Find out what it takes to impress a movie snob like myself when it comes to the “boo!” factor.
One of my biggest pet peeves in life is when someone starts telling me about a movie, and in a subconscious effort to be cool or to be a hero, blurts the ending. Usually, that takes away much of the incentive to spend the two hours to watch the movie. But recently, a coworker blabbed the twist ending to Orphan and it actually intrigued me so much that I watched it this past weekend with my wife and my mother-in-law. And though I typically can’t say this about most movies, especially not “scary” ones, I give it an A+. So what makes for a good scary movie, according to me, a self-proclaimed movie guy?
It doesn’t have bad acting. A few weeks ago I tried to watch Fire in the Sky, the 1993 thriller about alien abductions, and couldn’t make it past the first 20 minutes because the acting was simply not believable. It was somehow both too cartoonish and too bland. Like Christian movies and low budget sci-fi movies, scary movies also tend to feature unknown actors who are unknown for a reason. For a scary movie to be good, the acting itself can not be a distraction.
It doesn’t exploit violence and gore. Granted, I don’t mind excessive violence and gore if it’s necessary to the plot. I’m a huge fan of the Saw franchise. But I didn’t like Saw III, Saw V, or Saw 3D individually because I felt the violence and gore itself was over-the-top and mainly there for shock value alone, whereas I felt that with first Saw, Saw II, Saw IV, and saw VI, the violence and gore had a purpose directly related to a meaningful plotline.
It doesn’t contain soft-core porn. The thing that has kept me from seeing Hostel is that I have heard from multiple people that “there is a soft-core porn scene in the beginning of the movie”. A good scary movie doesn’t need obsessive nudity in order to be a good scary movie. (When any kind of movie has excessive nudity and sex scenes, I almost always believe it’s in there as a desperate attempt to make an otherwise drab movie seem interesting.) There was nudity in One Hour Photo, but it was extremely relevant to the plot and had a purpose. I’m not saying I morally approve nudity, but I am saying that when it’s done in good taste, it can at least keep from distracting from the quality of the movie itself, as opposed to most Friday the 13th movies.
It doesn’t contain special effects which I can tell are fake. In Saw 3D there were several death trap scenes where I could totally tell the newly dead bodies where just hollow rubber dummies. That’s how I feel about the new Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Final Destination series. I am a snob when it comes to special effects of any kind. That means I don’t want to see any blood that looks too watery or any noticeable uses of green screens.
It doesn’t end with all the main characters dying. The movie is scarier if at least one person lived to tell the story. I’m not saying that it has to end well. One of my favorite scary movies is Skeleton Key- no one really dies in it but it doesn’t really end on a happy note either. Yet the creativeness in how they pulled off that combo impressed me. Same thing with One Hour Photo.
It doesn’t end unfinished. If the name of the movie is Freddy Vs. Jason, then either Freddy or Jason better clearly win the fight by the time it ends. I’m fine with a movie that ends while leaving the door open for a sequel. But if that’s the case, I want that movie to be able to stand alone as a film that in of itself actually makes sense and has closure. The first Saw movie does this perfectly.
If a horror/thriller movie passes these six tests, there is a good chance it will be at least a good one. It’s not about how many times you get spooked when something surprises you by jumping out on the screen or a high dead body count. The movie itself has to be legit and in tact as a whole. Otherwise, instead of walking back to your car after the movie as look around the parking lot for any suspicious shadowy creatures, you’re shaking your head at how stupid that movie was instead.