I recently took in a viewing of The Brood, David Cronenberg's 1979 classic film. While watching it, I found myself severely creeped out. Even though the film's plot has a very common structure (you can guess who's gonna get off'ed from a mile away), the pacing, editing, and music all made for a great racking of the nerves.
Yet here I am all these days later, thinking about the things that truly disturbed me or made me feel really uneasy about the film. Turns out I've felt that way before with other horror movies (and believe it or not, documentaries), and I noticed a pattern. So much of a pattern that I thought it would be fun (?) to share these things.
Three Ways You Can Scare the Crap Out of Me in a Film
1. Involve young, innocent children being abducted or chased.
In The Brood, Candy is just a nice little girl who's dealing with her parents' divorce. Seeing her get all caught up in the mess was not pleasant. Also see the first Saw film and the original Hills Have Eyes for more examples.
I'm pretty sure this is my internal parent getting upset even though I don't have children of my own. Maybe this is because of me remembering what it was like to be a child and the fact that I'm an uncle.
2. Don't show all of the monster(s) right away or at all.
In The Brood, you rarely get a full view of the evil, murderous, deformed children. Unlike the highly-overrated The Host, the lack of seeing the whole monster makes an even bigger impact. Your imagination has to kick in and fill out the missing pieces, and it's amazing what we imagine.
This one is very broad, but music can make or break any film. In a suspenseful/horror flick, it's absolutely crucial. Howard Shore's score in The Brood is incredibly over-the-top, clangy, and completely effective.
That's just three things off the top of my head. These three things have been done in other films I've seen to a lesser impact, but these are three of the biggies. Now to see if any European horror flicks from this decade have any of these three qualities . . .