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8 Oct 2012

Writing Horror - Less Can Be More

One thing I'm slowly starting to realise about horror is that over the years it's really going wild on blood, gore, sex, and swearing.  Now don't think I'm on the prude side because I'm not.  I honestly don't mind swearing and sex in a book.  I can laugh at gratuitous amounts of blood and gore and enjoy being squeamish over it.

But when I was thinking about Top Ten Tuesday last week and I thought about why I don't want Goosebumps and Are You Afraid of the Dark? to be forgotten I started wondering about horror in general.  I'd been thinking about why I really loved reading Goosebumps and watching the TV series along with AYAotD?.  Then I was reading through the horror reviews I have planned and The Blair Witch Project was on my list.  All three things had something in common that made me loved them as horror.

Less was more.

For Goosebumps and AYAotD? they were aimed at children and younger teenagers.  In general they were quite PG.  No sex, no flashing of boobs and other parts.  There was hardly any blood and gore.  Sometimes barely even a body count. 

And they scared the crap out of me every time.

I watched The Blair Witch Project for the first time a few years ago.  Apart from suspicious situations you don't actually see what's causing the spooky occurrences.  You don't really see a gory death.  Yeah, there's the squeamish teeth scene but is that real or a trick by some sick residents? A lot of people will see the film and feel cheated that there isn't a clear ending or there's no actual paranormal sighting.  But IMO that was the genius of the film and the key to how effective it was.  It felt more like a real life supernatural occurrence.  That strange things can happen but in most cases you don't actually see something that could definitely prove the spirit world.  Just little suggestions that could be explained in numerous ways. 

I think the less you show or add the scarier it can be.  When you focus purely on the horror surrounding these characters and not how many f-bombs you can drop or how many girls get their top off that's when you start to scare people.  The ghost that may or may not be lurking in the woods chills you because it's unknown and unseen.  Not knowing can scare you a whole lot more because you're imagination tries to work it out for itself and unfortunately comes up with the worst and terrifying theories.  The teenager who is being taught a lesson for their nasty or obsessive ways freaks you out more than intestines being thrown in your face and corn syrup being sprayed everywhere.  Sometimes a body count isn't needed to terrify you.  A little moral lesson that you can relate to may worry you more than a serial killer who can't die.


  1. The reason The Blair Witch Project is so terrifying is because it's all up to the viewer to imagine it all in their own minds. And those final scenes get me every time. Gaaaaaaah! One of the best horror films ever.

    The early Silent Hill games are brilliant examples of less is more too.

  2. I agree with you. Blair Witch freaked me out and I used to love Are You Afraid of the Dark?...Got spooked by this show but loved it loved it :D
    The atmosphere is what does it for me. Sometimes, gory stuff freaks me out too like The Hills Have Eyes...that scared the crap out of me and it's gory but usually what makes me afraid to turn off the light is thinking at all those things I couldn't see...Great post, Robin!

  3. I totally agree with you, Robin. Most of what we fear most is "the unknown." It's what we can't see, what's hinted at, what might be... Yeah, some blood and guts may be good for a quick scare; but the chills that last are the ones that keep you thinking, wondering... :)