The horror movie genre is all about eliciting from its audience emotions such as fright, terror, or disgust. Horror films typically have an unsettling theme, such as a serial killer on the loose, and bloody or "shocking" scenes designed to startle viewers. Most include certain characteristics that help them achieve their "dark" objectives.
Dark scenes filled with disturbing shadows and strange and alarming props are typically seen in horror movies. These scenes reflect the eerie atmosphere required to establish a frightening or menacing mood. Such scenes play up foreboding elements so viewers can "get the creeps" before the actual horror arrives. A characteristic foreboding shot is a tight shot of footsteps coming closer to the main character, who is trying to hide from this threat.
Horror films typically turn normal sound effects into "creepy" sound elements. With good timing, a sudden loud bang or a falling object crashing to the floor will deliver a shock factor. It can also involve a jittery scene set in dead silence, which makes the anticipation of what comes next more hair-raising. Sound effects that reflect the presence of otherworldly beings is another popular trick of the fright-film trade. The beat, pacing and instruments used in a musical score help establish tension in horror movies.
Most horror films include graphic scenes of explicit gore. These elements typically feature violence caused by humans, monsters or supernatural beings. Computer advancements that started to show up in movies in the late 1980s made it possible for film makers to create convincing special effects. Horror film makers used those special effects to make their scenes of violence increasingly graphic. 1980s and 1990s horror were mostly low-budget slasher films. By the 2000s, horror movies typically featured a torture, murder or revenge theme that culminated in visually "horrific" scenes.
A horror movie antagonist can be any type of person, animal or creature that represents some kind of evil force. Some common evil elements as of 2011 are ghosts, werewolves, vampires, demons, vicious animals, cannibals, zombies, masked killers and deranged beings. Victims of these evil forces are usually characters that have apparent weaknesses of character or physicality. They are the underdogs that either fall prey to the evil forces or gather the courage to defeat them.
- National Laboratory of Pattern Recognition; Horror Movie Scene Recognition; Jianchao Wang, Bing Li, Weiming Hu, Ou Wu; September 2010
- Georgia Institute of Technology: Contrast in Horror Movies
- Filmsite: Horror Films - Part 4
- The Ogmios Project: The Ogmios Genre Guide
- Gazette; Too Disturbing, Too Shocking; Maggie McCutcheon; November 2006