Well, it’s been a little while since I last wrote about the horror genre, so I thought that I’d talk about misdirection in the horror genre today. This is not only because I recently happened to read a (surprisingly disturbing) horror novel in disguise but also because I ended up re-playing a few levels of a wonderfully fun horror-themed mid-late 1990s computer game called “Blood“.
Both of these things don’t initially seem to be that scary. Sure, they both contain some ominous early moments, but one is a novel from a very well-known author of thriller fiction and the other is an over-the-top late 1990s “Build Engine” first-person shooter game. Yet, once you spend some time with both, you’ll start to feel more and more creeped out.
Since I don’t want to spoil the plot of the novel, I’ll talk about how “Blood” achieves this. In short, the cartoonish graphics, ludicrous gibs, dark humour and well-established horror tropes/references initially trick you into thinking that it’s a joyously silly love letter to the horror genre.
But, in addition to some wonderfully gloomy lighting and some ominous background music, the game uses it’s difficulty to become creepier than you might initially expect. It is a fiendishly difficult game. This gradually lends the game a tense and suspenseful atmosphere that is actually slightly closer to old survival horror games than the kind of gloriously silly action game you would expect.
It’s also a testament to the power of misdirection in the horror genre too.
In short, the scariest types of horror will catch the audience by surprise. The most primitive form of this is the “jump scares” that used to be all the rage in films during the early-mid ’00s. If you’ve never seen a jump scare before, it’s a literal “boo!” moment when something scary suddenly appears on the screen (usually accompanied by a loud sound effect).
Although it is only scary for a few seconds, it’s more of an effective tool for creating horror than you might have been led to believe, since it leaves the audience feeling tense and apprehensive for a while afterwards. Even so, it’s fairly primitive.
A much more effective and sophisticated way to create truly powerful horror stories, comics etc… is through misdirection. This is when the audience are led to believe that something is less scary than it actually turns out to be. However, I should probably point out that there is one very important thing that you must remember when doing this. There should always be some small hint of horror fairly early in the story. I cannot emphasise this enough!
Although the idea of writing a light-hearted story in another genre that suddenly turns into full-on horror might sound hilarious, it is a rather cruel joke to play on the audience and it will have the opposite effect to what you might want. Yes, they’ll recoil with horror, but they will probably also feel cheated or angry.
So, be sure to include a small amount of horror early in the story. A little bit of mild horror which tells the audience “there is horror here“, so that those who don’t like horror can look at something else (and not feel cheated) whilst those who are fans of the horror genre will be both intrigued and lulled into a false sense of security.
When done well, this is one of the most effective ways to create truly scary horror. But, remember, you need to give your audience a tiny amount of warning first!
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂