Yes, in the spirit of the season I will talk about survival horror today!
...What, you don't see how horror works with valentines?
Well, to be honest, it is more of a Halloween thing, but if you're expecting it, it's not very horrifying, now IS it? Anyways, who wouldn't want to take their date to a horror movie as a chance to get a little closer (if only out of fear)? Either way, it was talking about this or spend another twenty minutes trying to figure out what to talk about, so this it is.
Effective horror is NOT jump scares. Jump scares are easy to get. Just shout "BOO!" in someone's ear when they don't know you're there. They'll jump, but is that really a satisfying scare? Sure, you laugh at how they were (very reasonably) startled, but that's not true fear. True fear is when that person hides in a corner from your very presence, and stays that way for a few minutes without moving for fear of what may happen. THAT is fear. How does one get to this level of fear?
Well I'll make this list as if we were referring to videogames, so we can make inevietable comparisons with Silent Hill.
When you want to make tension, hint at things. Don't ever explicitly say it. One of the most frightening things about Silent Hill was probably one single line that inversed everything about the scary little town. "Monsters? ...They look like monsters to you?" How many people, I wonder, immediately took a breath and tried not to cry when they realized they might have been hurting the normal people, and the only real monster... is you?
2. Make the player go insane.
Not talking about "Nintendo insanity" or making the player's character go insane. I mean make the player think things that aren't true, or question existence of things.
Did that door just open in the game? Go back! No. It was closed. What if I open the door? Oh, it's locked. I'll visit later. Then the door disappears when the camera isn't looking a few minutes later. There's no comment from the character on it, there's no remark about disappearing doors. It just never existed. It didn't even have a room behind it to go to. It will certainly drive the player absolutely mad. Throw this sort of thing in every so often without a sound or sound effect or music change to alert the player that something is up, you'll effectively make the player think they are absolutely mad. Disappearing monsters could likely have the same effect if done properly.
3. Musical scores are key.
action music will do you no good here. Violin shrieks can help here or there, but don't stress them. Piano can help a lot, and music boxes can do wonders around childish or feminine scenery. Nothing should be overdone, and there should be plenty of variety. Add a slow accordion around seafaring scenes, an off-key organ in church or a carnival, things like that can do wonders. Slow and off-key are very important parts of the music. My suggestion? In big boss fights and the scariest moments, play calming music in off-key tones. Like a music box playing ring-around-the-roses while you're fighting off armies of undead toy soldiers.
4. Monsters have subtlety.
The best examples of this are the Silent Hill monsters from the first second and third games. They are symbolic and truly menacing. Best way to make a monster:
Find something to symbolize; make a figure behind it; add stitches, injuries, blood, and the like; give it slow or jerky motions for some creatures, slow dragging for others, or maybe even fast running and jumping. Nothing should move smoothly if you want it to be menacing unless it's a creature of the air or the water. Even then...
Pick your scene. At home, at church, at ballet practice, the carnival, the swamp, the forest... Any scene you like can be made scary. Dim the colors for some things, make some things even brighter. If you're in a carnival, washed-out colors will look silly. Wash out the corners of billboards or some such, but on the rides? Let those colors rock the house. Bright reds and saturated yellows with faded edges give an aged look and will break up the monotony a bit. But don't confuse that with
Lighting is your best friend in survival horror. Blues give a creepy and haunting look, but is also unnatural. Reds are angry, violent, and ramp up the tension (in horror, best to ramp up tension when there's nothing to be afraid of at all, or only minimal threats), greens give off an alien or swampy look depending on how diluted they are, and purple is a bit relaxing. Unnatural colors in unnatural scenes can really cement the fact that you're in another world, or they can completely throw someone out of the experience. Use wisely!
Comment below if you have any suggestions for other ideas around this, or if you just have any questions, comments, concerns, anything! I'd love to hear from my readers!
Happy Valentines' everybody~! Go get scared with someone you love!