The Difference Between Horror and Fright

When Halloween rolls around, and I start sifting through my collection of scary movies and stories, I start realizing that most of our so-called scary works today fall into the secondary definition of horror, “intense aversion or repugnance,” rather than truly inducing fright.

What on earth do I mean?

Well, specifically I’m thinking of the “torture porn” movies that pervade our cinema today, and the True Blood school of horror, in which filmmakers must constantly up the ante in order to make us gasp with, well, horror.

Truly scary movies need to make me jump at small noises, not jump up to run to the toilet so that I can vomit after witnessing fountains of blood. Truly scary books need to make me so frightened I can’t close the book because the real world could be even scarier.

It’s the difference between this:

Nothing like ripping out a newscaster’s spine on live TV. 

And this:

This scene was removed from the original version of The Exorcist. Seriously.

One inspires shock and a shudder, the other inspires shock and a shiver. I didn’t stay up worrying that Russell Edgington was going to come into my home and rip out my spine. Nope, I stayed up having visions of a grotesque Regan MacNeil sitting at the foot of my bed.

The Exorcist is, I think, scarier because it happens in a quiet, suburban setting. Any kid could get possessed, but I don’t think the Vampire King of Louisiana is likely to exist any time soon. That’s the trick to truly frightening people: making them fear for themselves as well as for your main characters.

What are some works of film and fiction that have truly frightened you? 

Happy Halloween, everyone!