4 Horror Movies Where Turning The Light Off Was a Bad Idea

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Featured Scary Movies and Series
Horror movies in the dark cover image puzzle box horror article

Here is the question we all ask ourselves.  Whether we are watching a scary movie, or heading downstairs to the basement.   We think “Do I really want to turn on the light?” followed by “What if I see a monster?”

The truth about adulthood is that we’re really just kids that got older, and wiser.  Most of us. But some things will always fundamental scare us because they are innate psychological terror triggers!  Remember when you cried in the crib after your Mom left the room? Of course you don’t!  But from our infant days we sense a fear and peril in the dark.  

Is there really something malicious or life-threatening waiting for us in the dark?  Is it just our imagination?  And if there is something lurking in the darkest corners of our reality, do we really want confirmation that it exists? Or do we want to pull the cover over our eyes, and pretend we don’t see those shadows, or hear those sounds.

Horror Movies Know Our Childhood Trauma Triggers

Ask any horror fan and they’ll tell you that the mark of a really great horror movie is the psychological trauma it leaves behind.  For a few days.  Maybe longer.  In fact, we bet you remember the first scary movie that you watched as a kid.

Did you sleep with the light on afterward?  Bring a flashlight to bed?  Take that flying impossible leap from the floor to your pillows (and avoid the dreaded shadow under the bed?)  Yep, we all did that, because we all have a little fear of the dark. 

If you want to get fancy, there’s actually a diagnosis for that ‘fear of the dark’.  It’s called Nyctophobia, and it is that fear of the dark, multiplied by a thousand.  People with this debilitating condition often suffer from insomnia (go figure).  They also may sleep with a lot of light in their room.  It interferes with Circadian Rhythm, or the body’s natural clock.   It is categorized as a very extreme form of anxiety.

We all have a little bit of that.  And we imagine that people who actually have Nyctophobia do not go see horror movies about things that ‘go bump in the night’.  We can’t blame them.  But in the horror genre it is a theme that is used in almost every movie, to create suspense and (if we’re honest) popcorn spilling terrifying moments on the big screen.

1.  Lights Out (2016)

When Rebecca (played by actress Teresa Palmer) moved to the big city, she thought she had left her small town traumas behind her.  Like a childhood friend named Diana who died horrifically, and materialized as a dark entity that would follow her around. And play with her.

Now grown, she must return home to take care of her little brother Martin (played by Gabriel Bateman) who is experiencing night terrors.  Something he describes as a stain or shadow on the wall.   

The movie reminds us “You were right to be afraid of the dark” and after you sit through Lights Out, you can’t help but agree.  And find yourself one of those little nightlights that can maybe shine on your bed while you sleep.  What? Don’t tell us you never thought of that security measure as a kid (or a grown-up).

Directed And Written By: David F. Sandberg

Warner Bros. Pictures

2. Darkness Falls (2003)

Way to ruin the lore of “The Tooth Fairy” for all of us!  This dark story takes place in a small town in Maine, that has been ravaged by child attacks and deaths.   The one thing that the children have in common? They lost a tooth and put it under their pillow for The Tooth Fairy.

Except in Darkness Falls, The Tooth Fairy isn’t this stardust sprinkling happy little elf like creature.  It is the twisted malevolent spirt of a woman who was killed on suspicion of being a witch.  Now, if the entity had been a really bad person in life, instead of a kindly old woman who gave children shillings for their teeth? We’d have no story line.   And the legend of Matilda Dixon is born; a woman who was wrongfully (and savagely) killed by the town mob for a crime she never committed.

We always love Emma Caulfield (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Angel) as the Final Girl in a horror movie.  She is great under pressure, and equally terrified at the same time, making her the perfect protagonist in a dark horror film. 

Directed By: Jonathan Liebesman

Columbia Pictures

3. Pitch Black (2000)

As part of the Reddick series, the criminal and universe saving warrior and reluctant hero.  Vin Diesel delivers an outstanding performance of a big strong guy that is surprisingly agile, when being chased by flesh eating aliens.

When a ship crash lands on a remote desert planet, the team of travelers (including the incarcerated Reddick) explore the new territory.  Since the ship is unlikely to be repaired anytime soon (or ever) the characters are delighted to find an old farmstead.  Complete with solar energy for power, evaporation collection (water) and some good sized shelters.  Even a ship that could be repaired to get off the planet.

The ominous story shows a model of a solar system. After playing with it for a little while, the intrepid victims realize that the cycle of the planet provides sun almost all the time.  The land of no nighttime.  Except for one phase in the lunar cycle where the entire planet is thrust into complete darkness for a one-year period.

Considering the planet is desert and hot AF, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing.  Except that all the equipment relies on solar power (bummer).  And there is a little cause for concern, as millions of flesh eating birds of prey and other dog like creatures (bio raptors) are waiting for dinner.  When the sun goes down.

There’s always that one guy that doesn’t follow instructions and wrecks it for everyone.   Stay in the light!

Directed By: David Twohy

Universal Pictures

4. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (2011)

Imagine you are a kid and you feel like you have monsters in the dark, waiting to eat you or whisk you away to the closet.  Which we all know is a portal to a dark dimension from which we may never return.  Can you sleep with the closet door open? Neither can we. The movie is actually a remake of a 1973 television film, by the same name, and both were based on the book  “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” by Nigel McKeand.

In the movie, Sally (played by Bailee Madison) sees and hears tiny goblin or golem like creatures, that travel in the air ducts of the old home she lives in. Conveniently complete with those old decorative iron vent plates, which make for a great door for the goblins.  Although her father and his girlfriend (played by Katie Holmes) are reluctant to believe the stories. 

Aside to parents.  If your child is convinced there are monsters in their bedroom trying to eat them, maybe call an exterminator to double check.  All monsters leave some kind of trace, from footprints to feces we imagine.  And if your child asks if they can sleep in your bed because they are scared?  It’s probably a good idea.  

Directed And Written By: Guillermo del Toro

Miramax Films

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4 Pro Tips for Writing Psychological Traumatic Horror

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Indie horror writers
Bloody face of a Girl

There are horror movies that you can’t wait to see. Literally, you are counting down the months and days until you can get into one of those fat leather recliners in the theater, bury yourself with an insanely sized soft drink and a bucket o’ popcorn the side of your head.  Ahhh… finally, you’re going to watch something scary AF with an 8/10 probability of you sleeping with the closet light on, tonight right?

And then it happens.  Boring happens.  More often than not, contemporary horror movies fail to resonate with true terror for the most devoted horror movie fans.  Have we become desensitized over years of screaming “RUN!” and “NO NOT THAT WAY!” at the big screen or our televisions?  Or has there been a massive movement to ‘water down’ scary novels when they are converted to screenplays, to appeal to a boarder commercial audience?

We get it.  If a movie is ‘too scary’ (personally we don’t believe there is such a thing), then a portion of the population will never see the movie.  Will never buy the oversized soda’s and overpriced popcorn and cheesy pretzels the theater. And since the average movie can cost between $20 million to more than $100 million dollars to produce, you bet the studio shareholders want something marketable.

But where does that leave true horror fans? Waiting for the very rare (but jaw droppingly terrifying) psychological horror scripts.  These movies are up to the standard for horror fans, because they leave you feel frankly traumatized after you have watched them.  And there is not beating the adrenaline rush that psychological horror films deliver.

We pay to be scared. We want to be scared.  And if you are an aspiring horror screenplay, short story or novel writer, you want to make sure you hit those valuable psychological triggers, to make your story memorable (and affectionately traumatizing) for your fans.

Write your horror to horrify the audience, with these 7 essential themes, visual tricks and audience mind games to deliver a truly frightening piece of horror.

1. Create a Safe and Loving Environment for the Characters (Then Violate It)

Have you ever noticed how some of the most classic horror movies and screenplays, do a lot of work to develop a sense of love, safety and sentimental memories?  Whether it is a family cabin, with personal history and childhood pictures everywhere, with quaint homemade touches, or a contemporary smart home with virtually every security feature possible.   When you set the stage for safety and security, you are preparing to shatter that sense of safety, with terrifying effect.

To empathize with the characters, horror writers must help the audience relate.  From the smell of “mom food” cooking in the kitchen, to the friendly family dog (sigh… why does the dog always get it in a horror movie?), you are sharing that sense we all feel in our own home. It’s our territory.  We know every square inch of our homes, and there is something sacred about your house.   Which is violated the moment a really horrible monster, serial killer, alien, or scarier yet, a malicious human comes through the doors of your personal security, to do harm to family.

Oh look… they are riding in a family car and singing along like we do.  And then, bad things happen.

2. Leverage Fear of the Unknown

In a truly psychologically terrifying movie, everything should make sense along the plot line, until things start to happen that make no sense.  The more sophisticated kind of horror plots will take the audience along a predictable story path, where they THINK they can predict the ending, and then throw a monkey wrench into the story where literally, shit hits the fan and nothing is okay anymore.

Lulling your audience into a sense of comfort with a predictable introductory storyline, is one of the best ways to shock and horrify them. Some of the most effective horror films of our time, did not actually show us the villain.  Monsters or demonic forces moving around the characters, force the audience to imagine what is lurking beyond.  And when horror writers master the fear of the unknown in a novel or screenplay, the confirmation that the threat is worse than the audience imagined, makes for truly cinematic trauma.

Not actually knowing what is coming to get the characters is scarier than any special effect monster or visual.

3. Can You Make Your Audience Hold Their Breathe? Weaponizing Suspense in Horror

Nobody likes suspense.  It makes us squirm.  We want to know what is going to happen next, and when horror writers spin scene development to gradually increase the crescendo from audience concern, to perceived threat, to confirmation of the threat in a slow agonizing way? That’s how writers can create the adrenaline rush that horror fans love.

When the audience has affiliated or created a favorably impression about the protagonists, or lead characters in the movie, they feel some affection toward them.  That’s masterful character development in any paranormal or horror story.   The audience becomes invested in the character(s) and doesn’t want to see anything bad happen to them. Even though innately, they know some really bad shit is coming for the would-be heroes.

The longer you draw out the aura of suspense in a horror scene, the more time the audience has to worry about the safety of the character.  To imagine the terrible thing that might happen to them next, and to formulate a guess about the ‘last character standing’.  Will that character survive? Will there be any survivors?  Suspense draws out that anxiety, raises the pulse of the audience, and ends up confirming their worst fears for the character.   And the audience experiences the terror of the character in the first-person, imagining what they would do in a similar situation.

Some of the movies that are premiering in Fall 2020 hold a lot of promise to return to the kind of psychological horror that fans love.  Like “Halloween Kills” which is rumored to be the last in the Michael Myers and Laurie Strode saga.  Or the much anticipated “Antlers” lore about the Wendigo.  

Do you feel like horror movies today are less scary than they used to be? We love hearing from our members. Leave us a comment and tell us which horror movie or novel remains the most psychologically traumatizing fiction you’ve ever experienced.

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