How to Avoid the Fright of Your Life While Watching a Scary Movie… by DARK SIDE

Posted on October 28th, 2009
Posted on October 28th, 2009

(NOTE:  Due to…  1. the Halloween Holiday  2. a trip out of state and  3. a lack of a working laptop, The Small Town Critic website will go on vacation until Nov. 4 when I will be bringing you a review of “Boondock Saints 2: All Saints Day” – Coop)

Here’s a Halloween tip for those of you NOT particularly jazzed about seeing a horror movie in the theater.  It might not be your thing, but sometimes you end up doing it; whether it’s your date choosing the movie, a group decision or it’s something you really want to see despite your aversion to acute fright. 

There ARE ways of watching a horror movie without it scaring your socks off.  After years of watching them in the theater, I’ve developed a sense of recognition that helped me create strategies to combat having my nerves wrecked. 

1.  Know what you’re getting into:  If you’re going into “the scariest movie of the year,” you’re asking for it.  Be aware of what scares you the most.  If you can’t take spiders, you might avoid “Arachnophobia” or “Eight Legged Freaks.”  Horror comedies give you the advantage though.  Few are genuinely scary and you can brag that you didn’t hide your eyes during “Zombieland” even for a second.  Unrated and NC-17 horror films (usually on video) probably have more gore and disturbing images than you can handle.  Leave those for the aficionados and the art-house crowd. 

2.  Choosing your seat:  I recommend picking an aisle seat, possibly close to the exit if you have a choice about it.  If something makes you uncomfortable, you can make a hasty retreat.  Also look at who you’re sitting around.  Avoid groups of laughing, giggling teenagers.  They tend to annoy and they usually scream the loudest.  Also avoid couples or groups where one person can’t help but talk nervously throughout the entire movie.  That person is absolutely terrified and will have panic attacks during the scary parts, putting you and everyone else around you on edge.  If you happen to be the nervous talker-type in a horror movie, please leave and never go to another horror movie again.  Nobody wants to hear your cowardly whimpering.   

3.  While watching:  Anticipation is the name of the game.  If you know the most common types of scares, They will be less likely to catch you off guard.  These are the primary types of scares you can expect during a horror film:

“The BOO!” – This scare is the most common and while it’s terrible to experience in person, you can see it coming in a horror movie a mile away.  The key is in the music.  Listen to it closely.  When it stops you have about a ten second window before something jumps out of the shadows.  Also watch the editing.  Bad editors usually make a cut right before the scare.  Just the same, bad actors know it’s coming and often react before the threat a split second before it reveals itself.  If you feel the scare coming, discreetly put your fingers in your ears and pre-emptively scream INSIDE OF YOUR HEAD (not out loud) before it happens.  This will dilute the effect of this type of scare greatly.  If that’s not enough, close your eyes.  (ex. EVERY slasher or ghost film depends on this technique for nearly all scares in the film)

AUDIENCE REACTION – A unified scream

“The Fake-Out”– More like the “Cop-Out” because only the worst horror movies overuse this lame trick.  This is a standard “Boo!” scare except the threat is false.  A black cat, a mischievous friend, even the harmless local weirdo will often frighten the victim, leaving them off guard for the real threat.  Always anticipate a fake-out in the first half of the movie which is when they usually occur.  If the main character is in the scene, a fake-out is practically guaranteed and you’ll feel silly for jumping at the black cat that leaps out of the bushes.  (ex. The mediocre slasher film “Urban Legend” actually has more Fake-Outs than legitimate Boo! scares). 

AUDIENCE REACTION – A unified scream, followed by nervous laughter

“The Double Fake-Out” – This happens when the first fake-out covers for the real threat which is usually directly behind the victim.  Here’s a trick…  After a fake-out, ready yourself and count to five.  The real killer usually strikes within that time frame, giving you plenty of warning beforehand.  (ex. The “Friday the 13th” franchise perfected the Double Fake-Out and every sequel has one at about the halfway point).

AUDIENCE REACTION – Scream… nervous laughter… scream

“The Shock” – This is a “Boo!” scare that is more effective than the usual type because it promotes a feeling of outrage.  Instead of releasing tension, the scare lingers as the viewer has a chance to let the moment sink in.  This is a moment so sudden and horrible, the viewer can’t easily shake it.  The “Boo!” might not get you, but the residual shock cannot be defended against unless you are forewarned.  (ex. The “Crucifix stabbing” scene in “The Exorcist”)

AUDIENCE REACTION – Stunned silence…  then some dude three rows behind you says, “Man, that’s messed-up!”

“The Slow Burn” – This sense of atmospheric dread is a build of tension up with no release.  This excruciating technique has no punctuating scare to relieve the terror of the audience.  Instead it slowly and continually builds upon itself using disturbing visuals and chilling music.  These are the horror films that most people would describe as “slow” or even “depressing” but they are also the amongst the most effective.  The only antidote to this type of film is to take frequent breaks in the lobby if you feel too uncomfortable. (ex. “The Blair Witch Project”, “Jacob’s Ladder”)

AUDIENCE REACTION – Eerie silence, nervous chatter or seat shifting

“The Chase” – Often the climax of a slasher film, this occurs when the killer no longer hides and relentlessly pursues the final victim(s).  Unfortunately The Chase is often the least scary part because of it’s predictability, but one legendary franchise in particular made it so intense, cinema has never been the same since.  If this part stresses you out, take a quick restroom break and see what Julia Roberts is doing on screen number 5 to help calm you down.  (ex. “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” films have chase scenes that last nearly half the movie, never releasing the tension until the end)

AUDIENCE REACTION – Tension, squealing, nervous chatter

“The Gross-Out”– This technique uses stomach-churning, gory visuals to terrify the viewer.  Done without restraint, it’s over the top and campy.  Done with skilled hands, it’s downright frightening.  Gore films are usually B-grade video releases and are easily avoided for the frequently queasy.  The only other antidote is desensitization through exposure.  (ex. “The Thing” 1982, “The Fly” 1986)


“The Deeply Disturbing”– There’s no defense against this one.  If a scene, or an entire movie, manages to disturb you on a deep level, then it’s done it’s job and then some.  The most disturbing are both controversial and obscure.  They are always independent films and have to be actively sought out.  They usually employ a combination of shock, slow burn and gross-outs to achieve this effect.  It either offends or frightens at the deepest levels.  (ex. The films of David Lynch and David Cronenberg are considered some of the best examples of disturbing cinema in the world). 

AUDIENCE REACTION – Stunned silence, even when leaving the theater

De-mystifying the mechanics of these scare techniques can make horror films seem less scary, but a warning…  after you’re used to them and become a full-fledged horror movie veteran, it becomes hard to find innovative and original films scary enough to entertain you. 

Good luck out there and Happy Halloween!

-Dark Side

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