Halloween is upon us again, and there’s no better way to celebrate it than huddling together with a bunch of friends and put on some horror flicks to scare yourselves silly. But, what makes a good horror movie? From Hollywood horror to Asian horror, there are staples in the chill diet that are tried, tested and tasted. Here are nine key ingredients:
Seriously creepy sounds and music
“Tubular Bells” sounds like a cheery Christmas hymn, right? Wrong! Play it and you'll get goosebumps all over especially when you've seen 1973's The Exorcist and were so spooked that you've sworn never to see the film again. There are horror movies that scare just based on their sound effects alone. The louder and more sudden they are the better. Things fall, staircases creak, doors slam, a sudden patter of footsteps in the attic above freak you out before you even see anything. When it's done expertly by horror masters like James Wan in The Conjuring (2013), you're terrified in your seat. Wan knows how to make a little theme music recur creepily in your head until you go nuts by inserting a menacing music box into his movie. The best and most fearsome of horror films understand this simple trick of recurring music to ingrain the sense of lingering dread into the viewer.
In horror, everyone can hear you scream
What would a good horror movie be without bloodcurdling screams, right? Screams are very important in horror shows. And giving the best scream ever is when the wife (Patricia Owens) sees for the first time the monstrous fly's head plonked on top of her scientist husband's (David Hedison) body in 1958's very horrifying The Fly. Other loud, frightening lung-bursters include Fay Wray's scream when she meets the giant ape for the first time in King Kong (1933), the scream queens yelling the hell out when Ghostface the killer comes slashing in the Scream movies and, of course, Janet Leigh's symphony of helpless, startled yelps as the knife keeps coming down in the shower in Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 sicko classic Psycho.
Truly sinister stuff
Buying gifts for Christmas? Whatever you do, DO NOT get these horribly cursed things. Antique mirror in Oculus (2013). Ugly doll from hell in The Conjuring (2013) and Annabelle (2014). Mysterious Chinese wish box in Wish Upon (2017). Creepy Ouija board in Ouija: Origin of Evil (2014). Haunted objects have been part of horror lore since their objective to scare the c**p out of us. Why? Because they are ordinary things which are in our homes too. Our fave horror souvenirs which we will never ever acquire are these – the see-and-die videotape in The Ring (1998), the pop-up storybook in Australian entry, The Babadook (2014) and the spooky photographs with creepy, blurry ghosts in the background in Thailand's best horror flick, Shutter (2004). Know what? Just to play safe, we're going to thrash the camera too.
Stupid horny kids who deserve it
Seriously, would you want to see a horror movie filled with old folks? Actually, way back in 1981, there was a film called Ghost Story about four guilty elderly men hiding a terrible decades-old secret until a vengeful spirit returned seeking payback. Boy, talk about abuse of senior citizens. Anyway, these days, horror karma mostly happens to young people. Every time you see a bunch of dumb horny youths ham it up in horror films, you know what's going to happen – one by one, they get nailed by the ghost, spirit, demon, psycho, disgruntled high school janitor until only maybe the surviving babe heaving heavily and sexily in her soaking-wet top is left. You see this in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre incarnations, Prom Night (1980), Valentine (2001), Scream flicks, I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) and the mother of teen revenge horror movies, Carrie (1976). Now, if you want an instant catch-up primer on deserving kids in horror flicks, watch 2012's The Cabin In The Woods. It's so good, scary, funny and so knowing that it's a mini-encyclopedia about horror themes, ingredients and assorted spooks and monsters seen throughout the years. Sit back, relax and don't forget to bring the popcorn.
Nothing chills up a good horror tale than creepy little kids. Children, especially, when they pop up from behind in the darkness and basically just stand there, are really spooky. Don't believe this junior-level fear factor? Just watch The Shining (1980) in the dark alone and tell us whether you'd ever want to play with a pair of little twin girls again. We're not suggesting that kindergartens be closed down asap. But the spooky girl ghost in the elevator in the Japanese chiller, Dark Water (2002), the juvenile Antichrist in The Omen (1976), the Children Of The Corn (1984), and especially, the sinister kiddie spirits in the scary Spanish chiller, The Orphanage (2007), may just turn you into an anti-childcare advocate yet.
Beware of the dark
Don't you always ask this question when you're watching a horror movie – “Why the heck doesn't anyone turn on the damn lights?” Can't be someone forgot to pay the electricity bill, right? That's because the dark is always scary. Particularly in big old houses in the middle of nowhere. See the isolated plantation house in the American Deep South which Kate Hudson goes to in 2005's The Skeleton Key or that dark empty mansion in the British marshlands Daniel Radcliffe crazily ventures alone into in The Woman in Black (2012). Man, that woman in black was so loose-bowels scary it turned Harry Potter into Harry Potty. Turns out Westerners really like to be in the dark. For instance, in the very unnerving The Others (2001), house owner Nicole Kidman demands her haunted mansion be kept in darkness all the time with the curtains closed permanently because her two young children suffer from a rare disease which makes them allergic to sunlight. Boy, talk about really needing suntan lotion.
Long hair matters
Honestly, when was the last time you were truly frightened by a bald woman? Sinead O'Connor in crazy mode doesn't count. Long hair in a female ghost is absolutely crucial the way long hair in a Guns N' Roses concert is a must-have. Actually, western horror flicks don't really make a big deal out of long hair but our Asian horror just loves the LBH (long black hair). If you have seen the way the long hair covers the face of Sadako as she climbs out of the television set in The Ring (1998) or the head of the mother ghost, Kayako, in the Ju-On: The Grudge series, man, you'd want a haircut right now. For a very hairy supernatural two-fer, check out Sadako Vs Kayako (2016). It's hair-vs-hair galore better than in a Gucci fashion show. In fact, in the creepy 1965 Japanese horror anthology classic, Kwaidan (meaning: strange stories), one of the eerie tales is actually titled The Black Hair. It's about a swordsman who gets attacked by the vengeful long black hair of his dead wife. Now, try telling that hair-raising story the next time you go to your hair salon.
Past sins and secrets
Generally, there's always a reason, however remote, revengeful or ridiculous, why victims get nailed. Michelle Pfeiffer got attacked in her bathtub in What Lies Beneath (2000) due to a deep dark secret kept hidden. In 1982's Poltergeist, an entire family gets targeted because they're residing unwittingly on sacred burial ground. In 1973's horror masterpiece, The Exorcist, a young girl gets possessed after playing with an Ouija board and later becomes cinema's original Oozemaster when she hurls out lots of, er, supernatural vomit. Often, it's all about vengeance and payback or people doing stupid things to stir up spirited trouble. Check out the creepy final story about the dead body in the plane in the Thai horror anthology, 4bia (2008). You may never wish to fly again. At least not in Ghost Class.
Mask up that creepy feeling
Every Halloween, masks are the reason why the merchandise sellers are laughing all the way to not the grave but the bank. Jason Voorhees, the slasher-killer in the Friday The 13th franchise, wears a hockey goalie mask. Jigsaw in the Saw flicks deploys a puppet with a mask of a grotesquely swollen face which looks like it's just gone 10 brutal rounds with MMA savage, Conor McGregor. The killer in the Scream movies hides his mug in a contorted-face mask which is an easy sell at both Halloween parties. Whether it's a pig's head, hippo's head or a dude looking like a werewolf, masks, and disguises always keep you guessing who the killer is in a horror chiller. And of course, recently, clowns are all the rage, just look at Pennywise the demonic thingy dressed as a clown in Stephen King's It (2017). Now, can somebody answer this burning question? Which brilliant clown first came up with the idea that clowns are actually funny?