Over the years, scary films have made audiences fear fairly mundane activities, such as swimming in the ocean (Jaws), falling sleep (A Nightmare on Elm Street), and taking a shower (Psycho).
A degree of skill is required to make audiences afraid of something they would otherwise view as benign. There must obviously be a good story first and foremost. Without that, nothing is scary. Then there has to be a strong set-up. In order to make a normal object or activity frightening, the audience needs to understand why it should be feared. Relevant information must be established in advance so that we understand the threat it possesses. And finally, there needs to be a payoff. If viewers aren't hit with the full force of the scare, they won't get freaked out by the object or occurrance.
What other everyday things have horror movies ruined? To answer that question, we turn to some of the most notable fright flicks of the 2010s. Not surprisingly, the best of them were able to turn normal activities into nightmare fuel.
The examples below illustrate how to get the formula exactly right. They skillfully take ordinary stuff and turn it into something designed to give you nightmares. Good luck sleeping!
So many horrific things happen in Ari Aster's Hereditary, but the most horrific event comes very unexpectedly. Teenager Peter (Alex Wolff) is forced to take little sister Charlie (Milly Shapiro) with him to a party. While there, she eats a piece of cake, not realizing it contains nuts, and goes into anaphylactic shock. Peter tosses her in the car and rushes to the hospital. En route, Charlie rolls down the window and sticks her head out to get some air, only to be decapitated by a telephone pole when her brother swerves to avoid an animal in the road.
This moment is a stark reminder of what can happen when we stick body parts out of the window of a moving car. Because we've all done it at some point, being confronted with the gruesome possibilities sends a chill up your spine. Making it even more frightening is that Hereditary implies Charlie is going to be the central character up to this point, so her abrupt demise is nothing less than shocking.
Clapping isn't scary in and of itself, although The Conjuring did its best to change that. Early on, it's established that the central family plays a game called "Hide and Clap," in which one person is blindfolded and has to the find the others. The only clue is occasional clapping from those hiding.
In one spectacularly scary sequence, the poltergeist haunting the home plays its own game of "Hide and Clap" with mom Lili Taylor, locking her in the basement and tossing her down the stairs. She climbs back up, then lights a match to see down into the darkness. Both she and the audience are startled when a pair of hands suddenly materialize right next to her head and loudly clap. It's one of the most perfectly executed jump scares of recent times.
Get Out is the story of Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black man who goes with his girlfriend Rose (Allison Williams) to visit her white family for the first time. Everyone seems pretty open-minded at first. Then Chris discovers that they're actually a bunch of lunatics who transfer their minds into harvested bodies so they can achieve a form of immortality.
Part of the movie's scary genius is that Rose's mother (Catherine Keener) hypnotizes Chris against his will by stirring a cup of tea with a spoon. The clanking noise combined with her power of suggestion sends him plummeting into the "sunken place" where he is rendered helpless. Rarely has such a benign act carried such menacing weight onscreen.
Mike Flanagan's film adaptation of Stephen King's Gerald's Game opens with a couple, Jessie and Gerald Burlingame (Carla Gugino and Bruce Greenwood), trying to spice up their marriage with a little bit of kink. Gerald handcuffs his wife to the bedposts, rendering her helpless. It's supposed to be fun, but then he suffers a heart attack and expires.
From there, it gets really bad. Essentially left immobilized, Jessie is visited by Gerald's ghost and a hooded figure with glowing red eyes. She additionally has flashbacks to childhood trauma.
What makes Gerald's Game so unnerving is the way something intended to be arousing quickly devolves into a spiral of increasingly demented terrors. Jessie's attempts to free herself from the handcuffs, some of which entail personal injury, make the idea of such foreplay seem unappealing.