What makes affecting horror? What scares you more than anything in the world – and more crucially, stays with you, makes you shudder AFTER watching it? Seems to me as if horror these days is all about the scare whilst you’re watching, then it’s easily forgotten. There have been numerous times I have shrieked whilst watching a horror in recent times, yet if you asked me the story of the last film that freaked me out recently beyond those 90/120 minutes, I’d have think hard.
I haven’t watched The Shining in years, yet I remember so much of it, I could have watched it yesterday. Yes, certain aspects of it are a bit dated – that awful 70s carpet for one – but as far as I’m concerned, it’s as fresh now as it was back in 1980. It’s pretty different from the source material; Stephen King’s book places the blame squarely at The Overlook’s feet, with even the topiary attacking Danny; whereas the film (to me, at least) blames Jack’s growing insanity with a side order of The Overlook being built on an Native American Burial Ground. After all, his wife and child aren’t affected by the *evil* there – Jack is a channel for it – it’s even hinted that his male “weakness” makes it so, given his quick temper and self indulgence.
I first saw The Shining when I was approximately eight years old. Of course I wasn’t allowed, but as I’ve mentioned before on this blog I had a tendency to creep around the house at night and watch television with the sound turned down. So when I first saw The Shining, I literally just “saw” it; I heard nothing. If anything, it made it far scarier. I recall sitting in my bed after watching it, shaking with fear. There was a large built-in wardrobe in my room and I became convinced a deluge of blood would cascade out (as it had done from the elevator in the film) and soak me in my sleep. It was around this time my mother gave me a book about growing up, so when I read about periods and the like, I totally freaked, much to my Mum’s puzzlement. I became obsessed with blood in general for approximately the next ten years, writing cascades of blood into just about every short story I came up with and having nightmares in which the river outside our house ran thick with it. I even made a photography project at school about blood, photographing plugholes Psycho-style, re-enacting the famous shower scene (which I thought needed more: she’d just been stabbed to death for God’s sake!). As my Mother said to my Father at the time: “Where did we go wrong?”
I might have been only eight, but good horror has power. If I look at The shining and compare it to Saw or even tripe like Alien Versus Predator, *technically* there is far less “horror” in terms of a body count, torture or beasts feasting on your entrails. I didn’t know it at the time because I was such a little girl, but what is so terrifying about The Shining is its plausibility. How many women have had to face a violent, half-mad spouse, with nowhere left to run and a child in tow? You can’t run far when carrying a kid; add geographical isolation and a ton of snow and it’s official: you’re totally screwed. As unpopular as it is to say it, women are at a disadvantage when it comes to the men in their lives: if he turns on you, what can you do? There’s a good chance you’re not as strong as him and even if you are, there are the children to protect from him as well. Are you all going to make it out? The number of men who manage to kill their wives and/or families is testament to the fact that women can’t always win when pitted against a man. And THAT is why The Shining is so terrifying as far as I am concerned.
What about you… What makes a great horror film?
To me the scariest film I saw was The Haunting. The original not the remake Puleease.
The scene where the women are in the bedroom and the ghost is looking through the window above the door was the worst bit.
Must be the primeval fear of something watching you that you can't see or might not even be aware of. The hunter after the hunted.
This produces more shudders for me than gore does (which usually just makes me laugh at the terrible effects).
Yes gore often makes me laugh, Rach. It's so mad, such a spectacle – and one most of us are blessed not to experience – that we can't relate to it… Unlike the idea of being watched, which is universal.
Unless you own a cat that brings in gifts and leaves them on the bottom step for you to find with bare feet. I find it really hard to laugh at gore then.
Poltergeist. Which I saw about twenty years ago.It's set in the family's home, the place you should be safe. And effectively the home turns on them.
Well that's what I remember from it!
Rach – actually that has happened to me: you're right!
Jill – what I remember best was that spooky clown doll and the guy who tears his face off in front of the fridge. Argh!
Saw your piece on The Shining on your blog. Can't seem to get it to accept my password so here's my contribution;
My late mother used to practically run out of the room screaming at the thought of "Whatever happened to Baby Jane?" – it was the plausibility of it that affected her. Misery has a similar plot. When I finally got to see the camp classic it didn't affect me as much as I expected, but then I'm not a control person terrified of losing control…
I've never been able to bring myself to watch The Shining or any of the similar horror movies. Gore disgusts rather than frightens me. I'd have been a lousy nurse. Had to turn off Minority Report last night when he was having his eyes swapped.
I do remember being scared READING Pet Sematary – the first and only book to have scared me. Had to turn the lights on, look under the bed, etc.
I'm rather fond of the haunted mirror in Dead of Night.
Perhaps to write a good horror film you have to work out what frightens you most. Extroverts are frightened by being alone. Introverts by the world not making sense (Dorothy Rowe has a fascinating insight on this – she says torturers put extroverts in solitary and confuse introverts by bringing them breakfast at tea time or making out that hours and hours have gone by when only a few minutes have.)
The last horor that really got me was a Spanish flick called REC by Jaume Balagueró and
That one had a few proper hide behind the pillow moments.
Remind me about it and I'll fire it your way. x
The Shining is classic horror of the psychological kind. Jack at the bar, talking to the dead barman scared me silly. It was his utter madness that meant Wendy was doomed.
Stephen King has a genius from creating horror from the ordinary and the identifiable (When I was 13 I wanted to BE Carrie).
But two films of the genre that still haunt me are The Exorcist and Event Horizon: The former because (like you with and The Shining) I saw it as a child and could never get the nightmarish 360 degree head spin out of my mind's eye. Plus the fear of 'something in the attic' is universal.
The latter because it brings the surreal quality of nightmares to graphic and unforgettable life.
I still watch both with my heart pounding in fear and my bloodthirst screaming for more.
I must be a very odd individual. I grew up (from grade school on) reading every ghost story, scary story, horror story, etc., I could find. I started watching “scary movies” in high school. At some point I read The Shining, and of course saw the movie when it came out. I loved ghost stories etc., but I wasn’t “scared” by them. They were fascinating and entertaining. When I was in the Army, a friend of mine and I went to the post theater and saw every “scary movie” we could, and we’d be entertained, but never “scared.” I don’t understand it when grown people claim they are “scared” by movies. I hate gore, it’s depressing and revolting, but not “scary.” “The Shining” is fascinating and suspenseful and entertaining (I love the scene with Danny in the hotel corridor and a ball rolls along by itself, and the two weird little dead girls appear, but it’s not “scary”). So I wish someone would please comment, someone who is an actual grownup adult — are you really “scared” by these things? — M
Yes, I’m scared by movies. SINISTER and THE CONJURING are two examples that freaked me out recently.
I am scared of many things, including ghost movies, because I am scared of bing helpless, like drowning or car crash.
Lucy V Hay, could you please throw more insights on this aspect – Feeling Helpless, and how to use that in a Horror movie.
I am writing a horror story, but your article made me think – The protagonist can walk away from the ‘place of horror’, why would he be compelled to complete the task (that finally eradicates the ghost) rather than just run away, eg, the ghost is in his hostel, he can just change hostels, but why does he try to solve the puzzle (get the murderer caught) that will set the ghost free to go to the next world?
Great questions AJ, will give it some thought. In the meantime, these further articles on B2W may help you:
What’s the difference between Horror & Thriller: Case Study – WIND CHILL (2007)
8 Mistakes That Will Kill Your Horror Screenplay DEAD
Horror Versus Thriller (with tweets) · Bang2write · Storify