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The sense of fear in Horror films-Why do some movies succeed while others fail to

strike fear into the hearts of their audience? Is it when the movie was made? Is it the attention

to detail? Is it the quality of props? I don't believe any of these reasons can make a horror film

succeed or fail. Take Psycho for example. It was released in 1960 and used chocolate syrup

for the blood. Was it successful?

Consider three of some of the most successful horror films ever made-Psycho,

The Shining and Scream, and then compare them with three horror films that were not as

successful in creating a sense of fear-Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street and Night

of the Living Dead.
One thing that separates the first three films from the second three, and

that arguably makes some horror films successful and others not is how realistic the movie


Take a look at the killers/villains. Psycho's Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), The

Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) and Scream's Billy Loomis (Skeet Ulrich). All

three are realistic characters, and at first all appear to be normal,non-threatening people.

They are characters the audience can relate with. Perhaps the sense of fear is created by the

audience knowing that people such as these killers may actually be walking among us. The

most terrifying thing is reality, and what can happen in reality.

Now take a look at the movies that were not as successful. Friday the 13th's Jason

Voorhees, Nightmare on Elm Street's Freddy Kruger and Night of the Living Dead's

zombies. What do these characters have in common? They are all fictional and unrealistic.

As scary as they, or their movies may be, I believe the fear they can create is limited.

Norman Bates, Jack Torrance and Billy Loomis can strike fear into the audience

because they are based on real people, while Jason Voorhees, Freddy Kruger and the

Zombies are not, and therefore the audience can't relate to them, at least not to the same


Not only do the characters in Psycho, The Shining and Scream seem realistic, even

the actual killings and the plots of the movies themselves are more realistic. For example,

Psycho's legendary shower scene is more realistically possible then Freddy Kruger attacking

you in your dreams and then therefore will more likely frighten you, the viewer. Pay

attention to the killer's physical abilities. Norman Bates, Jack Torrance and Billy Loomis

have the same physical strengths as most of the audience, but as for Jason Voorhees and the

Zombies, they are the walking dead and have the strengths people do not have. This even

more so makes these characters more unrealistic.

By studying the plots, it's found that the more realistic they are, the more fear can be

created. Take The Shining for example. The plot is of a man, Jack Torrance who takes a job

as a caretaker of an old ski lodge up north which is closed for winter. Being isolated for that

length of time, he starts having mental problems and attempts to murder his family. This

movie has proven to strike fear into the audience. The film Night of the Living Dead has a

very simple and unrealistic plot. Due to some astrological occurrence, the dead come back to

to claim human victums.

In another successful horror film, Scream, the characters, murders and plot are

realistic as in Psycho and The Shining. Instead of focusing on adult characters, teens

take centre stage. For the same reasons, Scream succeeded. However, one thing Scream

does that neither Psycho nor The Shining had was comic relief. Comic relief is rarely

found in horror movies, and is almost non-existent in older films. In addition, adding comic

relief in a horror film is hard to do effectively. Scream does this successfully with one-liners

and mockery of unsuccessful horror films such as Friday the 13th and Halloween.

The majority of horror films that try and mix in comic relief often fail because it is

such a hard combination to use. An example of comic relief actually taking away from a

horror film would be in 1994's Tales from the Crypt. In a way this made the movie less of a

threat and eased the sense of fear.

Another thing that Psycho, The Shining and Scream all have in common, and

which I also believe help these films succeed as horror movies is the suspense they create.

They are not full of pointless murders with lots of gore and high body counts. All three films

make you think, make you relate to the situation and keep you in suspense. "Red herrings"

are often used. These are false leads, where the film purposely throws you a curve to

make you think something is or isn't going to happen. In Psycho, Marion Crane (Janet

is the character focused on for the first half of the film, and traditionally this character

turns out to be the hero figure. But in Psycho this character is unexpectedly killed off. In

Scream many false clues are given to hide the identity of the murderer and at the same time

makes you think everybody is a suspect. Not only are these just horror movies, but they have

a lot of suspense. In the Friday the 13th movies suspense is non-existent. As with other less

successful films the murderer is already known, sometimes even before the film as begun.

The plot too is given away time after time and takes away any possibility of suspense even

being created. Some may say the classic horror movies are the more successful in creating a

frightening atmosphere while others may argue that the new wave of horror films surpass the

classics. But in reality, time doesn't determine the success of the film. Psycho and Night of

the Living Dead
prove the success and failure of the classics as Scream and Tales from the

do the same for the new films.

The purpose of this essay was not to prove that films like Friday the 13th,

Nightmare on Elm Street, Night of the Living Dead and Tales from the Crypt were not

successful, as they were all good movies. The purpose was to prove that some horror

films are more successful than others at creating a sense of fear. Various techniques as

outlined in this essay lead to more success in creating fear.

Legendary Horror Films

PSYCHO (1960)
Directed by : Alfred Hitchcock.
Written by : Alfred Hitchcock and Joseph Stefano.
Staring :
Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates)
Vera Miles (Lila Crane)
John Gavin (Sam Loomis)
Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast)
Janet Leigh (Marion Crane)

Directed by : George A. Romero.
Written by : George A. Romero and John A. Russo.
Staring :
Duane Jones (Ben)
Judith O'Dea (Barbra)
Karl Hardman (Harry Cooper)
Marilyn Eastman (Helen)
Keith Wayne (Tom)

Directed by : Roman Polanski.
Written by : Ira Levin and Roman Polanski.
Staring :
Mia Farrow (Rosemary Woodhouse)
John Cassavetes (Guy Woodhouse)
Ruth Gordon (Minnie Castevet)
Sidney Blackmer (Roman Castevet)
Maurice Evans (Edward "Hutch" Hutchins)

Directed by : William Friedkin.
Written by : William Peter Blaty.
Staring :
Ellen Burstyn (Chris McNeil)
Max Von Sydow (Father Merrin)
Lee J. Cobb (Lt. William F. Kinderman)
Jason Miller (Father Damien Karras)
Linda Blair (Regan McNeil)

Directed by : John Carpenter.
Written by : John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Staring :
Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode)
Donald Pleasence (Loomis)
Nancy Kyes (Annie Brackett)
P.J. Soles (Lynda)
Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace)

Directed by : Stanley Kubrick.
Written by : Stephen King.
Staring :
Jack Nicholson (Jack Torrance)
Shelly Duvall (Wendy Torrance)
Danny Lloyd (Danny Torrance)
Scatman Crothers (Dick Hallorann)
Barry Nelson (Stuart Ullman)

FRIDAY THE 13th (1980)
Directed by : Sean S. Cunningham.
Written by : Victor Miller II
Staring :
Betsy Palmer (Mrs. Voorhees)
Adrienne King (Alice)
Kevin Bacon (Jack)
Jeannine Taylor (Marcie)
Robbi Morgan (Annie)

Directed by : Paul Lynch.
Written by : Ron Oliver.
Staring :
Jamie Lee Curtis (Kim)
Leslie Neilson (Mr. Hammond)
Casey Stevens (Nickt)
Anne-Marie Martin (Wendy)
Robert A. Silverman (Sykes)

Directed by : George A. Romero.
Written by : Stephen King and George A. Romero.
Staring :
Hal Holbrook (Henry Northrup)
Adrienne Barbeau (Wilma Northrup)
Leslie Nielsen (Richard Vickers)
Ed Harris (Hank Blaine)
Ted Danson (Harry Wentworth)

Directed by : Wes Craven.
Written by : Wes Craven.
Staring :
John Saxon (Lieutennant Donald Thompson)
Ronee Blackley (Marge Thompson)
Heather Langenkamp (Nancy Thompson)
Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray)
Johnny Depp (Glen Lantz)

Directed by : Mary Lambert.
Written by : Stephen King.
Staring :
Beau & Blaze Berdahl (Ellie Creed)
Denise Crosby (Rachel Creed)
Fred Gwynne (Jud Crandall)
Susan Blommaert (Missy Dandridge)
Stephen King (Minister)

Directed by : Bernard Rose.
Written by : Clive Barker and Bernard Rose.
Staring :
Virginia Madsen (Helen Lyle)
Tony Todd (Candyman)
Vanessa Williams (Anne-Marie McCoy)
Xander Berkeley (Trevor Lyle)
Kasi Lemmons (Bernadette Walsh)

SCREAM (1996)
Directed by : Wes Craven.
Written by : Kevin Williamson.
Staring :
Neve Campbell (Sidney Prescott)
David Arquette (Dpt. Dwight "Dewey" Riley)
Courtney Cox (Gale Weathers)
Drew Barrymore (Casey Becker)
Skeet Ulrich (Billy Loomis)

HALLOWEEN H2O : twenty year later (1998)
Directed by : Steve Miner.
Written by : Robert Zappia.
Staring :
Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode/Keri Tate)
Adam Arkin (Will Brennan)
Josh Hartnett (John Tate)
Janet Leight (Norma Strode)
LL Cool J (Ronny)

Directed by : Jamie Blanks.
Written by : Silvio Horta.
Staring :
Rebecca Greyheart (Brenda)
Jared Leto (Paul)
Alicia Witt (Natalie Simon)
Michael Rosenbaum (Parker)
Loretta Devine (Resse Wilson)