Jury Coordination and Notes

What Makes a Good Horror Film? By Clayton Pickard, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 16

I saw The Witch yesterday and it started me thinking about what makes a great horror film.  There are two primary elements that make up a horror film: shock and suspense. Some horror films are only shock and some are only suspense.  The best films incorporate both.  Hitchcock said that good suspense is created when the viewer is informed of the impending doom and is complicit in the action.  He felt suspense was the more important element because one can close one’s eyes and still feel the spine tingling horror of anticipation.  But a viewer can close his or her eyes at the jump scares and not really feel anything.

The Witch primarily utilizes the suspense factor.  The film is set in Puritan times in New England.  Due to religious heresy, a family is banished to the wilds outside the settlement where they must start anew.  The director, Robert Eggers chose to have the actors speak in old English which made it atmospheric.  He uses everything in nature to create suspense, such as a black goat, a rabbit with bulging eyes and the sound of rustling leaves.  There are only a few jump scares towards the end of the movie. The brilliance of The Witch is how the suspense is built using period details, old language and religious mythology so well that you feel as if you are part of that world.
The Conjuring is one of the best horror films that I have seen.  It uses suspense and jump scares in equal measure, which makes it a truly great horror film.  In contrast, the Insidious series mostly uses jump scares. At the end of the day, I feel that suspense is the actual horror and not some cheap shock jump scare.  Even though the jump scares are terrifying they are not really scary in a horrific way.  They just scare you for one second unlike suspense, which is always lingering.

Of course, there are other factors that contribute to making a great horror film besides suspense and jump scares.  Music is very important for building suspense. I’m thinking of Psycho and Jaws. Make-up is also another element, which adds to the fright factor.  And, humor can be used to good effect in horror movies. Good examples are American Werewolf in London and Nightmare on Elm Street series. After researching and writing this blog, I’m excited that there are so many more terrific horror and suspense films to experience.

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