Monday, October 12, 2015

What's Your Favorite Scare?

When you're done here, go visit me at Yolanda Renee's blog, Defending the Pen. I'm giving away a free copy of The Deep Dark Woods, an anthology that includes my short story, The Blue Mist, to one lucky commenter.

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You know that line from Scream? What's your favorite scary movie? While I'd love to hear that, too, I want to know what your favorite scare is more.



Do you like jump scares? This seems to be the focus of recent horror movies. It does manage to make a person tense when they spend the movie waiting for the jump scare, knowing it's coming. But is that a real scare?


Do you prefer the psychological buildup, where the truth slowly ekes into your brain, building your horror as it registers? No. No, they wouldn't do that. They couldn't do that. Please?


Or are you into torture, pain, blood-letting? Personally, this is my least favorite type of scare.


Does your favorite scare involve monsters? Isolation? The monster within? Do creepy crawlies do it for you every time? Have you ever considered what it is about your favorite scary movie that reaches you deep down?

I did a bit of a mini-workshop (not even that) at a Maker Faire this weekend. My hour was "Ask me how to make anything creepy." In preparation for it, I sat down to analyze what it is that scares people. Sure, clowns, spiders, and slashers scare people, but why? What is it about these different elements that scare people? We may be afraid that something is under our bed, but we all know there isn't really anything under there. So what makes us pull our feet in under the covers.

I broke it down into some basic elements. What is it we actually fear, beyond the surface scares we come up with?

Vulnerability/helplessness/violation of sanctity - No one likes to feel vulnerable, yet horror movies show us when we're most open to attack. They remind us that we're never safe anywhere, not even in the places we feel safest. In the shower (Psycho), in childhood (Poltergeist), when we're sleeping (Nightmare on Elm Street.) The thought of someone in our home, something under the bed or in the closet, is embedded deep within our psyches, because once our home is violated, where else can we go for safety?

Isolation/being trapped/claustrophobia - Something else people fear, even those who love their alone time, is true loneliness and isolation. In space, no one can hear you scream, right? Right. Being trapped on a space ship (Alien) or a ship (Ghost Ship) means there's nowhere to run. And no one is coming to save you any time soon. But you can still be on land and be isolated, such as in a deep, dark cave (The Descent).

Slightly askew/dissonance/humanoid - Our brains have been trained to notice things that are slightly off balance. Even when our conscious mind doesn't notice, our subconscious does. And notice that most of our classic monsters are based on things that are similar to humans or used to be mortal? Vampires (Dracula), werewolves (Silver Bullet), zombies (Night of the Living Dead), even clowns (IT). All of these are one step away from normal people. We fear that which is different, but we especially fear that which is different, yet reflects some element of ourselves back at us. It reminds us of our own mortality, the monsters within ourselves. And it lets us know how close our neighbor or our own selves are to becoming something Other. Even worse is when it is truly human, but there is something that sets it apart (Silence of the Lambs, Halloween). What sets you apart from them? How thin is that line?

The unknown/loss or lack of control - A fear of the dark is really a primitive fear of the unknown that hides away where we can't see it. The thought that something could be right in front of us, yet we can't see it. Something sneaking up on us. This one takes us right back to the caveman days, where the dark held many things that could kill us. Predators that waited until night to find their prey.

Creepy crawlies/nature gone wrong/forces of nature - This one is another primitive fear, born of days in the caves. Snakes and spiders, cockroaches and rats. Each of these things can get into the tiniest cracks, sneak up on us outside or inside. Then they can disappear without a trace (Arachnaphobia), leaving behind the hope that someone can find evidence that it was a spider bite. Or there are the big creatures, the scary things that are just too strong for us (Anaconda, Tremors, Lake Placid, Jaws). Nature is a scary beast. And something we have no choice but to contend with.

Change/science - People fear change, the lack of comfort and the things they know. Yet we deal with change all the time. Stories that deal with this show us dire change (I Am Legend). When it involves science, it shows us that the world can be graphically changed by our own hands. An escaped virus (28 Days Later), artificial intelligence that wants to see us wiped out (Terminator), a mad scientist (Re-Animator).

Pain/torture - The ultimate copout in horror, BUT something that definitely works to reach people. No one likes pain. (Okay not totally true, but most of us don't). We do what we can to avoid pain on a daily basis. The thought of being subjected to intense levels of pain and torture is terrifying (Saw, Hostel).

Of course, most horror depends upon a combination of these elements. I could have moved the movies I mentioned around all over the place, put them in different categories. No horror story depends solely on one type of scare. There needs to be an assault on our psyches to really freak us out.

So. What is your favorite scare? And your favorite scary movie? What tickles your psyche and scares the living daylights out of you? Why? What other categories do you think there are?

May you find your Muse.

41 comments:

  1. Yay for Dean! :) The one movie that can still give me chills is The Exorcist. It's not the grossness or scary devil voice either. It's the tension, the churning in my stomach. I'm heading to Yolanda's!

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    1. I knew someone would appreciate some Dean! I think The Exorcist got worse for me once I was a mom. However, it was always good. I read the book in one day.

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  2. I agree about the combination of elements being the real trick. I don't care for the slasher/gore type of movie, but I don't mind some blood and guts if it's only a scene or two in the whole scope of a story.

    I can't choose just one - too many wonderful scary movies to pick from! :)

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    1. I'm more okay with the straight slasher flicks than I am with the torture porn, but yeah, I like a psychological scare (or blatant b-movie monster with comedy) the best.

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  3. Yeah, I don't think gore makes something scary either. I'm all about psychological horror, especially the unknown. The overactive imagination is much scarier than a loud noise or sudden burst of movement via jump scare.

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    1. Exactly! My brain can dream up so much more than what they're throwing at me in the movie or book.

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  4. Torture porn is so not my thing. Too much a reflection of real life.
    Fear is all about atmosphere. The building up of tension.

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    1. I hadn't thought of it that way, but the pain and torture are too much a reflection of life. We have enough pain without having it in our fiction, too.

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  5. Tell me something I don't want to know :o

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    1. I'm too tired to have a proper smart ass response here. I'll think of something when I'm trying to sleep.

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  6. Psycho still sends shivers up my spine and The Shining haunts me.

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  7. I was never big on being scared and, to this day, avoid things like 'zombie runs' and haunted houses.

    To me, the scariest thing out there is man's capacity for evil.

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    1. I don't do haunted houses. Too good a place for a real psycho to hide. But, yes, I definitely agree with that being the scariest thing out there. I will always be more frightened by true crime than I ever will over a fictional account.

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  8. I don't like being scared but creepy crawlers get me. Any kind of bug or spider. Being trapped in a small spot would probably be next. I hate watching movies with all the blood and torture. Scare me other ways.

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    1. Creepy crawlies paired with small spaces are highly effective for scares. No one likes that!

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  9. I definitely think it's all about the psychological build-up. When it's making you scare yourself, that's when it works!

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    1. Yes, precisely. We scare ourselves more than anyone else can.

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  10. I find I can't watch most of the scary things made today. I love the Hitchcock kind of scares. I read the Exorcist and would never, ever watch the movie. But I did think Halloween was one hell of a scary movie. The Night of The Living Dead, not only scared me it made me sick. I like the psychological build up because purposeful brutality causes me real pain, and graphic scenes make me turn away! I have too many nightmares without watching anything! LOL I'm a big wimp!

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    1. Oh, and thanks for participating in my Halloween interview! Such fun!

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    2. Everything you mentioned is a classic! I'll always love Hitchcock. I just finally purchased Halloween (didn't realize I didn't have it), so I'm looking forward to watching it, but I'm making myself wait for...Halloween, of course!

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  11. Favorite scary movie is the first Night of the Living Dead. Now as far as favorite scare? That's maybe not the way I would put it. Something that makes me very uncomfortable is the claustrophobia idea. The Descent gave me some moments where I wanted to just stand up and take a deep breath while realizing it was only a movie. I've very claustrophobic.

    As for my "favorite" scare--something that I like to ponder that genuinely gives me the creeps--is that which is the somewhere out there unknown factor. The mysterious sound in the dark, the feeling of a presence, or anything that might or might not be bad and I don't know which until I see what it is. As long as I have the freedom to move, breathe, and act then I'm curiously interested in that unknown and only hope it's not absolutely hideous and ultimately fatal.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

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    1. While I'm not claustrophobic (or at least not severely), I find claustrophobia and isolation to be strong scare factors for myself. The Descent was crazy effective in those elements.

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  12. My husband eats up those scary movies, the scariest the better. I don't watch them--the element of evil bothers me. Good thing we have two TVs.

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    1. My husband doesn't love the scares like I do. I have a friend who won't watch anything scary (and who has yet to read one of my stories), but she and my husband are big on Star Trek and Dr. Who. We joke that I should go to movies with her husband (who likes horror) and she should go to movies with mine.

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  13. I'd rather read horror than see it, but I've seen my fair share from those you mentioned. I'll never forget the beginning of Scream. I hate girls being chased. Tenterhooks. That Janet Leigh shower scene will always be in my head. Strangely, I enjoy writing some horror. Can really let go!

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    1. I think writing horror can be cathartic. As can reading and watching it. I love horror short stories, but sometimes prefer movies to reading horror novels. I find authors have a hard time building and keeping suspense in novel form, where there are ways to do it in a film that you can't do in a novel (sound effects, etc.)

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  14. Stuff like Nightmare on Elm Street freaks me out. If a film is excessively gory I tend to end up laughing my head off :-)
    The stuff that really hits me is psychological stuff like Hostel or Saw. I wouldn't call that "scare" or "horror" in the traditional sense though, more sick and horrific, the sort of film you can't stop watching even though you want to.
    Oh yes, and anything with clowns in :-)

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    1. Clowns for the win! Though I don't like them, I do agree that films like Saw are hard to look away from.

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  15. Fear when there is tension built is great, that stupid torture crap is pathetic. Scream is a fun horror movie and I like Tremors.

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    1. I love Scream and Tremors. Both are fun. The beginning of Scream is intense.

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  16. What a great list, just in time for Halloween. If I wrote horror, I'd print out this list and hang it in front of my computer. I might do it anyway, for Halloween, you know.

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    1. Thanks! It's something I think about in trying to figure out how to form the scares. Sometimes it's a mystery why someone is scared by something, so I wanted to break it down into the basics of the fear.

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  17. Excellent list post! Anatomy of Horror is so fun.

    My favorite element in Horror is the anticipation. Like Alfred Hitchcock used to say, there is no terror in the bang, only in anticipation of it. The walk down the poorly lit hall, the careful footsteps over creaking boards, the period in a story when I don't quite know what's happening, but am piecing it together and dreading it, is the best delight in Horror.

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    1. Anticipation is big. Once the bang comes, the fear dissipates. Interesting to look at it that way. I hadn't thought of it in that way.

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  18. I totally swore off horror/ scary movies after the Grudge. I was so tired of being terrified of going to bed!

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    1. The Grudge was a good one, too. Japanese film makers have a way with terror.

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  19. Love The Shining, The Others, Sixth Sense, What Lies Beneath, Bram Stoker's Dracula... these are my kid of horror flicks. Don't care for demon possession or blood letting.

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    1. I just recently watched What Lies Beneath. It didn't get good reviews, but I found it intriguing. The twists, the misunderstandings, the lead up.

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  20. I think I share a fear from each one you listed above, lol. Just the unnaturalness of it all. And yeah, something getting you in your home is a BIG thing. Or car, for that matter. That's another place you don't expect to be afraid. You're in control, nothing to fear and then boom--a total stranger on the road acting weird can get our heartbeat pumping. I like to read my horror more than watch it, the imagination does excruciating things to one. So, in that direction, I'd say Dean Koontz's Intensity or any number of a Stephen King books.

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    1. That's the thing. We build these cocoons around us. Even when a real life stranger violates our home in a burglary, we suddenly feel unsafe in many elements of our life. The same can be said for when someone violates our car. I had the hardest time getting into my car when someone broke the window and robbed us.

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