I love horror stories. For some perverse reason, I like to be so scared that I pee in my pants. Coupled with my preference for spicy, hot, tongue scalding chili encrusted meals, that should be enough to label me as a masochist. Anyway, I started on this post late last night but was scaring myself so much I decided it would be better to stop and only continue during daylight hours if only to evade getting nightmares when I slept.
Anyway as I was saying, I love horror stories. It doesn’t even have to be a particularly good story. For example, the campy King of B-Grade Horror movies, “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” is so bad that it is good. You know what I mean?
However, as much as I like monster movies, I really, really like supernatural stories. When I was 12 years old, my 26 year old brother was supposed to take his girlfriend to watch the special midnight movie but for some reason, they had a tiff. I benefited from the rebound when he offered to sneak me in to see the movie which had an 18 only rating. I was thrilled. The movie was “The Exorcist” which in retrospect gives a clue to the subject of their lover’s tiff. Not unexpectedly, I was severely traumatised by the movie and could not sleep for weeks as I awaited an arm to come out of the wall to grab me.
Although Hollywood has come out with many outstanding supernatural horror stories, in recent years the far more scary movies have come forth from the imagination of Asian directors such as “The Ring”, “The Grudge”, and “One Missed Call”.
Below are some of the horror concepts that work well at getting my goosebumps up.
- Shining eyes. Eyes that glow in the dark. Imagine looking around in the dark. Everything looks normal. Suddenly you do a double take and you notice two dots of glowing red in a dark corner or at the window looking in. Scary! This effect was used in “Amityville Horror” when two glowing eyes appear in the window.
- Mirrors. Often a hint or glimpse of some horror in a mirror or shining surface is far more effective than showing the whole horror. This is probably because when you get to see the whole thing, it looks too much like a guy with makeup on. I used to have to drive along a jungle road at night. All around was dark except for my headlights. Occasionally, out of habit, I would look into the rear-view mirror. Fortunately all I saw was darkness. Can you imagine how I would freak out if something suddenly appeared out of the darkness in my mirror? The urban legend of Bloody Mary uses the concept of the mirror leading into the spirit world.
- Images on Photos. Sometimes the horror is scene as blurry images on photos or as images on the negatives. This has an interesting horror factor when the story protagonist and the audience are suddenly aware that the entity had been along side them all the while. In one very scary Thai movie, the hero realises that he has been capturing images of a ghost when he takes pictures of his friends. He figures this out when his friends all die ghastly deaths. Now trying to protect himself, he uses a polaroid camera to try to see the ghost approaching him. He takes photo after photo but despite no image of a ghost, he still senses its presence. Finally he realises something and he points the camera on himself and when the photo comes out, he sees the ghost sitting piggy-back on his shoulder and smiling into the camera. Creepy!
- Evil Clown. Take something that kids trust like a clown or a teddy bear and make it evil. Probably because it affects our childhood security blankets, this can be a very effective vehicle for representing horror. The clown, well, clowns around but when he smiles his broad smile, why are his teeth shaped like needles. This concept was famously done in Stephen King’s “It”.
- The Old Hag. One of the scariest effect for me is the Old Hag. This is when someone sleeps and has a nightmare but it doesn’t end when he/she awakes. Instead, he wakes, he cannot move, he feels a weight on his chest making it hard to breathe and as the fog of sleep fades, to reveal the old hag’s ugly face just inches from his. The Old Hag is an idea that evolved from the idea of witches and/or the incubus/succubus. I think this is scary because we feel vulnerable when we sleep and we are afraid to wake up to such horrors. I know it isn’t quite the same but I once went to sleep in a jungle camp and woke up to a dead giant praying mantis right next to my face. I gave a little shreek. If it was an Old Hag, I would have jumped out of my skin. Speaking of skin, Ol’ Skinner has an Old Hag experience in the X-Files. In an interesting twist, although the X-Files’ Old Hag was darn scary, she turns out to be a benevolent protector.
- Levitation. Levitation is a very good horror vehicle if used subtly. It’s most effective when you do not realise that there is any levitation to start with at the beginning. When you finally realise it, the horror seems to just roll over you. This was in the closing scene of “The Blair Witch Project” when the last survivor thinks she sees a friend and only realises a little late that his feet does not touch the ground.
What Horror concepts works for you?