Why Horror Movies Aren’t Scary

Photo courtesy of ultimateclassicrock.com

Photo courtesy of ultimateclassicrock.com

Now that Halloween season is fast approaching, everyone is watching horror movies in preparation for the holiday. There are many reasons people watch these movies. It could be the premise of the movies, the iconic killers, or the fact that these movies fit the season, but the main one is that people find them scary.

My problem with horror movies is that I simply don’t find them scary. 

Specifically, modern horror movies, more often than not,  feel like they were made to make a quick buck at the box office. Today, most horror movies seem to rely too much on standard horror tropes and cheap jump scares. Even some of my favorite horror movies just simply aren’t that scary. 

For example, “IT Chapter 1” is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade. But the movie itself, in my opinion, isn’t scary at all. If anything, the “scary” moments tend to just make me laugh. What makes the movie good is the characters and story. The best parts of the movie are when the losers club is just hanging out together and bantering with one another — not when Pennywise is terrorizing them.

What I think many horror movies lose sight of is the fact that to have a really good horror movie, you have to have a good story. 

Another issue is how many horror movies act as  one-trick pinies  — they put a bunch of scares in the beginning or middle of the movie, which makes the rest very predictable. Case in point being the aforementioned “IT Chapter 1”. The movie uses similar tricks and scares in the finale as they do at the beginning and middle of the movie so the last 20 minutes just become entirely predictable.

The cardinal sin of modern horror, though, is the over-reliance on jump scares. 

They are without a doubt the cheapest and laziest form of horror and they are almost entirely predictable. That’s not to say all jump-scares are bad, but you have to know when to use them to be effective. Just look at how so many of them are framed. Almost every one is laughably predictable. The music stops, the scene slows down, and the characters stop speaking, then BOOM! Loud obnoxious noise along with a character jumping at someone. This tactic, in my opinion, isn’t really horror. It doesn’t scare or terrify you, it merely startles you.

Real horror is more about keeping the audience at the edge of their seat not knowing what to expect next. 

Just showing a bunch of people getting killed like in 2018’s “Halloween” is not scary; it’s just mind-numbing violence. From the first scene everyone is introduced, you know who will and won’t die, and most of the time, these movies don’t even attempt to have good character work. If I don’t care about these characters, then how am I supposed to be scared? If you don’t have good characters, the movie feels so completely and utterly detached from the audience.

In terms of story, most horror movies, including the classics, are lacking. Movies like “Friday the Thirteenth”, “Halloween”, and “Nightmare on Elm Street” are all considered classics, and to be frank, I don’t get the appeal. None of these are bad per se, but I find it absurd to put these anywhere near the pantheon of greatest movies ever. Of these three, “Halloween” is easily the best one because it’s the only one that actually tries to disturb the audience. Personally, I don’t think it did it very well, but to the movie’s credit, there is a palpable building of tension throughout the movie, and Micheal Myers is an actual intimidating presence.

You may see that I also reviewed the video game, “Resident Evil 2” in this issue fo The Comenian. In that review, I describe the story as dumb and schlocky, so what’s so different here? Why am I complaining about horror movies being dumb but then giving video games a pass? 

Well, the reason I give games a pass is that you are also interacting with the story, which makes the experience significantly more immersive. In a movie, we experience the story through the characters on screen.With a video game, however, you take an active role in what’s going on, which makes even the silliest events feel a lot more real. Furthermore, “Resident Evil” is aware that it’s goofy and silly, whereas so many horror movies take themselves so seriously that it’s hard not to laugh at them.

I consider the best horror movies to be ones that deal less with silly monsters or immortal serial killers and more with thrills  and psychological horror. Case in point being “Silence of the Lambs,” which is so effective at horror not because of bland overdone tropes but because it uses them sparingly. Hannibal Lecter only has 16 minutes of screen time yet leaves such a chilling presence from this movie, so much so that he spawned a whole bunch of crummy prequels and spinoffs and a pretty good TV show. 

Another great example is Jack Torrance in “The Shining”. This character is so unsettling, and not because he is some kind of untouchable emotionless murderer like Micheal Myers, but because he is a normal dude that descends into insanity and attacks his own family. 

Horror isn’t just about having spooky stuff on screen; it’s about broaching scary and uncomfortable subjects and topics that provoke the audience. This is why movies like “Get Out” or “The Shining” are so much more “scary” and engaging: they are thought-provoking and get the audience to think.

I’m not an expert on horror movies, nor do I watch all the ones that come out, but when looking at this genre as a whole, I generally don’t get the appeal. The vast majority of horror movies are anything but scary, and a lot of them just start to feel like samey or redundant after a while.