Five Factors Of Horror

February 16, 2013 1:16 pm

Horror movieFollowing my previous post surrounding the psychology of horror, entitled ‘The Horrific Psychology’. (If you haven’t read it yet – go now! What are you waiting for?) For years, directors have tried to captivate their audience with an essence of enthusiasm and an excess of emotional feed. Not many people have managed to achieve this. There are very few who in fact have. Names that have marked themselves on the map: Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, William Fredkin alongside a few others, are all fathers to horror classics we all know and love. The Exorcist, The Shining, and Psycho are considered by a majority of movie lovers, as well as critics, to be a ‘must see movie’ title. Spending so much time with media and movie analysis has helped me uncover the true elements of the making of a Hollywood horror movie.

What do you think of when I say conventions and connotations? Maybe this is the first time you’ve seen these words together on a page of A4 and you find yourself screaming at me to continue to form sentences and unravel movies behind the scene! It might seem as if I was just throwing words at you, but not at all; stick with me on this one!

Denotations, connotations, and conventions are what make a movie. In horror, these seem to be a little more apparent. I like to think of these three components; conventions, denotations and connotations are what help the audience to identify the genre of movie they’re watching. Excuse me for stating the obvious!

I’m here to suggest whether this theory / methodology is still in existence today. Traditionally, when we watch a horror movie, there are five factors we, as an audience look out for.


  • Red font (credits)
  • Mise-en-scene (props) knives, masks etc.
  • Iconography (blood, secluded locations, eerie music, vulnerable characteristics, so on and so fourth).
  • Good vs evil
  • Location / atmosphere / environment

So, these are what you would in a conventional horror movie. As part of my research, I found myself going back; watching some of the classics these past couple of days has made me realize the contemporary pattern of horror movies still exists today. As well as the examples above, I’ve still yet to understand why brunette females are more superior to blondes? Who wrote the rules, and what’s the logic behind it? This is still apparent to the horror movies of this generation. When we look at titles such as Paranormal Activity, Saw, Nightmare on Elm Street, and its other predecessors, we see a divide. Girls are always at a disadvantage in the horror scene. If I were to be specific, I’d say blonde teens are the vulnerable ones, while the brunettes bring on the battle with the villains, ‘demonoids’ and secluded houses that never seem to have electricity!

However, there are sometimes cracks in the system, especially when we look at a movie based on Stephen King’s novel – Carrie, a portrayal of a teenage girl who’s left as the odd one out among her classmates. However, she still manages to make her presence known with her powers of telekinesis. Here, we see a change of pattern occurring as Carrie is portrayed as a blonde teen who starts out as a passive character then emerges into an active and dominant presence.

Coming back to the houses, have you noticed 9/10 they’re strategically placed on a road that leads to nowhere – odd isn’t it? At least it works!Horror film

If you have a close relationship with horror, then I’m sure you’ve noticed one fact that seems to be a concrete element within its movies. If a female character in her teens is in a relationship, and she loses her virginity, this stood for one thing. Maybe this was Hollywood’s way of letting movie enthusiasts know sleeping with your boyfriend without wedlock is a cardinal sin! Hence, the ultimate punishment is death.

Anyway, let’s not make this article any more somber than it needs to be. Instead, let’s talk about the funniest / irritating truth in horror’s existence. Ladies and gentlemen, I’m talking about the character’s reaction to utter panic and fear. If there’s one thing that’s got me screaming “WTF are you doing” during a horror sequence, it’s when characters run the opposite direction to safety.

Why climb through an open window, when you really should be heading for the front door, and hiding into the inner depths of darkness? Seems to be a little less time consuming, don’t you think? Another thing, why run upstairs? Did you forget to even consider the time it takes to use the stairs, let alone the likelihood of tripping on the staircase when you have an axe murderer chasing after you? I guess this is why directors like Wes Craven created movies like Scary Movie, so we can laugh at our own expense!

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