What Makes Horror Movies Scary? “We do,” Says Baylor Film Expert

What Makes Horror Movies Scary? “We do,” Says Baylor Film Expert What Makes Horror Movies Scary? “We do,” Says Baylor Film Expert

October 24, 20171 min read
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The best scary movies adapt to society’s current fears and turn current cultural, social and political preoccupations into elements of horror, says a Baylor University film historian and an expert on the horror film genre.


“We are the monster,” said James Kendrick, Ph.D., associate professor of film and digital media in Baylor’s College of Arts & Sciences. Kendrick has authored three books: Darkness in the Bliss-Out: A Reconsideration of the Films of Steven Spielberg; Hollywood Bloodshed: Violence in the 1980s American Cinema; and Film Violence: History, Ideology, Genre.


The themes of horror films have changed and developed over the years to capture the zeitgeist and adapt to societal fears, Kendrick said. However, as elements of fear transform with society, the elements of horror films remain.


“Character and story, atmosphere and the monster,” Kendrick said. “That’s all you really need. Interesting, engaging characters in an effective setting pitted against some kind of monstrosity. That is the core of the genre, and anything and everything else grows from and functions to support those three elements.”


The audience must be able to relate to characters and feel a sense of empathy for them, he said. The atmosphere must engage the audience and provide an effective platform for fear.


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  • James Kendrick, Ph.D.
    James Kendrick, Ph.D. Associate Professor, Film & Digital Media

    Expert on film theory/aesthetics, the history of motion pictures, media and society, violence in the media, and horror film

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