What is the essence of a truly powerful horror movie?

I like watching really old movies from the 1940’s; sometimes, if I can get my hands on them, movies from the 20’s and 30’s.

Power of horror movies

Interesting thing about horror movies as a genre is that they have always been around. There’ve been vampire movies from the 1920’s and 30’s. They may seem very corny and stupid nowadays, but their existence speaks volumes with the fact that people always appreciated horror movies.

Given that many different version and different renditions of the horror movies genre throughout the years, what is the essence of a truly powerful movie of this genre? A lot of it has to do with pacing. To tell a good story, you have to sculpt the emotions of people reading a book, watching a movie or listening to a story. You have to create pockets of uncertainty. You have to show them or tease them with a little bit of what will happen down the road.
If you do this properly, you have them inning off the palm of your hands and just like birds trying to eat seeds of the palm of your hands. You are at full liberty to close your hands at any time. Of course, you should enclose your hands all the time because that kills the suspense. There is no suspense if you do that. You become predictable.

The real essence of a powerful horror movie is it does not involve graphics. I’m not talking about people being skinned, being butchered with chainsaws, guts being splattered all over the place. That gets old because if you don’t believe me, just look at the movies from the 1970’s. There was a point in American cinema where directors had this idea in their head that what makes a great horror movie involved graphics. So they packed a tremendous amount of graphic gore into their movies. Guess what happened? People got bored. It became predictable.

It has nothing to do with graphics. You can look at Japanese horror movies where there’s actually very little blood and very little violence but they are still scary. It all boils down to pacing. What kind of psychological landscape are you establishing in the minds of the viewers? What kind of disruption would destroy that picture and put them on edge.

When you present horror this way, you’re speaking to the soul of people because what people are afraid of is not an actual graphic or actual death for that matter. It’s the change. It’s that abruptness of the pivot of consciousness from a sense of full control of what’s going on around you to the uncertainty of life itself because that’s what makes life scary – the change. We grow a custom to things. We’re creatures of habit. That’s what we are. That’s constant of the human condition. And when you tease that, play around with it through pacing. You scare people. That is the essence of a truly powerful horror movie.

To get my point, compare Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” to any of the crappy horror movies being made in the 1970’s. There’s no comparison. It’s like trying to compare a beat up, old Honda with a Rolls-Royce. Forget about it!