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View Full Version : A question about the Usual Suspects of Horror



Eric Boellner
08-15-2013, 05:05 PM
If you're watching a horror film, and it uses all the standard tricks in the bag for scaring you, do you think less of the film as a whole, even if it scares you? For instance, The Conjuring uses some sleep-walking, some people being dragged out of bed, some thumps from other rooms, plenty of doors slamming on their own, etc. The movie was scary enough, I mean the tension was pretty thick at times and I think that's a sign of how well-directed the film is aesthetically. But does the standard bag of tricks make the film cliche? Or are the cliches acceptable because they're well-used?

Asking because I'm writing a script I may or may not try to shoot for the fest, and wondering about my usage of the bag of tricks. I'm scaring the s--t out of myself writing this script, so I think I'm doing something right, but as a constant self-editor, I want to make sure I'm not overusing horror tropes. Looking forward to this discussion.

-EMB

P.S. Hope it was okay to post this here!

Chris_Keaton
08-15-2013, 05:23 PM
You can use old tricks, but you must use them well.

Stephen Mick
08-15-2013, 05:29 PM
I think it's hard to say without seeing what you're working on, but I agree with Chris. Use them smartly. Use them in new ways maybe we haven't seen before. Use humor (if appropriate) in the context of the "standard trick" to make the scare more effective. Use them as a misdirection to reveal the real scare.

And don't overuse them.




If you're watching a horror film, and it uses all the standard tricks in the bag for scaring you, do you think less of the film as a whole, even if it scares you? For instance, The Conjuring uses some sleep-walking, some people being dragged out of bed, some thumps from other rooms, plenty of doors slamming on their own, etc. The movie was scary enough, I mean the tension was pretty thick at times and I think that's a sign of how well-directed the film is aesthetically. But does the standard bag of tricks make the film cliche? Or are the cliches acceptable because they're well-used?

Asking because I'm writing a script I may or may not try to shoot for the fest, and wondering about my usage of the bag of tricks. I'm scaring the s--t out of myself writing this script, so I think I'm doing something right, but as a constant self-editor, I want to make sure I'm not overusing horror tropes. Looking forward to this discussion.

-EMB

P.S. Hope it was okay to post this here!

Matt Harris
08-15-2013, 07:36 PM
great question, and great responses by keaton and mick.

this is a gray area. whats scares haven't we seen? what's left? are we just mimicking other movies?

my 2 cents is, if you know you're using the same techniques in your movie that you have seen in others, then strive harder for your own genius.
don't be lazy.

Brandon Rice
08-15-2013, 08:06 PM
I think it always comes down to story. Look at all the great directors and writers. They use a lot of cliche but the story and script are usually so good you don't even notice!

Brandon Rice
08-15-2013, 08:06 PM
Eric on a side note its awesome to see you here and I hope you can get a short shot for this fest!

ZazaCast
08-15-2013, 09:28 PM
If it's scaring you just writing it, I'd finish the script, shoot it and get it in the fest... what better way to get solid input. There's no law saying you can't re-shoot, re-edit, tweak & re-tweak until you get it just right. Take the advice already given and run with it! I look forward to seeing this one.

Eric Boellner
08-16-2013, 06:17 AM
Thanks for all the great responses, guys. I think what made me nervous about my use of the tropes was the story felt a little lacking, but I figured out the problem and I'm now rewriting.

Thanks, Brandon. I'm looking forward to participating in my first DVXfest!

-EMB

Brandon Rice
08-16-2013, 07:25 AM
Thanks, Brandon. I'm looking forward to participating in my first DVXfest!

-EMB

:thumbsup:

Michael Anthony Horrigan
08-16-2013, 11:22 AM
Creepy is almost always better than the 'jump out' scares that most filmmakers are ready for. But creepy is harder to pull off.

I really enjoyed The Conjuring. But it didn't scare me. Made me jump once, and that was mostly due to a very loud sound cue, but it didn't leave me with the feeling that lingers afterwards from seeing something really intense/scary.

I really enjoyed it though. If you could pull that kind of movie off, you would clean up.

Eric Boellner
08-17-2013, 02:28 PM
Creepy is almost always better than the 'jump out' scares that most filmmakers are ready for. But creepy is harder to pull off.

I really enjoyed The Conjuring. But it didn't scare me. Made me jump once, and that was mostly due to a very loud sound cue, but it didn't leave me with the feeling that lingers afterwards from seeing something really intense/scary.

I really enjoyed it though. If you could pull that kind of movie off, you would clean up.

I agree with this, and I think it's what makes me so particular in my choices of horror films that I'll watch. I'm a big fan of the genre, but almost moreso as an idea than as it is in reality, largely because I'm so often disappointed by horror films. It's not that I don't get scared, I do -- I slept with the lights on for two nights after seeing Paranormal Activity in theaters (I didn't grow up watching horror, and have a very active imagination <grin>). But what bugs me is when the "bag of tricks" I've been talking about are used for a cheap thrill instead of a lasting suspense, or "creepiness," as you call it. And that's kind of what I'm trying to keep myself from doing in my entry for DVXfest.

I liked The Conjuring, but thought it tried just a little too hard to be scary sometimes. The most unsettling (and therefore best) part of the film was when the little girl was staring at the thing she saw behind the door. Or when the mother realized that the clap she'd heard from inside the wardrobe didn't come from her daughter.

My favorite horror film, by far, is a little Finnish horror film called Sauna. The reason I love it so much is because it's not only creepy, and unsettling, but it's just a really well-built drama set in the bones of a horror film. And it works on both levels.

-EMB

Noel Evans
08-21-2013, 03:39 PM
Creepy is almost always better than the 'jump out' scares that most filmmakers are ready for. But creepy is harder to pull off.

Completely agree but a good scare punchline that really makes me jump added to creepy, hard to pull off - worth the effort.

Speaking of, MAH are we going to see an entry from you?

Matt Harris
08-21-2013, 05:27 PM
the underrated omen series 1-3 from the 70's captured a devilish series of deaths
i've never quite seen mimicked with such intensity.

whenever anyone dies, you get the following:

1. a tension building scene that last a few minutes
2. amazing horrific music
3. an innocent character is set up to be killed, and is killed
4. the kills / deaths themselves are well done and pretty original
5. usually a nice mix of creepy / scary / horrific all rolled into one

i watch the trilogy once every few years.

MayhemFilms
08-21-2013, 09:11 PM
Personally as a kid who has been making horror movies for along time. I love using the old tricks but putting a spin on them. That could mean so many things though. Do whatever fits the story and whatever you think works. -Anthony

Stephen Mick
08-21-2013, 09:14 PM
Dude, please tell me you're making a short for HorrorFest II.



Personally as a kid who has been making horror movies for along time. I love using the old tricks but putting a spin on them. That could mean so many things though. Do whatever fits the story and whatever you think works. -Anthony

Michael Anthony Horrigan
08-22-2013, 08:16 AM
Completely agree but a good scare punchline that really makes me jump added to creepy, hard to pull off - worth the effort.

Speaking of, MAH are we going to see an entry from you?
Agreed.

I wish! But I really doubt I'll have the time.

I have some scripts if anyone is interested. Just send me a PM.
Good luck to everyone who throws their proverbial hat in the ring.

Eric Boellner
08-22-2013, 08:40 AM
the underrated omen series 1-3 from the 70's captured a devilish series of deaths
i've never quite seen mimicked with such intensity.

whenever anyone dies, you get the following:

1. a tension building scene that last a few minutes
2. amazing horrific music
3. an innocent character is set up to be killed, and is killed
4. the kills / deaths themselves are well done and pretty original
5. usually a nice mix of creepy / scary / horrific all rolled into one

i watch the trilogy once every few years.

I'll definitely have to watch those sometime soon. Is the 2006 remake any good, comparatively?

I just watched Ringu on demand last night; had never seen it before. Pretty interesting, because there were almost no scares, but plenty of tension-building and creepiness. Kinda felt it lacked a little luster in the ending, but overall a decent J-horror flick.

Movieplex has the original Amityville Horror for free, too, so I'll probably check that out sometime this weekend.

-EMB

Justin Kuhn
07-26-2014, 08:31 AM
I thought the build-up in this was amazing, not so much the actual reveal at the end.

https://vimeo.com/82920243

Lynchenstein
07-28-2014, 07:50 PM
Agreed, that was great!

Egg Born Son
07-28-2014, 09:32 PM
You can use all the old tricks well with or without subverting them. The audience might see it coming but you decide when it happens or if it does at all. The sense of what's coming is the most powerful source of tension horror has. Without it you have only surprise which is fleeting. The 'two agents backing into each other around a corner' scare you see a mile off but the longer it takes to deliver the higher the anticipation. Which you can either resolve or bait and switch with a different scare.

You couldn't communicate effectively without 'and' 'its' 'the' 'that' and other such words. So to with the horror tropes. As long as they come naturally from the script rather than being shoehorned in, I wouldn't worry too much about it. If the script is drab and derivative then its not the cliches you need to worry about. We have to care about the characters, we have to be able to judge the unlikeable ones and enjoy the order in which they are bumped off. There needs to be juxtaposition of quiet and/or funny moments to give us a rest between the tensions. And the central hook has to be original. If you have all that and the ability to carry it off then you are set. Tension comes from stakes and concept as well as technique.

DerekT
07-28-2014, 11:53 PM
Some of my all time favorites are Ju-on : The Grudge by Takashi Shimizu and Ringu by Hideo Nakata. With films like Ju-on & Ringu it really just creeps me out and while films like Friday the 13th/Nightmare in ELM Street/Halloween gives me good scare. Ringu was the reason why I had to take the tv set out of my bedroom during college years while Ju-on made me think twice about hiding under the sheets LOL.

Michael Carter
07-30-2014, 12:33 PM
Y'know what's far more powerful than horror or scares? Awe.

That's really the most powerful moments in scifi and horror, when something utterly convinces you there are ghosts (or aliens or whatever). When the universe suddenly becomes more vast, mysterious, dangerous, impersonal.

There are moments in "Haunting of Hill House", paragraphs in "House of Leaves" that do that. I think the chill you get from that sort of awe is way more overpowering than a simple scare.

The first paragraph of Shirley Jackson's "the Haunting of Hill House" is amazingly effective. A few sentences and you know you're not in Kansas (or knee-jerk creative-land) anymore.

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.”

Remember the film "contact", when we first saw the "machine"? it was on a tiny CRT monitor in mission control. And it was cool as hell. I swear they did that as a big lifted middle finger to CGI. Like, this idea is so amazing you barely have to see it.

Naturally, it's far harder to write things that give you goosebump-terror-awe than horror.

groveChuck
07-31-2014, 02:41 PM
I thought the build-up in this was amazing, not so much the actual reveal at the end.

https://vimeo.com/82920243

Wow, that was good, including the "Let's have some fun now!" reveal.

Here's another of his:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mU3vsjvP10w

There's BTS of both, too. I love the DIY light on the YT one.
And the man knows his Blender!

As for the OP's question, the Vimeo example uses the "now you see it, now you don't" device, sort of like the medicine cabinet closing reveal.
But he makes it fresh and effective (in both films, actually) by playing off fear of the dark. Done to death, but done well, effective as hell.