Generation Gap Shows Through Horror Movie Viewing Experience


As Halloween approaches, people are tuning in for the most stomach-churning movies. One of the best parts of the season is finding the perfect movie with the exact right concoction of blood, jump scares, and supernatural mysteries. Yet what is it about such disturbing movies that is so appealing to us? And what makes a scary movie so frightening?

A survey was sent out to students asking them to rank what they considered the best scary movies. Based on the received feedback, it was concluded that the best movies were The Shining, Halloween, and Scream. Most of the second picks consisted of It (2017), The Purge, and The Blair Witch Project (1999). 

There is something to be said about the way horror movies have changed over the years. We see more classic movies made mostly in the seventies and eighties that have what our generation would call poor special effects. While watching these movies in the year 2022 may not feel very frightening, I can guarantee that if you were to ask a family member, teacher, or coworker outside of our generation, they would tell you that watching these moves gave them nightmares for weeks. 

Looking at movies that have come out more recently, there is a more active presence of convincing hyper-realistic gore and disturbing scenes. Yet the majority of us don’t seem to feel the general stomach discomfort or nightmare-inducing fright. This is mainly due to the fact that we have been more exposed to violence through the media we consume—it seems to be in everything. Current events, news, video games, movies, and more. This exposure desensitized us to what prior generations found upsetting and hard to watch. Now how does this affect what we consider the best scary movies, if it has an effect at all?

While based solely on a single survey that only roughly 80 people filled out (do better) I can not determine really any conclusive results, I can tell you my two cents. Horror is such a vast genre. There will always be certain classics that stick with audiences throughout the decades. All of the initially chosen movies I would say fall under this category of indisputable classics.

Yes—I must acknowledge our inherent lack of sensitivity towards violence—but when we see movies so delicately crafted that contain all of our favorite aspects of horror, it doesn’t matter how bad the special effects are. Given the time period, what was used was considered groundbreaking, creative, and new. And that’s one of the reasons they have been so impactful. 

These effects, good or bad, are only one part of the movies we consume. For me, one of the factors that make scary movies scary is understanding how I would feel if I were to be put in the same situation. Being stuck in a completely isolated hotel with a murderous husband, having a crazed murderer after me while I’m trying to babysit, or being followed by a masked killer targeting high schoolers is what draws the line between frightening and uninteresting. Understanding the anxiety our dear protagonist is facing is one of the scariest moments of a horror movie, proving even better when the ultimate evil is inescapable. 

In the long run, what makes a scary movie frightening is based mostly on the viewers themselves. A person scared of sharks would think Jaws is horrifying, but someone who has little to no interest in space exploration or alien invasion might not care for Alien (1979). A single survey can not determine what is the scariest of movies, but it can tell us that we have good taste.