8 Horror Movie Makers On Why We Like to Get Scared

When you think about it, it’s kind of ludicrous that any of us choose to watch horror movies knowing that they’ll scare the shit out of us, and yet it’s also kind of endearing. Why the hell do we want to be frightened, tense, unable to breathe? It’s so masochistic. WHY DO WE DO THIS TO OURSELVES. That’s not even a question. Just a statement. We’re all idiots.

But anyway, it’s October and it’s almost Halloween and watching horror movies just kind of feels right. So let’s just get on with it and not beat ourselves up. If you’re trying to get in the spirit this weekend, yet do not want to divorce your couch, get hyped by soaking up some wise words from some of the biggest names — directors, writers, producers — in horror. Here’s how they tap into our psyches and why they think we kind of like it.


John Carpenter
Halloween (1978), The Thing (1982), They Live (1988)

“A movie’s not just the pictures. It’s the story and it’s the perspective and it’s the tempo and it’s the silence and it’s the music — it’s all the stuff that’s going on. All the sensory stuff. Sometimes you can get a lot of suspense going in a non-horror film. It all depends. But, look, if there was one secret way of doing a horror movie then everybody would be doing it. We’d all be making great movies every second. But it doesn’t work that way. There’s a little bit of magic involved, and that’s what makes it so interesting. We’re all scared of the same things. Death. Pain. Loss of a loved one. You can make a list, and in every society it’s the same. These are fears that we all have. I have ’em. You have ’em. We’re all scared of this stuff.”

[AV Club]

James Wan
Saw (2004), Insidious (2010), The Conjuring (2013)

“If they’re expecting something to happen, what can you do to undermine that expectation? I’m always trying to find new ways to break an audience’s expectation of the genre. Scaring audiences often comes down to tapping into people’s lifelong sources of fear. Growing up, we all had all kinds of childhood fears that can kind of make for an acid flashback.”


Ti West
The House of the Devil (2009), Cabin Fever 2 (2009), The Innkeepers (2011)

“I also feel in any genre movie, or in art in general, contrast makes it successful. So if there isn’t a strong contrast between the horrific elements of the movie and the non-horrific elements of the movie, it just becomes this blah, milquetoast tone that’s uninteresting…Part of what interests me is the nonchalant realism of it…I like seeing someone walk around a house and sift through the drawers, and things like that, because that reminds me of what I would do, and of weird personal choices that people would make. That, in contrast to seeing someone get chased with a knife, makes it all the more interesting.”

[AV Club]

Mike Flanagan
Absentia (2011), Oculus (2013), Ouija (2016)

“I think the far better approach is to work with the audience to create tension together. Give them enough ingredients to activate their imagination, and let them come along for the ride. Utilize negative space, darkness, and your camera to create opportunities for them to imagine (and thus fear) what COULD happen, as opposed to focusing entirely on what DOES. A viewer’s imagination is a powerful storyteller, and can often come up with things way more frightening than what you can explicitly show in a horror movie… try to engage that imagination, and the results can be magical.”


Wes Craven
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1987), Scream (1996), The Hills Have Eyes (2006)

“It’s like boot camp for the psyche. In real life, human beings are packaged in the flimsiest of packages, threatened by real and sometimes horrifying dangers. But the narrative form puts these fears into a manageable series of events. It gives us a way of thinking rationally about our fears.”


David Cronenberg
Scanners (1981), The Fly (1986), EXistenZ (1999) 

“I think of horror films as art, as films of confrontations. Films that make you confront aspects of your own life that are difficult to face. Just because you’re making a horror film doesn’t mean you can’t make an artful film.”


Alfred Hitchcock
Vertigo (1958), Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963)

“Fear isn’t so difficult to understand. After all, weren’t we all frightened as children? Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf. This fright complex is rooted in every individual.”


Eli Roth
Cabin Fever (2002), Hostel (2005), Grindhouse (2007)

“There’s not a single instance of a horror movie actually causing any violence. People know it’s fake, that’s why they allow themselves to enjoy it. It helps them deal with their own fears, the fear of things beyond their control. Nobody ever died from a horror movie, in fact, it’s the opposite. It’s the single best date movie you can go to, because you’re guaranteed to be squeezing that person for the entire film. And if the movie works, your date won’t want to go to sleep alone. Horror films are an aphrodisiac.”


Photos via Getty Images.

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