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What makes a really good horror movie?

Published: Thursday, July 2 2015 4:18 a.m. MDT

Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper and Robert Shaw as Quint in Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper and Robert Shaw as Quint in "Jaws." (Disney Enterprises Inc., Deseret News archives, disney enterprises inc.)

A really good horror movie is hard to come by, said Chris Hicks, Deseret News entertainment columnist and former movie critic, because the horror industry tends to be a fairly repetitive one.

"Typically I go and I'm just disappointed," he said, listing "The Orphanage" (R), "The Others" (PG-13), "The Sixth Sense" (PG-13) and "1408" (PG-13) as some of the latest better-paced and directed films of the genre.

Until the creation of the PG-13 rating in the 1980s, horror movies sat in two camps: PG and R. While the PG-rated "Poltergeist" made for a duly creepy film, the majority of horror movies during that period were rated R. However, the creation of the PG-13 rating did little more than split the audience, according to Hicks. Most people who want to go to horror movies do not want all the gore, he explained, but many horror movie enthusiasts shun the lesser rating because they fear the movie will not be as intense.

 Haley Joel Osment stars as Cole Sear in M. Night Shyamalan's 1999 breakout hit Haley Joel Osment stars as Cole Sear in M. Night Shyamalan's 1999 breakout hit "The Sixth Sense." (Disney Enterprises Inc., Deseret News archives, disney enterprises inc.)

Hicks has seen two components that make a horror movie work: when the movie has a sense of humor, and when characters are rounded out so the audience feels a connection.

"Horror movies have been a strange genre in movie history, I think," Hicks said.

One unique aspect of horror movies is the many sub-genres in existence. Below is an overview of a few dominant themes seen in horror movies:

Vampire/Dracula: From "Nostaferatu" to Bela Lugosi in "Dracula" to "Interview with a Vampire," these blood-sucking creatures have long dominated the screen.

Monster movies: "Frankenstein," "Creature From the Black Lagoon" and "The Wolf Man" are some of the classic monsters from this genre.

Even a seemingly innocuous movie such as Tim Burton's Even a seemingly innocuous movie such as Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie" could be frightening to children. (Disney, Disney Enterprises Inc.)

Alien movies: These movies were a big hit in the 1950s, when Martians and creatures from other worlds were particularly frightening. However, alien movies maintain their appeal with modern audiences with such titles as "Signs" and "Prometheus."

Slasher: These movies spattered blood all across movie screens, beginning with the quintessential slasher film "Psycho" in 1960, followed by such films as "The Hills Have Eyes," "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre," "Halloween," "Friday the 13th" and "A Nightmare on Elm Street." Events surrounding Charles Manson and Son of Sam made these movies particularly frightening.

Paranormal: Movies such as "Poltergeist" and "The Shining" took the supernatural and combined it with everyday life. "Poltergeist" took horror out of the woods and put it into the suburbs, something Hicks said had never been done before.

Ghosts: Possibly one of the oldest fears, that of discontented souls from the life beyond, intent on haunting and tormenting those left behind. Recent ghost thrillers include "The Others," "What Lies Beneath" and "The Woman in Black."

Technological thrillers: Movies such as "The Ring" and the YouTube series "Marble Hornets" show us that there is no way to guard against technology.

Torture: Movies such as "Saw," "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and "Hostel" capitalize on the pain, suffering and abnormal ways of killing off movie characters. These movies generally draw a specific, niche audience.

Sources: Chris Hicks, ocala.com, horrorfilmhistory.com

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