The scariest part of a zombie movie is not when the audience sees a person eaten by a horde of the undead, but when the horde remains hidden until that very first glimpse. You know they’re coming. You know they will consume anyone in their path. The terror-inducing shivers felt hearing but not seeing an eater is enough to drive anyone to want to sport a chin guard in a padded room.
I tend to dedicate Monday Mayhem to all that is zombie. Today, I’d like to try something different. Today, let’s delve into what makes horror movies scary. In particular, let’s look at three movies that leave me lying in bed staring at the dark ceiling wondering if anything lives in my closet.
Alien—In 1979, when I was barely in my teens, director Ridley Scott presented his version of what an alien should look like. At the time, the trailers featuring an egg as the catalyst for a possible invasion drew critical acclaim. What audiences didn’t know is the flick is actually a horror movie dressed in sci-fi clothing. “In space no one can hear you scream” became the tagline for this original motion picture. When I first saw this movie, I couldn’t help notice how subsequent sightings of the creature throughout the film turned more graphic with every scene. It created an uneasiness I hadn’t ever experienced. It wasn’t until days later that I had appreciated how not seeing the alien terrified me more than if it had appeared earlier in the story.
The Exorcist—I had written about this 1973 film in my October tribute to Horror for my Women Who Wow Wednesday series. Directed by William Friedkin and starring Linda Blair as the child possessed, the big screen adaptation of William Peter Blatty’s novel went on to become one of the most successful horror movies of all time. How did it do this? We never see the real culprit at work. We see the effects and the aftermath of what happened. But why or by whom remains a mystery. What’s more? The progressive escalation of events increases the tension further by leaving the audience wondering what is causing the terror. I saw this movie in my teens when my parents went visiting relatives. I had nightmares for a week. Now, that’s a good horror flick.
The Shining—Can anyone deny the phrase, “Redrum. Redrum. REDRUM!” chills the bones? This 1980 Stephen King vehicle starring Jack Nicholson as a writer wanting a quiet place to work, showcases classic scenes one would come to expect in a horror picture. As with Alien and The Exorcist, The Shining also highlights an effective acceleration of plot points to a heart-stopping climax. Making this Stanley Kubrick film unique, the individual scenes watched as individual units confuses, if at best, mesmerizes. As a whole though, every scene builds on the last, layering an intricate design of terror, which, by all accounts, gives the viewer an immersive experience in regards to the events surrounding this foreboding tale of murder and supernatural bedlam.
Overall, the movies Alien, The Exorcist and The Shining underscore what true horror is all about. Not so much what you see, but what you don’t see that makes things scary.
Have you seen Alien, The Exorcist or The Shining? Which one did you find the scariest? Why? Do you have any favorite horror movies that left you awake at night?