What makes a good scare?

By Liz, gleefully waiting for the scariest night of the year!

When I was a kid, my parents were a little, shall we say, worried about me. There were many reasons for this (my interest in serial killers being the main one) but definitely topping the list was my life-sized poster of Freddie Krueger that hung in my room, right next to my Johnny Depp poster. This was also ironic because Johnny Depp was killed BY Freddy Krueger in that iconic bed scene in Nightmare on Elm Street, but it definitely showed the range of my tastes at the time. 


Yes, I was obsessed with Freddy Krueger. I dressed as Freddy for a few Halloweens, and I had the voice down pretty good. I had a talking Freddy doll with which I would shamelessly scare my brother half to death. (When you pulled the string in his back, there were a few different lines he would say. I used to stand in my brother’s doorway in the dark after he went to bed and make Freddy talk. And yes, I got in a lot of trouble for it.) I also watched the Nightmare on Elm Street movies repeatedly, although they admittedly got worse as they went on. But still, Freddy was an iconic character to me, a killer with panache who could bring humor and his own unique style to every gruesome murder. He was much more interesting than Jason, for example, who just silently went around killing people. I mean, where’s the personality in that? 

So as we approach Halloween – my favorite time of the year – I started thinking about scares, and what makes a good one. I know that my tastes have changed over the years. I still love to have the bejesus scared out of me, but that looks different than it did in my Freddy-obsessed days. Back then, I loved these kinds of movies, the gorier the better. Scream, Halloween (Michael Meyers is still the scariest of all of them, hands down), Candyman, The Conjuring. While I still have a fondness for those kinds of scares, admittedly my tastes have changed a bit. 

I’m not seeking out the goriest movies or books anymore, but I still love a good scare – and my new motto is, the creepier the better. I love anything that’s atmospheric, instills a sense of unease from the moment you start watching or reading, and that delivers its chills more subtly than, well, Freddy sucking you into a bed along with all your electronics. 

One of my favorite things to watch during Halloween season since its release a few years ago is the remade Haunting of Hill House. I never watched the original, but I do love this version – I think it was extremely well done and had its share of “jump scares,” but ultimately they did a great job of balancing that creepiness with the main storyline, which to me was the devastating breakdown of a family. 

Another good example is a book I had to pick up because it was on Stephen King’s list of scariest books. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay is reminiscent of The Exorcist – a teenager possessed by demons, an ensuing reality show, and I’m not sure what else because I’m still reading it but it’s definitely freaky. It’s terrifying in a very subtle, matter-of-fact way and part of the reason I’m not done it yet is because I can’t read it at night. 

There are so many other good examples – but it’s your turn! Tell me in the comments below what your favorite scary book or movie is for this time of year. 

33 Thoughts

  1. Stephen King’s Pet Sematary was scary and the movie was good too. I even went to Bar Harbor to see the different places where the movie was filmed. I did have the privilege of going to a reading and Q&A for his book Sleeping Beauties with his son Owen.

    1. I love Stephen King! Yes, that was scary, but The Shining still stands out for me. Also, fun fact – they filmed a Stephen King movie for Netflix on my street yesterday!

  2. John Connolly’s Charlie Parker series scared me something fierce! And King’s The Shining. I can’t watch those gory movies, if I even hear the music from the beginning of the Halloween movie, I’ll run lol! You’re way braver than me, Liz! Paranormal movies I can watch, but they’re frightening. I watched the original The Fog yesterday, that’s more my speed.

  3. I like the original 1950s version of The Haunting better than the remake. No gore (a selling point for me) but it really does a number on your head. “If you’re over there, who’s this holding my hand?”

  4. Just reading this scared me. I’ve never seen any of those movies and regret the scary ones I did see — The Excorsist, The Omen, Poltergeist, The Shining… There’s a Joan Crawford movie about girls making prank phone calls called I Saw What You Did. I watched it while I was babysitting and whoo, it scared me. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/I_Saw_What_You_Did I’m currently working up the courage to read The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski. She used an old bride doll of mine for some of her promo and even that scared me.

    1. Omg, Sherry – I Saw What You Did was awesome!! I remember watching that as a kid! I have Tara’s book on my list too. I can let you know how it goes 😉

  5. King’s Misery is a classic psychological thriller with an unexpected twist at the end. Like others, I know enjoy less gore and more character building. For example, C. C. Warren’s Firefly Diaries keeps you turning the pages with excellent narrative drive and deep POV. Thanks for asking, Liz!

  6. I love Halloween, as well, Liz. Though, I don’t go for the blood and gore, a classic gothic horror story will always grab me in.
    The scariest film I’ve ever seen – The Blair Witch Project.
    Scariest book I’ve ever read – Pet Sematary.
    Happy Halloween!🎃

  7. Not big on blood and gore, in fact I’ve never seen any of the Kruger movies! The scariest movie I’ve ever seen? The scary part was my own fault. It was Stephen King’s Carrie. HBO had just become available in my area and I treated myself to a subscription. I was recovering from the flu the night Carrie was on. I watched the movie and couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. It wasn’t frightening at all. So I got out of bed to turn off the TV – it was that long ago – and with my face right up to the screen reached for the knob when – BLAM – the hand came up. OMG – I slept with the lights on!

    I love both versions of The Haunting of Hill House, and watch Rose Red. It’s always fun to figure out the effects.

    1. That Carrie moment is so classic. I was scared by the whole movie, actually, because I was thinking about it from that level of, wow – someone super religious could actually do this in the name of religion. And that was even scarier for me than the hand.

  8. I have never been a big fan of scary movies, have seen a few Stephen King movies, the Alien movies & some of the Hammer films (Dracula) with my then husband years ago, but none of the Halloween or other more recent films. As for books, I do read mystery & suspense but not a lot of horror or Gothic (although I loved Mexican Gothic!). While I expected to be in the minority here, surprisingly others seem to feel the same!

  9. My husband automatically puts his hand over my eyes when he thinks anything gory is coming. I’m the biggest wimp ever where horror movies are concerned!

  10. Never been into blood and gore. Too much of it in real life. Give me a good old-fashioned cozy any day.

  11. I usually watch a Halloween movie or two during the season – most often the original and H2O. I say Scream is my favorite franchise, but I don’t watch them as often as Halloween these days – probably because I record Halloween off TV every year, and I own Scream, so I can watch it whenever, which means I never do.

    I think I stick with those because they are now safe scares for me. I know what is going to happen and when, so they don’t get me like they once did. Even so, I usually watch them in the middle of the afternoon, just to be safe.

  12. I really never liked horror movies but in college for some reason, I watched the original “IT” movie. After that , I said never again and haven’t seen a horror movie since.

  13. I’m definitely not into horror movies anymore. I prefer a good cozy mystery to read. The last movie I watched ages ago was IT.

  14. Having had a close encounter with a violent crime when I was 22, I don’t particularly care for scary movies. Reality was terrifying enough.

    I have a particular hatred for Brian de Palma films whose movies always proved that even if the antagonist was dead, you would never be free from him. (It’s not true. Life in prison without possibility of parole is sufficient.)

    So Harry Potter, here I come.

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