The horror genre has always been one of the more discussed genres in film. Yeah, you have the action genre where there are movies from 007, Mission: Impossible, and anything superhero, along with the different types of comedy from rom-com to coming-of-age. However, the horror genre is one that people get something out of. In other words, someone can go into a scary movie with the willingness to be scared. The question is what makes a movie scary to them? Could it be cheap, spooky thrills? Jump-scares? Eeriness? It’s all different based on people’s tastes. However, in my own opinion, if you want to scare me straight in a horror movie, I think having a movie be super eery is the way to go.
When a movie comes off as super eery rather than jump scare-y, it usually comes in the form of having a suspenseful mood and an occasional jump scare. I have seen it more in modern horror films than classic ones. Recent movies like Hereditary, The Lighthouse, Get Out, and Us showcase this kind of style. The only classic horror film I can think of that does is The Shining. Stanley Kubrick makes The Shining come off as eery by making the movie feel like something crazy is about to happen. Right off the bat in the movie, the movie is set up directly indicates that there are plenty of dangers abound in The Shining. The audience is given exposition from Wendy that Jack has had a drinking problem in the past and once hurt his son Danny. Meanwhile, Overlook Hotel manager Stuart Ullman gives exposition to Jack about the previous caretaker had gone crazy and murdering his family with an ax.
As the movie progresses, The Shining shows that it can be super eery just from the music and camerawork. The music, done effortlessly by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind, comes off in a way that makes the movie seem like something scary is about to happen. The music will do a sort of build-up that will make the audience think something will happen, only to have nothing happen. The camera will sharply zoom in on a character, but nothing will happen musically. On top of all this, of course, Jack Nicholson gives a very unsettling performance as Jack and proves as to why he is one of the most impressive actors working in the industry at the time.
In more recent horror flicks, as stated earlier, Hereditary and Get Out showcase how a movie comes off as super eery as The Shining did the best. In Hereditary, the viewers always get a feeling that something isn’t right. Unlike The Shining, director Ari Aster makes the movie seem like something scary will come at any second, and you won’t get a moment to prepare yourself. For example, when at a party, Charlie tells her brother Peter that she’s feeling sick, and they find out that she ate food with nuts-something she’s allergic to-in it. They leave, and we, the audience alright feel the intensity of the situation that Charlie’s life could be at stake. When Peter’s driving as fast and tries to avoid running over an animal, she puts her head out the window, and it’s decapitated by a telephone pole. From this moment, we get a shocking suspense build over whether or not Charlie and Peter will make it to the hospital, only to have Charlie decapitated when we least expected it.
For Get Out, some could say the hypnosis scene exemplifies being eery. Rose’s Mom asks Chris if she could hypnotize him into not smoking. She does this by stirring a teacup and asking him questions about the worst experience of his life: his mother’s death. When he recollects that day, it brings him to tears, and the way Rose’s Mom asks him about it makes it seem like it was his fault she died when really it wasn’t. As the scene progresses, the music makes a quiet tension build and the cameras slowly zoom in on Chris and Rose’s Mom as he falls further into her hypnotizing. Then she says “[N]ow, sink into the floor…sink,” and Chris enters the sunken place. When he falls into the sunken place, the movie makes it look like his subconscious has left his body. In reality, Chris’s face is still as he’s wide-eyed, jaw-dropped, and tears are falling down his face. It’s not a big moment of eeriness, but it’s subtle enough to make the audience feel for Chris. However, because of Jordan Peele’s direction, Get Out pulls the audience in and keep them engaged with what is happening.
From all of this, we see The Shining, Hereditary, and Get Out have similar approaches and different ways to come off as super eery to their audiences. The reason why in my opinion this works better than jump-scares is that jump-scares run the risk of being formulaic and cheesy. They become formulaic when a viewer picks up on how a jump-scare is delivered. For example, in It: Chapter Two, the formula goes like this: one of the losers encounters something (i.e. Pennywise, a dark message, shadows off in the distance). They go after it, there’s a musical build-up, and right when the audience thinks a jump-scare’s about to happen, the music stops. Then, bam, the jump-scare is delivered! The first few times this happened, I felt scared. Nevertheless, the more I noticed this formula happening, the more predictable the scares got and the movie got less interesting.
From all of this, I personally believe that the most effective way to make a scary movie scary is by having it be super eery. With technical aspects such as creepy music, unsettling camerawork, and maybe a horrifying performance or two, and you have what I call a down-to-earth eery movie. It’s an approach that not a lot of horror movies have done that should be used. If done correctly, audiences will remember the movies for how scary they were because of their eeriness. Movies like The Shining, Hereditary, and Get Out have shown to use this method and go on to become critical and financial successes.