Why Horror is Horrifying

Hey, all!

Before I start on this, let me disclaim it. This is my opinion. If you don’t agree, please comment and say so. Just be respectful . . . not to say this is a controversial topic. I just think that there are different opinions out there, and I want to hear them–especially since I don’t watch horror often . . . it’s too scary. And I know there are horror writers out there. I’d like to hear what you all think.


Horror is a smart genre. Now, I’m not talking about the horrific, gory, messy kind of horror or the type with evil creatures that suck on human souls. The type of horror I’m thinking of is the kind that worms its way into your brain while you’re watching or reading it, causing you to jump at every sound and making you look over your shoulder long after you’ve finished it. That sort of horror may or may not have violence, gore, or evil creatures.

Why do I think it’s smart? Think about it. When you break down the storyline and think about it logically, it’s really silly. Take these three examples,

A flock of birds descends on a house and pecks the living daylights out of everyone who ventures forth. (The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock)

Statues of crying angels move when a person’s not looking and zaps him into the past when they touch him. (Dr. Who Episode 3.10 “Blink”)

Watching a video of random images causes the television to turn on, after which a small child to climbs out of it to murder the watcher. (The Ring)

To an ordinary, thinking person these scenarios are ridiculous. They shouldn’t cause you to turn and look over your shoulder or stay up at night in fear. Yet, these three shows scared the living daylights out of me, and I’d like to think I’m an intelligent person.

Now, there’s a lot to be said about word choice, color choice, music, etc. that create an ambiance that scares you further. (The Ring wasn’t filmed in subdued colors for nothing.) But why do some movies and books haunt the audience more than others?

In my opinion, the key is simple. They take an innocent or normal object and make it behave unnaturally. Why else do you think kids are so scary? Children are the epitome of innocence. When you’ve got a child being a heartless killing machine, it’s more frightening. And (and perhaps I’m being gender biased) it’s worse when it’s a little girl.

Same with birds. Pretty birds fill the air with song and beauty. Take those birds and make them swarm and rampage, and you get a horror filled nightmare. Don’t think the movie could have had as much punch if they used a bunch of hawks.

As for the Dr. Who episode . . . it has a double-punch. Not only are angels supposed to be creatures of good, but statues aren’t supposed to move. Yet these angel statues are covering their eyes, moving, and are planning evil for the main characters. Combine all that together and you turn the creep factor all the way up to 10.

While I don’t enjoy the genre, I do think horror is smart. How else can you take such ridiculous storylines and make intelligent people believe it enough to scare them? Take that into account the next time you write or read.

What about you?

Do you agree/disagree? What else adds to a scary or suspenseful story? What is the appeal to being scared out of your skull?


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