, first a foremost, fun entertainment for kids everywhere, but as long as there are things that are meant to fun, and carefree, there are going to those who twist them to be terrifying images of nightmares and for every Bozo and Ronald, there is always going to be a Pennywise. Sleep tight.

The Golden Age of Film and Horror: Six of the Greats and How They Impacted Modern Horror

<a href="" srcset=""” width=”800″ height=”4675″>Horror films have been around for as long as film has, and this means it had gone through the same genre changes, highs and lows, and great pinnacles that other popular genres have. Today, many horror films rely on over-the-top violence, plots, monsters, and gore to horrify their viewers. However, in the Golden Age of Film, the horror film was a much more delicate balance of acting, plot, and suspense. Here are six films from the Golden Age of Horror that not only became classics beloved by generations, but also shaped the genre and movies we watch today.


The Golden Age of Horror began in 1931 a Golden Age of the horror film began with the releases of “Dracula”. Released on Valentine’s Day, Bram Stoker’s diabolical vampire dominated the big screen with his haunting mannerisms and thick accent. This movie, from the accent, the capes, and fear of sunlight, informed what vampires were for years to come. Its star, Bela Lugosi, became a household name in horror and the creepy opening shots in Transylvania and Castle Dracula, would have a lasting influence on the settings for horror films to come.


The success of “Dracula” led Universal Studios to look for other classic horror stories to adapt to the screen. They chose “Frankenstein”, the classic novel by Mary Shelley. Initially, Bela Lugosi was chosen play the Monster. However, he backed out and veteran actor Boris Karloff stepped into the role. “Frankenstein”, released in late 1931, proved to be an even larger hit than “Dracula”. It’s success insured that Universal would make even more “Frankenstein” horror films in the years to come and Boris Karloff became one of the most terrifying faces in horror. This story also became the beginning of the zombie craze, which continues to this day.

The Wolf Man

Legends of werewolves have existed for centuries, but Larry Talbot as “The Wolf Man” was the original inspiration for hundreds of future big screen werewolves. After being bitten by a werewolf in an attack, he transforms into a werewolf each night, stalking the townspeople and trying to resist his new feral urges. This movie became an instant classic, and four sequels were made with great success. This movie and “Frankenstein” saw great success in hours of application of heavy makeup and elaborate costuming to create terrifying monsters in a time before the special effects and CGI of today’s horror.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

This film was the first of several films in which this classic comedy duo met classic monsters from Universal Studio’s classic films. Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and the Wolf Man all make appearances, and this film is actually considered the swan song for these classic horror monsters as movie-makers moved on to new monsters. A masterful combination of horror and comedy, this movie kept fans on the edge of their seats, laughing and screaming with delight and the film is still ranked number fifty-sixth on the list of the “American Film Institute’s 100 Funniest American Movies”. This unique combination created a new genre of horror comedy that, while much different now, has still persisted in films with “Shaun of the Dead” and “Scary Movie”.

Night of the Living Dead

At the time of its release, “Night of the Living Dead” was heavily criticized for its use of explicit gore. It eventually garnered critical acclaim and has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry, as a film deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The story follows a group trapped in a rural farmhouse in Western Pennsylvania, which is attacked by a large and growing group of unnamed “living dead” monsters: zombies. Created out of makeup and prosthetic limbs, these monsters terrified moviegoers with their shambling walks and hunger for human flesh. “Night of the Living Dead” succeeded in this portrayal, and there were seven more …Of the Living Dead films created in its stead along with countless other zombie movies over decades.


This masterpiece from horror-master Alfred Hitchcock is often considered one of the greatest films of all time, and for good reason. When Marion Crane flees to a secluded motel she falls victim to its psychotic owner–the iconic Norman Bates – owner of a terrible secret. Bent on keeping the suspense alive and the ending a secret, Hitchcock went as far as buy all the copies of the original novel so that he could to hide the story. These movie sparked a new type of horror movie, one that relied on hidden horrors rather than gory horror.

“Psycho” is now considered to be the first film in the slasher film genre thanks to Hitchcock’s iconic shower scene, and began to spark the end of the Golden Age of Horror and the move into a more suspenseful, violent form of horror.

Vampires: Immortal Pop Culture Icons


Mesopotamian Vampires, also called Ekimmu

No matter what Twilight says, vampires are some of the scariest creatures to grace pop culture and color our imaginations. Vampirism as an idea has existed for hundreds of years and dates back to the Mesopotamians, Hebrews, Ancient Greeks, and Romans. However, the vampires we know today come from a far more recent source: 18th-century Europe. In fiction, poetry and short stories such as John William Polidori’s The Vampyre shared stories of vampires created from the souls of evil beings or being bitten by an existing vampire. To their credit, these legends became so pervasive that in some areas it caused mass hysteria and public executions of people accused of being vampires.

As time went on, vampires became more fearsome with the addition of fangs, vulnerability to sunlight, and transforming into bats. No depiction of vampires in fiction has been as influential as Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Its portrayal of vampirism as a contagious disease struck a chord in Victorian Europe where tuberculosis and syphilis ran rampant. Eventually, the vampire described in Stoker’s work dominated folklore and created the modern vampire we now know.

In 1927, Dracula was first brought to life on Broadway by Bela Lugosi’s performance and it became an instant success. With those three simple drawn-out words, “I am…Dracula”, coupled with Lugosi’s transformation from vampire to bat and back, a legend was born. This legend was soon immortalized on the big screen as Lugosi reprised his role in the 1931 film by the same name and now, almost every vampire legend owes some of it’s life to Dracula.

Alongside of these, an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula called Nosferatu was released. Various names and other details were changed: “vampire” became “Nosferatu” and “Count Dracula” became “Count Orlok”, but the story remained largely the same. As a silent film, the physical performances were incredible. With his a gaunt face and impossibly long, taloned fingers, slinking around like something out your worst nightmare, this vampire was a monster without equal.

From there, vampires exploded into popular culture. Dracula was remade and followed by seven film sequels, and hundreds of vampire films followed. With each film, the vampire became scarier in new ways. These diverse characters include an African Count in Blacula, immortal biker boys who “never grew up” in The Lost Boys, and a half-man, half-vampire who protects the human race from the undead who roam the night in Blade and Blade II. In 30 Days of Night, vampires overrun an Alaskan town where they can escape the sun and prey on the townspeople and in From Dusk Till Dawn, two bank robbers seeking shelter stumble into a bar where everyone from the bartenders to the house band become blood-hungry vampires at a moment’s notice.

Literature has also extensively explored the world of vampires. In Anne Rice’s break-out novel Interview With a Vampire, a reporter sat down with a 200 year-old vampire to get his story. This book and her others have gone on to sell nearly 100 million copies. One of the modern masters of horror, Stephen King, also had a place for vampires throughout his fictional multiverse in the novels Salem’s Lot, Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Property of The WB Network, United Paramount Network (UPN), Mutant Enemy Inc., and 20th Century Fox.

Vampires have also had an impact on the small screen. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was more a lifestyle than just a TV series. A young cheerleader, thrown into being a vampire slayer, has to fight against soulless, undead demons that had possessed human corpses and fed on human blood. In the long-running HBO’s True Blood, a small town waitress falls in love with a vampire after the invention of a synthetic blood allows vampires to “come out of the coffin” and mingle with humans.

Throughout the decades, vampires have interacted with humans in hundreds of ways, from feeding on them to falling in love with them. However, what hasn’t changed is that they fascinate us by horrifying us. Just as the people living in 18th century England feared, vampires could be walking among the living, waiting to feed on an unsuspecting victim without us ever noticing their presence and perhaps that is the most terrifying thought of all.

Zombies: From Night of the Living Dead to The Walking Dead

The first recorded use of the word “zombie” was in 1819 in a history of Brazil by the poet Robert Southey. The word has African, Creole, and Haitian roots and was originally used to refer to being who had been reanimated through a voodoo ritual. Soon, the idea of a zombie was introduced into popular culture. They began to appear in books and stories as mindless thralls resurrected to serve evil masters. However, at the end of the twentieth century, a new version of the zombie began to emerge. This zombie was different from its predecessors as it didn’t root itself in Haitian folklore. And where did this zombie come from? From George A. Romero’s cult-classic film Night of the Living Dead. Even though the word zombie is not used within the film, fans quickly came to see the shuffling, reanimated, flesh-eating cannibals as the zombies we know and love today.

Night of the Living Dead – 1968 by George Romero

Gradually, zombies stopped being reanimated through magic and voodoo and started to become the result of scientific anomalies and unknown viruses. A very early example of this is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. This classic piece of literature became a jumping-off point for the idea of science creating a zombie instead of magic. Night of the Living Dead went on to become the first of six …of the Dead films: Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead, Day of the Dead, Land of the Dead, Diary of the Dead and Survival of the Dead. Each film continued to track the progression of the living dead in the United States and humanity’s desperate attempt to stop it.

From there, zombies became a staple of the horror genre. From virus outbreaks to infection via bite, the idea of a zombie apocalypse terrified viewers. In the 1980’s, zombies were overrunning popular culture.  However, this meant that zombies became a little more familiar and little less scary. Even Michael Jackson jumped on board with the “Thriller” video full of dancing zombies. Soon, we thought zombies were more funny than scary and they began to disappear from horror. But then zombies came back.

Zombie Aftermath – When zombies come – be ready!

In 2004, Shaun of the Dead and Dawn of the Dead were released and brought with them the fast zombie. Gone was the slow, rambling zombie. Replaced by sprinting monsters seeking brains, zombies became terrifying once again. After these films, comedies kept exploring this new zombie: Zombieland, released in 2009, featured high-speed zombies killing and being killed in increasingly violent ways.

Then, out of this increasingly violent and terrifying zombie landscape came The Walking Dead. Based on the comic book series of the same name, The Walking Dead instantly became a cultural phenomenon. The zombies in this show, referred to as “walkers” are shambling, brain-crazed zombies following the sound of their next meal. This show has become incredibly popular for its terrifying monsters, white-knuckle tension, and compelling storylines.

Now, zombie films are being released so frequently that they have become a separate sub-genre of horror films. In 2014 alone, there were fifty-five separate zombie movies made and released and The Walking Dead has the highest total viewership of any series in cable television history. To say the least, zombies (brain eating and all) have been welcomed into our culture as a staple as horror and entertainment that will still be terrifying us for decades to come.

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