12.15.2010

Where has all the suspense gone?

While watching the remake of When A Stranger Calls, I started thinking about the lack of suspense in recent horror films. Though the movie was a watered down PG-13 remake of a terrific film, the movie still generated a decent amount of suspense. Despite some poorly directed action sequences, I actually enjoyed the 2006 version quite a bit. Yes, the original is well-known for a certain twist and the remake's trailer gave this away, despite the fact that the movie hinges heavily on that twist and it occurs towards the end of the film. Even though I knew the surprise that was coming, I was impressed with the taught line of suspense strung throughout the movie's 87 minute runtime. The clever use of set pieces and red herrings transformed what could have been painfully boring into enjoyable.


After you're done cursing me for not finding the When A Stranger Calls to be completely unwatchable, you can calm down and focus on this food for thought: Where has all the suspense gone? I had this refreshing feeling while watching the movie and I couldn't figure out why. What could be refreshing about a safely executed unoriginal Hollywood film? It was the suspense. I've missed it in recent horror movies. The more I thought about this, the more I realized how sorely modern cinema is missing out on the wonderful tool of suspense.

I'm reminded of the classic example of surprise versus suspense once illustrated by Alfred Hitchcock. Imagine a family eating dinner peacefully. A bomb explodes. Surprise! Now, let's take the same scene and add suspense to it. You see the family eating dinner, but you also notice that there's a bomb underneath the dining room table. Will they notice the bomb before it explodes? Will someone come to their rescue? That's suspense, keeping the audience guessing and wondering what will happen next.


Most recent horror films seem to operate primarily on surprise, utilizing a shock and gore campaign. While there's definitely a place for the well executed surprise and definitely a place for films that lean more on surprise than suspense, I can't help but miss all the suspense from yesteryear. It's no secret that the original  Halloween is my favorite film and a large part of why I love that movie so much is the suspense. In comparison, we have Rob Zombie's Halloween, which hardly contains any suspense. It's all bombs going off in your face. The 1978 film creates suspense through steadicam POV shots, lingering edits, and Dean Cundey's atmospheric cinematography. When Laurie Strode slowly explores the neighbor's house, anyone watching is on pins and needles. In contrast, Zombies Halloween shocks the audience with raw violence and disturbing imagery. Michael's lurking presence is just not felt in the same way. 

I've been thinking about this and trying to come up with recent horror films that rely more on suspense than surprise. The House of the Devil, Frozen, Antibodies, and Devil are a few superb examples that come to mind. At first, I thought of Inside and Them, but then thought about it some more...they really rely more on surprise than suspense to scare the audience. 


What are some recent horror movies that you guys feel were suspenseful? Why is surprise being utilized way more than suspense? Comments anyone?

7 comments:

  1. I just saw, ''black swan'' and that movie is very suspenseful and disturbing. I kinda loved it. Hope you are able to see it at some point.

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  2. i watched the movie new prom night... it was like kill everyone already.... but then watched book of blood, and was wow'd by it... it do get with you on lack of spook...

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  3. Great post. I couldn't agree more. I'm always looking for suspense as opposed to cheap scares and the only thing that comes to mind recently is Devil. There is a certain degree of shock, but you spend the duration of the film on the edge of your seat, anticipating the next shock.

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  4. I found the suspense hiding in the closet, as it turns out it was under a pile of movies from pre-1980. OOOOOO DAAAAANG, burn on recent film. Yeah suspense is dead Becks, bring it back.

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  5. Excellent post Becky. I've wondered about this myself. For me, the best film that I've seen within the past couple of years that really wratchets up the intensity factor due to its suspense is Dawning. Man, I was on pins and needles, sweating bullets.

    Triangle is another great one. Oh, and Lake Mungo. Holy heebie jeebies!

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  6. M, Yeah, I'll definitely check out Black Swan either in theatres or when it comes out on DVD/Blu-ray.

    iZombie, I haven't Book of Blood yet. Maybe I'll check it out though!

    JLG, Yeah, I was so surprised by Devil. Great suspense film.

    Nick, The Thing is so damn suspenseful. Carpenter for the win.

    Carl, Haha. I'll do what I can.

    Cortez, Dawning was definitely suspenseful! Great example. I also liked Triangle, interesting movie. I really didn't care for Lake Mungo, but I can see where you're coming from with that one.

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