What makes a good Horror movie? We find out the top essential elements.

We love a good horror movie here at Movie-Reliquary, but what elements are essential to make a movie a great one?

Horror movie house

We think that horror movies are a slightly different viewing experience to that of say an action or superhero movie, and in order for a horror flick to keep you on the edge of your seat it must be an all-immersive experience.

The director must truly know his/her audience and figure out what makes them tick more than any other genre, and as audiences become ever more demanding of realism and thrill kicks, it becomes increasingly hard for directors to get it right, so we ask what are the essentials for a great horror movie? We lay out our top 5 below.


  • True terror- A writer and director who have sat down and asked themselves what truly terrifies them- and then incorporated that into their work. It never works when a movie is built around a premise that is ‘supposed’ to be scary, but doesn’t actually frighten the director themselves, it always shows.


That intense fear can be many things, it could play to primal instincts, to those things that tap into our ‘Ape brain’ stimulating those ancient fear centres, themes like being chased, hunted, the dark. It could be loss of self, being captured or trapped, unable to get out, blood or creepy crawlies, all of which press that very old fear fight or flight instinct, but it needs to do that in the right way. A bad horror movie might for example use sudden gore, loud noises or the dark but without proper context it will not truly frighten us.


  • Empathy- We as the viewer need to identify with the characters, the more we do that, the more we become immersed in the plot so that we are ‘living’ the movie with the characters, then when the fright happens our own sympathetic nervous system triggers the fight-flight response accordingly and we truly ‘feel’ the fear.


  • Suspense- The right kind of suspense is essential for a good movie, the right balance to keep you guessing in anticipation, is it now, now, NOW?! Tension is 100% necessary, but how much is too much? if a director puts too many jump scares into a movie we become immune to their power, so a great movie spaces them out so that you get invested in a character, identifying with them and then boom jump scare.


  • Gore- Now this is a tough one,a good horror needs blood and gore, but the level of that is really personal, some people get a response whereby if there is too much their brain panics and uses a coping mechanism of humour to ‘tune’ it out so that it becomes funny, not scary, and does humour belong in a horror movie at all?



  • Soundtrack- For me this is absolutely essential. The right soundtrack lifts the entire movie, movie score greats such as the incredible John Williams know only too well that sometimes simple is better, remember the Jaws theme? The score to movie greats like the Exorcist… A great movie soundtrack should sneakily worm its way into your subconscious without you realising it, so that you are listening to it without realising that you are…so the lifts and falls in the music trigger your fear and heighten the suspense, if you notice the scary music then it must be intended that way to lead you as a viewer to a fear crescendo!

No matter what your horror genre preference and thoughts, one thing is certain, we all want the film makers to keep it coming, nothing beats a good fright night!



Article Emma Murfin for Movie-Reliquary