Saturday, June 16, 2012



By: Henry Melville

Simply put: Stop using the word “suspenseful” to describe 99% of horror movies.

Take for example, that generic horror movie coming out this month (regardless of when this is being read) about either possession, a haunting, or a psychopathic killer which may or may not involve a “creepy” child. Without fail, that movie will contain the following scene:

The movie’s heroine walks down a narrow hall or alley as the camera slowly pans away from the wall and begins to turn and hint at what’s waiting for her in the upcoming corner. An eerie, ambient note is heard under the heavy breathing and footsteps of the sweaty, promiscuously-clad actress. As soon as she hesitates to turn the corner, all noise stops (yes, even the footsteps as she keeps walking).

One beat.

Loud noise. This is accompanied by one of two things. One, the villain, ghost, or horror that the movie is centered on appearing behind that dark corner, or, two, something that causes the girl (and audience) to jump, breathe a sigh of relief and then:

One beat.

Loud noise. Then the horror of the movie comes from behind them or anywhere else “unexpected.”

This is not suspense. Suspense isn’t not knowing what’s around the corner, but knowing what is and not being able to stop it. The irrefutable master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, gained that title because of one of the most iconic scenes in cinema history: the Psycho shower scene. In the hands of a lesser director, or screenwriter even, the audience would be unaware of the silhouetted knife inching closer to the curtain. Janet Leigh would be gleefully bathing until she heard a noise. Her smile would drop and her head would turn. Hesitantly she’d return to her shower head, a little more on edge than before.

One beat.

Loud noise followed by the knife entering the curtain. This is not successful suspense. It is a shock. It’s startling, but not suspenseful. The reason I haven’t been able to close my eyes for more than thirty seconds in the shower isn’t because of a jump-scare I was given as a kid, but, as a kid, I endured the long, horrific, suspenseful shower scene and could do nothing to stop what I knew was coming.  If the first was true, I would be afraid of laundry hampers because of the time my brother hid in one and scared me.

Don’t call a movie scary because it made you jump out of your seat. That’s simply human nature to react to a loud noise, there is nothing psychological to it. Being afraid to look out your window for fear of seeing Michael Meyers across the street, that’s scary. A horror films “longevity” should be judged differently than other genres. It is more than, “does this film hold up.” The film should have a vice-like grip of fear over you long after the credits roll. The annual Halloween viewing of Halloween proves this to me as I walk to my car, feel my heart pound more erratically than normal, and walk faster. I'm not afraid of not knowing what's in my backseat, but knowing that he's back there…waiting…while I sit in the driver seat anyway.

One beat.

Two beats.

Three beats.

I turn the keys in the ignition and prepare for the sleepless night.