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Do All Scary Novels Make for Great Horror Flicks?

This article is aimed specifically at the amazing author Stephen King. If there is any one author that can basically crank out blockbuster horror movies, it would have to be Mr. King.

Whether we’re talking about Carrie, The Shining, Christine or other horror movies, Stephen King, more than any other horror novelist, seems to be able to hit one home run after the other.

In fact, Stephen King has such a track record of turning successful novels or short stories into successful horror movies that we are tempted to believe that all scary novels make for great horror flicks.

This, of course, would be quite a mistake. You see, what makes Stephen King novels so easy to translate to horror movies is because they are modular in nature.

In other words, the storytelling is compact enough so that it can be edited in such a way that it can fit a standard 2-hour movie format. Also, the character development is compact and modular enough so that it can translate easily to the silver screen.

Stephen King writes in a very compact way. When he talks about certain characters, he pretty much tells you what the character is about and what to expect from that specific character as far as the plot line is concerned. When he talks about the story, it’s very easy to make predictions.

Well, not everybody writes that way, and this is why not all scary novels make for great horror flicks. Some writers require a long windup for them to really scare their audience members.

These types of novels do not translate to great horror flicks because it’s really hard to boil down a 500-page novel that involves so many scenes and so many scenarios into a movie that is very easy to follow with matching dialogue. That’s just not going to happen.

This is why not all truly scary and disturbing horror novels make for great movies. It would be great if this was the case, but not everybody is Stephen King.

Now, there’s quite a bit of a debate whether Stephen King intentionally writes that way. I guess we will never know for sure. But one thing is certain, the way he writes makes for great scary flicks.

It really is too bad that we’re stuck with only Stephen King because there are, I’m sure, other novelists out there that may not have met as much commercial success as Stephen King, but these less successful novelists may still have very scary materials that could otherwise make for amazing horror movies.

It just really depends on how patient Hollywood is in sifting through the massive amounts of horror novels out there. It definitely would be quite an undertaking that’s for sure.

This is the One Factor that Makes Horror Films Awesome

One of the most common questions horror fans get asked involves the question “Why?”

It’s easy to explain the mechanics of horror movies. It really is. It’s very easy to explain what has to happen for people to get scared. Mechanics, after all, can be broken down into a grid.

It can be sliced and diced into different factors, and you can then analyze the relationships between these factors. This gives you a certain level of comfort because you can then start making predictions.

You can see where everything fits, you can see whether something is sticking close to some sort of formula or something is experimental in nature. You can make certain predictions based on the familiar patterns. And this makes it so much easier to deal with certain types of movies because you can see what’s around the corner.

Let’s look at it this way, if you’ve ever been to Six Flags Magic Mountain in California, you know that they have the Colossus roller coaster. Everybody knows what the Colossus is in Southern California.

They know that it’s a roller coaster and when you reach a certain point, you will drop like a rock. And then you will go back up again, and then after several hundred feet, you will drop like a rock again.

Now, everybody knows this coming in. They can see the architecture of the roller coaster. They can see how fast it goes. They can see the reaction of the people on the ride. In other words, you know everything that is going to happen and then some.

Still, the moment they strap you in and you start seeing the metal brackets ratchet up and it makes this scary sound before it clicks and then you drop off a cliff at a very high rate of speed, you become scared.

It doesn’t matter that you’ve seen this play out many times before. It doesn’t matter that you know exactly the sequence of the actions about to take place. It doesn’t matter that you’ve seen the reactions of people. You get scared. This is actual terror.

This is how people respond to great horror movies. You know that they’re supposed to be scary. You know that they’re supposed to disturb you and haunt you, but you watch them again and again.

And this is what makes them so awesome because the sense of surprise is not lost. In fact, I could watch Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining again and again and still be scared because it really all boils down to believability.

That’s what makes great horror films so awesome and not so great horror films so horrible. It really all boils down to how the director plays with your ability to believe.

You have to remember that when you watch a movie, regardless of what kind of movie it is, you sit back and you turn off your skepticism. In other words, you enter this mental state of suspended disbelief.

Normally speaking, your mind is very skeptical. You’re always weighing information. You’re always tying it into what you know. You’re always assessing the information that you’re getting in terms of believability, credibility, accuracy and other factors.

Now, when you watch a great film, your suspended disbelief is richly rewarded. It is not stretched. It is not taxed.

You know that you’re watching really crappy movies when the director goes beyond your natural state of disbelief. The director is basically saying to you, “I suck as a film maker so I need you to even lower your state of disbelief. You need to basically trust me at my word.”

That’s too much for a lot of people, and that’s why certain movies just plain out suck because they stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief to the limit. Horror films, good horror films at least, make full use of that state of disbelief and that’s why they are so awesome.

What THE SHINING can Teach Later Horror Flick Directors


When I first saw The Shining, I saw it in California at a public channel. By public, I’m not talking about a public access channel. I’m talking about a private broadcasting company that the public can access.

And The Shining was billed as their horror masterpiece of the night. This was the Monday Night at the Movies special. It’s a 2-hour time block every Monday night.

I was all of 14 years old when I saw The Shining, and believe me, I could not figure it out when I first saw it because I was trained to size up horror films of the classic vein.

Usually, these horror movies featured like a scary looking vampire. There was a lot of blood, there was a lot of standard horror elements that you can spot a mile away. In other words, I was looking for a “safe” horror movie because in my mind, the more formulaic the movie was, the safer it is.

When somebody shows up in a white face with bad makeup and with obviously fake plastic fangs playing Dracula, I still get scared, but there is a sense of relief. At the back of my head, I can quickly tell that this is fake.

This person is an actor. This is a Dracula movie. The suspense is still there, but it really doesn’t quite cut into my soul, so to speak. I know that this is a formula and that they’re just playing out yet another installment of the Dracula vampire movie series.

Well, with The Shining, it didn’t work that way. With The Shining, I was looking at people who could be my neighbors.

This could be the struggling writer down the street. He was wearing normal clothes, talking normally, looking normal. His wife looked just like every other middle class suburban housewife in a 4-block radius. It was completely nothing out of the ordinary with the cast.

And what really got to me with that movie was the skillful use of dead silence.

Another great thing about formulaic movies from the 1950’s is that you know that some scary stuff is going to happen just by the score of the movie. When you hear the organ playing or the rapid staccato pace of the music, you know that something’s up. The music itself clues you in.

Well, with The Shining, there was a lot of dead silence, and that really got to me. That’s what made the movie so scary on a psychological level.

And believe me, if you’re looking to get scared, get scared on the psychological level because it really creates nightmares. They use scary images not based on what’s familiar or what’s even formulaic because that can be easily comical.

For example, seeing Frankenstein with bolts sticking out of his neck, that’s comedy. Sure, when you really get into the movie you can still get scared, but at the back of your head, you know that this is fake. You know that this is playing out according to a script and, at the end of the day, the lights will come on and you would realize that it’s time to go home. It’s a movie.

Not so with The Shining because The Shining puts you in an emotional space and doesn’t stop. It delivers a payload, and the payload is very, very uncomfortable. It’s very haunting even. The payload is that crazy people can do crazy stuff anywhere.

And it doesn’t really require some sort of magical deus ex machina shenanigan or trick to unleash this deep, profound existential horror that you feel in your bones. That’s what really scared me. That’s what really unsettled me. Because the deus ex mechina technique is very simple. It’s very easy to spot a mile away.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, a deus ex machina is a device used by Greek playwrights to introduce gods into their plays. Basically, once the Greek deity is introduced, it changes the flow or the plot line of the play.

Horror movies do this all the time, and that’s why you can kind of step back and laugh because you got taken in by the deus ex machina. You can tell by that device that this is not real.

The Shining doesn’t do that. A lot of that stuff is psychological and a lot of that stuff can be explained in a non-superstitious and non-supernatural way. That’s what makes it so gripping and so disturbing.

Current horror flick directors can learn from The Shining because they can carve up that internal psychological space to come up with all sorts of scary scenarios. They can still do that today, even in light of the fact that the internet has made us so much more culturally sophisticated.

Why Do People Love Scary Films?

I remember when I was a kid, my dad and I wrestled a lot. One of the things that I remember fondly when me and my dad wrestled was that he would yell out “helicopter!” and he would grab me by my legs and then he would swing me around.

This was very rough play and it was sure to scare the stuffing out my mom. But I had a tremendous time. In fact, when my dad would flop me down on the bed after the helicopter ride, the first words out of my mouth right after being flopped down was, “again!”

I was all of 5 years old and I kept saying “again.” And again, my dad would keep rotating me until of course he or I got tired. Those were really fond memories because my dad and I bonded in a very rough and tumble way.

That was his way of training me to control my body. I knew my breaking point. I knew the activities that were physically uncomfortable, and I was sure to tell him. I was lucky to have a dad that enabled me to explore my limits instead of treating me with kid gloves.

I know some friends who rarely played with their fathers, not because their fathers did not have the time nor because their fathers did not care. Instead, their dads were so scared of them getting hurt that they basically just didn’t engage in any kind of wrestling or rough and tumble play. These guys then grew up to be very emotionally fragile, and they tend to be very, very scared of getting hurt.

I share this with you because psychological truths play a big role in scary films. Believe it or not, just as many male kids like rough and tumble play on a psychological level, people, generally speaking, love to be scared.

I know that’s quite a claim to make, but there’s a lot of science to that. You see, a core part of our brain is the fight or flight response.

If you are walking down a trail and you see some sort of scary animal, you really have only two options. If you have a bear, for example, staring at you and ready to maul you, you really have only two alternatives in front of you.

There are only two practical options. Either you run away quickly, or you pick up a stick or start swinging your backpack and otherwise protect yourself. Those are the only two options available to you.

And the problem is, when we live in a society that doesn’t engage that survival mechanism, we become very, very fragile. It doesn’t take much to disappoint us. It doesn’t take much to frustrate us because we insulate ourselves so much from hard decisions and seemingly life or death situations that we leave ourselves very vulnerable.

How vulnerable? Well, it turns out that for certain types of people, even the slightest rejection or challenge is enough to get them to emotionally fragment and unravel like a house of cards. Talk about psychologically fragile.

And I say that not to judge those people. I say that as an objective statement of reality.

This is a serious problem because people live in a chaotic world. We live in a world that disappoints us. We live in a world that challenges us and scares us. There are just so many things that we cannot control in this world.

Now, if we were to set ourselves up for emotional and psychological failure by expecting things to pan out in Cinderella-like endings, we’re doing ourselves a big disservice. It is my theory that people, deep down inside, appreciate this fact. This is why they love scary films.

When you’re scared by movies, your flight or fight response is triggered again and again. That’s where it works from.

That’s where horror movies draw their energy from because if you did not have that part of your brain, you’re not going to go through the range of emotions that you would normally go through when watching a scary movie. It’s just not going to happen. The chemical signals would not be there.

And when people watch these scary films because they want to feel that thrill of being let go off that emotional cliff when they build up suspense and then they fall down, that speaks to their flight or fight response. This is as much psychological as it is a cultural and sociological reality.

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May 29, 2018

Do All Scary Novels Make for Great Horror Flicks?

This article is aimed specifically at the amazing author Stephen King. If there is any one author that can basically crank out blockbuster horror movies, it […]
May 29, 2018

This is the One Factor that Makes Horror Films Awesome

One of the most common questions horror fans get asked involves the question “Why?” It’s easy to explain the mechanics of horror movies. It really is. […]
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What THE SHINING can Teach Later Horror Flick Directors

  When I first saw The Shining, I saw it in California at a public channel. By public, I’m not talking about a public access channel. […]