When it comes to things that go bump in the night, almost all bases have been covered by horror filmmakers over the years. From zombie outbreaks and home intruders, to demonic possession and ghost dolls, from families that kill together, to masked men with superhuman strength terrorizing sororities. Horror films are a cavalcade ranging from the perplexing, to the almost too true to life. But what’s scarier?
Like most things, horror films work in revolutions. Recently we’ve seen the popularity of possession films (Ouija, the Paranormal Activity series, the remake of The Exorcist), which tend towards the supernatural. But a lot of people are put off by the fact that the events are so fictional. Instead, horror fans feel the rush when the fear-inducing element is something that could actually happen. 888poker have created an infographic of the odds of certain events happening – a lot of which influence realistic horror films. For instance, a global pandemic is said to be 2/1 to wipe out humanity. By pulling on the realistic fears people have, the horror film becomes that much more three-dimensional.
The realistic horror films stretch from Split – about kidnap by a man with multiple personalities – to 10 Cloverfield Lane – about kidnap by a man who believes aliens have landed. The scary factor isn’t necessarily the end of days – it’s the very real fear of being kidnapped.
The ’70s and ’80s tossed dozens of slashers at us – the Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street series being pinnacles of this. Slashers were popular in the ’70s and ’80s because they pulled on the serial killer fears. But the lampooning of the genre by the Scream films – and actual parody films Scary Movie and Shriek! If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th – has knocked slashers back a bit. That’s mainly because a good one hasn’t come out in a while (remakes aside). Don’t Breathe is probably the closest thing we have a to a modern day slasher. Modern day life has certainly given us a lot more to be scared of than a mystery masked man.
Gross-out films – Hostel, the Saw franchise, Would You Rather, The Human Centipede – fluctuate in popularity throughout the years, but may stand to come back around with Raw, the film that supposedly has cinema-goers vomiting just from watching it. Gross-out films tend to polarize as they aren’t designed to scare as such – though being involved in the scenarios is terrifying – but repulse. There’s a difference between scaring yourself silly and making yourself retch. The thing about gross-outs that also polarizes is the fact that they feasibly could happen – if you happened to be captured by a crazed madman.
Horror films are designed to scare us. So by drawing on fear that is imbued in reality, we’re more likely to be terrified. After all, that could happen. But maybe it’s the fact that realistic horror films seem more survivable. There’s little we ca do to exorcise a demon from us – maybe the hopelessness of the situation turns us off. There’s a lot more we feel we can do with other ‘end of days’ scenarios – ones where we actively plan how we’d deal with the situation. Maybe that’s because the odds of it happening are high enough to warrant a mental contingency plan.