There are two main types of horror in cinema: creepy and startling. The creepy horror relies on giving viewers just enough information to know that there is reason to be scared, but not so much that they know what precisely they fear, or why, how, where, or when it will manifest itself. Creepy is not to be confused with suspenseful, which is simply an extension of the 'startling' horror type. In a startling scene, the goal is to build stress in the viewer and then suddenly change the scene somehow, be it by an actualization of the fear or a fake out, thus startling the viewer.
Whichever sort of horror your scene is striving for, there are some techniques that can prove extremely effective in creating a scary mise-en-scene.
If you want to limit the amount of information the target audience has about the environment, darkness is your friend. A flashlight in a dark basement, for example, makes the scene as much about what we can observe as what we cannot. Rounding corners and opening doors introduces new information . Do so quickly, and the viewer has a moment of anxiety; slowly (if done properly ), and that stress is dragged out-a technique masterfully executed in the tricycle scene of "The Shining, " in which the camera follows the protagonist around corners with suspenseful, sweeping shots.
Framing is an effective way of establishing anticipations, and anticipations are critical in horror. When setting up your shot, try to imagine what you would anticipate, were you watching the scene with no knowledge of what happens next. A perfect example of this is the scene from the original "Nightmare on Elm Street, " in which the protagonist on the bottom of the frame is looking up at blood dripping from the ceiling while lying on a bed, and is usually stabbed up through the chest from beneath the mattress.
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