My daughter is turning ten soon and she has a new hobby. It’s waiting silently around a dark corner and jumping out with a scream and scaring the shit out of me. You know the scare - the one where adrenaline fills every cell in your body and you can do nothing but leap straight up in the air a la Bazooka Joe and scream like a vampire in the sun.
After I scream and drop/spill whatever I was holding, she’ll fall to the floor and howl with laughter and point out that I deserve it after making so many scary shorts.
“Now you know how everyone else feels!” she’ll yell with delight at having bested me, “Who’s the horror master now, DAD? HUH?!”
I would defend myself by telling her that a startle is a cheap scare and that if she really wanted to get me, she’d go for the slow burn... the terrible creeping dread. But then I can just imagine she’d do it. I’d probably be laying in bed at night and my bedroom door would slowly swing open and there she’d stand unmoving, like Samara, the girl from THE RING, her hair combed down in front of her face. No thanks. Given the choice, I’d rather be startled than utterly horrified while I’m in a twilight state of near sleep.
I’ve told her that the reason she can scare me so easily is the reason I can make the scares work in my films. And that’s because there’s no bigger pussy in the world than a horror fan/filmmaker/writer, and I’m all three.
To know something works creatively, you have to let it work on you. You can’t say, “Cut and print, moving on!” on set after filming a scare gag unless you know it works, and you can’t know it works unless you know it works on YOU. It’s like the chef who has to taste the soup to know it’s any good. Same thing with scares. You gotta know them. THey gotta taste right to you before you know they’ll work on anyone else.
And in the same way that comedians have to be funny, so too do horror creators have to have not only a sense of the horrific, but a sense of how well it works on THEM.
Additionally, there’s always a reason in someone’s past that they got into horror in the first place. Some traumatic and frightening event from childhood - whether it really happened, or maybe they saw it in a horror film when they were too young to be watching it. Either way, good horror comes from someone who is scared easily, or at least once was and knows the recipe to the secret sauce of the good scare.
So, show me a good horror writer or film maker and I’ll show you someone who’s scared of the dark. Scared of empty lonely places. Scared of the face that might appear in the window late at night and peer in at them...
In other words, show me a good horror writer or film maker, and I’ll show you someone whom my 9 year old daughter could scare the living daylights out of, given the chance.
Gaudium per atrox.