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?
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).
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.
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.