What makes a scary movie… scary?

Hello everyone and welcome back to this month’s blog! By the time this is put up it should be October! If you know me then you definitely have heard of my love for horror movies! So, in honor of this month, I will be going through a few different techniques used in horror movies that really amp up the fear factor! I will also be putting examples from different movies linked in the list! Enjoy.


The story is one of, if not the most, important aspects of creating a horror movie environment. It can either make or break a horror movie in my opinion. For example, The Conjuring does an amazing job of creating a truly terrifying story, especially since it’s based on true events. Their story had me engaged, invested, and practically hypnotized into the film. They created bonds between characters that felt so real and so strong, so that when the threat came you were almost falling out of your seat to make sure each person is safe and sound. On the other hand, the Saw franchise is an example of how a lousy story can break a movie. In the first movie, things were okay. It was intense and all, but I felt nothing towards those characters except for sympathy pains, which are caused by the overuse of body horror (my least favorite kind of film). It relies on gore and gruesome bodily harm to scare the watchers instead of creating depth and real deeper fear. 


Location is another aspect of horror cinematography that I think also decides the type of fear that the watchers feel during a film. It can create a wide fear or a narrow fear. For example, Scream takes place in Woodsburrow, a quiet suburban town where nothing really happens. This creates a wide fear of unsafety within somewhere you would have already perceived as being safe. You could even go as far as saying that Texas Chainsaw Massacre could create a fear of backroads and hitchhikers. An example of a location that seems to create less fear for me, is in the movie Old, where they end up on a beach that makes them age super quickly. I find this particularly un-scary because of the very low possibility of this ever happening to me or anyone I love. 


Sound is by far my favorite aspect to talk about. I can sit through a horror movie and afterward talk about how scary or how impactful the soundtrack was. Sounds within a movie can also become a cult-classic detail that thrives within the horror community, like the Halloween theme that I learned how to play on the piano. While that soundtrack has become less terrifying over the years of popularity, the original impact has stuck with horror movie fans for years. On the other hand, one of James Wans’ newer films Malignant had a magnificent soundtrack, and in some scenes, the lack of sound was what made it amazing. My first time watching it, the sounds made me sit up straight, and I have terrible posture. I will link those two songs used in scenes from those movies below.




In many newer films and some of the old ones, light has been used in creative ways to create a sense of dread. As humans, we always wonder about what we cannot see, whether it be under the bed or the dark end of the hallway that we can’t quite see. The idea of the dark and what may lie beneath has inspired so many great films that are great because of the use of lighting. Like, Lights Out, outright tells you what they’re going to use to scare you, and it worked. The scene I linked below is the one that stuck with me the most. 

Lights out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tw84SFLxC_o


Finally, we have come to the last aspect that always stands out to me when I watch horror movies. Angles, paired with lighting and sound create the most fear-inducing combination. There are so many different ways to use angles in movies as well. For example, The Blair Witch Project and As Above So Below are two found footage films that use the found footage format to their advantage, by being able to hide parts of the set while also being able to do quick turns to lead the watcher right into the scare. Another way to use angles is what I call a predatory angle. It’s most well described as the perspective of the predator. It makes you worry for the prey, mentally begging them to turn around and catch their stalker but it also gives you insight into the stalker’s motives or patience. Jaws and He’s Out There have really good examples of this that I will link below. 

As Above So Below: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekqjBZdbYJU (Graphic imagery warning)

Jaws: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yrEvK-tv5OI (around 1min in)


Thank you all for reading this month! Have a very scary Halloween. See you next time! <3                                                                           

Author: Locklyn Wilchynski

Locklyn Wilchynski (She/Her) is a poet, writer, and musician. She is also a senior literary arts student at Mississippi School of the Arts. Her writing has been published in Co-Lin Refractions Literary & Art Magazine and The Phoenix Literary Journal. She won two gold keys, a silver key, and two honorable mentions in the 2021 Scholastic Arts and Writing Awards. She has also won an honorable mention in the 2021 Ephemera Prize. She is a lover of all things crafted in darkness and finding the beauty within that. She believes that storytelling is one of the most powerful forms of communication to open up new conversations and ideas.

Leave a Reply