Welcome to the House of Horrors

Clara Kelly

With Halloween just around the corner, horror movies seem to be everywhere, but what are the components that actually make a good horror movie?

To understand what makes a good horror film, the key elements of the genre must first be understood.

Horrors tend to be split between supernatural, scientific and naturalistic. The supernatural being the oldest and most classic form, plagued with monsters such as zombies, vampires like ‘Dracula’ and werewolves.

Meanwhile, the ‘sci-fi’ side, tends to show aliens and extraterrestrial things, with an occasional rogue scientific creation thrown into the mix.

However in more recent years, the most popular type of horror movie is naturalistic. The reality of these movies tend to often be what makes them so terrifying, and subsequently, so enjoyable.

Naturalistic horror is filled with the same psycho-killers and serial murderers that the average person has just as much chance encountering on their TV screens on the news, or as a headline in their local newspaper, making it more real for the audience.

The idea that none of it is impossible is what has kept some franchises such as ‘Halloween’ running for forty years. Movies like Halloween or Scream, have been some of the most popular movies in the genre, for this very reason.  The appeal of a horror movie is being afraid, and nothing is more frightening than the ‘monsters’ not actually being monsters, but rather, people.

This particular brand of horror, is the epitome of good horror, because it feels so real. And when it comes to this naturalistic section of the horror genre, the most popular and loved movies also follow their own formula.

Movies such as Halloween and Scream, all follow a certain set of rules as is commonplace in this genre of film. The movies that tend to qualify as classic horror, are often the ones that incorporate the ‘Madonna complex’ into the movie.

The majority of these movies start with a usually young, pretty and female protagonist, who ultimately is one of, if not the only survivor. The ‘Madonna complex’ suggests this protagonist survives, due to her purity in comparison to the other characters. With all secondary characters, usually promiscuous ones get killed off quite early on, this is seen in both movies mentioned above.

This concept has been explored many times before, and often a point is made of featuring nudity during the killings of the women in these movies who express sexuality, such as in the opening scene of Halloween.

What makes a horror movie both popular and durable, is this formula that has made them so successful thus far. The protagonist is supposed to come across somewhat smarter, more reserved and nicer than her counterparts, and so, is allowed to survive.

Part of what makes these movies so enjoyable for people, is their self-awareness. The directors and producers of more recently released films, such as 1996’s Scream, poke fun at what makes the movie so good, these rules.

One character going as far as to take a somewhat meta approach, talking to party-goers in the movie, but also to the audience to a certain extent. Even saying, “there are certain rules one must abide by in order to successfully survive a horror movie. First, you can never have sex.”

The producers of these movies know that people want this realism, the fear of them being similar to the characters. Everyday people who make human mistakes, is what makes audiences flood into cinemas to see the exact same structure play out on the big screen for so many years.


Clara Kelly
Image Credit: ifccentre.com