While I do investigate all different kinds of the mediums I review, all different genres, play styles ect, horror isn't one I investigate often. While I have my own personal fears and there are scenes in films that creep me out because they rely on those fears, when a movie, show or game is meant to be scary, I find that I'm even less scared by it. With all the talk about Five nights at Freddy's happening at the moment (maybe a review next year, I'm rarely topical, you should all know that by now), it has given me a chance to ponder the concept of True fear and why I'm not as easily scared by horror.
So what is the difference between horror and "true fear"? For me, its the human factor. The human imagination is powerful and it can scare you more then any movie of show could. What's scarier, a lifeless corpse in a dark hallway, or seeing someone shoot that person while they are alive? When you see a dead body, with blood around him, your mind instantly starts thinking "who did this? How did this person died? What did the killer look like?", it leaves more room for the imagination to take effect, and as such this person without a face seems more terrifying, the illusion itself is scarier then then this person is, and when done well, it can be truly terrifying. That's why I think books do this kind of horror the best because while it can describe the face, the imagination can still alter it, so in reality they still don't have a face, but instead thousands of slightly different faces. Fear of the unknown is a fear shared between most people on this planet, hence why people fear death, hell and the devil, and at a root, the imagination can be a cause.
This concept also lends itself to the concept of the Uncanny Valley, when something looks so realistic that it stops being realistic. As human beings, we're used to seeing common sites in society, we know what a human face looks like as a example. But when robots start being made with human esque aspects to them, human eyes, moving mouths ect. In trying to replicate realism, it actually stops looking realistic. In horror, the concept can be used to scare you. Look at Five nights at Freddy's and Slenderman as examples. If you look at the designs for the anamatronics in the game, they all have that Uncanny Valley aspect to them.
The same can also be said for Slenderman (before taking into account his other... features...). It's no accident that there's no face on him.
There is another aspect that these two concepts share for their games in particular, the shock value. You don't know when and where these characters will show up, and combined with the the atmosphere that the games have, it will get those jump scares out of you. I haven't seen enough of the gameplay of either of them to accommodate for the music (should it exist) but the dark colours, the lack of any other presence, and the lore the games have
For Five nights at Freddy's can be found here for those curious http://www.gameskinny.com/qp4nb/five-nights-at-freddys-lore-hints-you-may-have-missed
And here's the lore for Slenderman (because I've had a hard time finding a source with detail):
A common problem though for shock scares is the lack of subtlety. a patch of blood every hour and a chilling theme is scarier then blood pools every 5 minutes... that I'd hope would be common sense.
Finally, a final excellent tool in horror is the lack of control, the lack of power. An army of zombies isn't threatening when you're a walking tank, that defeats the purpose of horror. The greatest horror monsters have all shared traits with the humanity of the time with their greatest strengths being the lack of strength you have to challenge them, but letting the viewer walk away wondering, questioning "am I really like that?" Even modern characters like the Nolanverse version of the Joker has that aspect to it. If you can master those tools, then you can create something truly terrifying. Until next week for Transformers 4.
Don't be afraid of what comes alive at night :)