What makes a truly “spooky” horror film?
Horror: It’s every quirky roommate’s favourite genre.
It’s a unique genre in the specific type of reaction it tries to illicit, making it simpler to point out what makes for a bad horror movie than a film in any other genre.
What makes some horror movies bad, or to put a more affirmative spin on it – what makes for good horror?
Dru Jeffries is a professor in Wilfrid Laurier University‘s film department.
This term, he’s teaching a class on film horror.
He explained that what makes for horror is a rather broad and complex question.
Many students (myself included) point to jump scares as a feature of bad horror movies, citing them as an artless and cheap way to scare an audience.
Jeffries is more careful about dismissing them:
“A horror movie wants to scare you, and if we’re judging the success of a film on that criterion, and jump scares produce the effect of fear, I don’t think you could reasonably argue they’re bad in that respect.”
It may be short-sighted to automatically see jump scares as evidence of a bad movie, especially since the technique has been used effectively in great horror films like Carrie (1976), Halloween (1978) and Friday the 13th (1980).
Jeffries brought up the interesting opinion of film scholar Linda Williams, who put horror in the category of what she calls the ‘body genre’:
“Horror was one of the body genres along with melodrama, which makes you cry, and pornography because it makes you physically aroused.”
He continued, “[horror films] bypass our brain and go right to our bodies. A horror movie should quicken our pulse; it should make our hair stand on end; it should have that kind of physical sensation on our bodies.”
By this definition, any movie that makes us feel this way should be classified as good horror.
There is a tendency among film critics and scholars to judge horror films as one would any other; however, this may be the wrong approach.
“As a film scholar, that may be uncomfortable territory a lot of the time because you’ll want to think about it, intellectualize everything.”
The most straightforward answer may be the best one.
If it scares you, it’s good horror.
Much like other genres, notably comedy, how successful a horror film is to an individual depends on that individual’s tastes and preferences.
What is scary to one might not be scary to all, but that won’t stop me from hiding under my covers whenever someone puts on a spooky flick.