Horror fans have always tried to figure out what exactly constitutes a perfect horror experience. For the most part, modern filmmakers claim that they have demystified the genre down to a science that is evident from the formulaic regurgitations that surface every year while masquerading as horror. However, a group of researchers actually sat down to figure out which of these modern films actually terrify the audience.
Broadband Choices set up a ‘Science of Scare‘ project which shortlisted films from recommendations on public forums on the internet and the general public in order to study their effects on viewers. This is the second iteration of the project, with a similar experiment having been conducted previously in 2020.
The research team said: “Our scientific study tracked heart rates throughout some of the world’s most iconic horror films, to study the science of scary, and find the undisputed scariest horror film of all time! We invited 250 ‘victims’ to watch 40 of world’s scariest horror movies, including new entries to the genre from the past 18 months selected from Reddit recommendations (thanks r/horror) and critic’s best of lists.”
Adding, “Our shortlist of movies was based on the top 30 films that charted in our 2020 Science of Scare Project, along with new entries and other movies that may have slipped through the net. Once we had our shortlist, we fitted our participants with heart rate monitors and invited them into our specially designed ‘screaming rooms’ to watch the movies over the course of several weeks, under medical and researcher supervision.”
For the purposes of the experiment, the research team studied spikes in heart rates and other effects on that particular measurement in order to determine which films scared the audience the most. Although such a measurement does not speak to the quality of the films at all, it does shed some light on the projects that had the most effective jump scares.
The team explained: “We measured the average impact our shortlisted movies had on the heart rate (measured in BPM) of our subjects, compared to the average resting BPM of 64. Despite being shot in just 12 weeks and entirely through Zoom video conferencing, Host terrified our audiences in its short 56-minute runtime, increasing heart rates by an average of 24 BPM and pushing Sinister to second place.”
Check out the list of some of the scariest films in recent memory which managed to terrify audiences, ranging from popular flicks by James Wan to the latest critically acclaimed project from John Krasinski.
The 10 most terrifying horror films according to science:
- Host (Rob Savage, 2020)
- Sinister (Scott Derrickson, 2012)
- Insidious (James Wan, 2010)
- The Conjuring (James Wan, 2013)
- Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)
- Terrified (Demián Rugna, 2017)
- It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2014)
- A Quiet Place II (John Krasinski, 2020)
- Paranormal Activity (Oren Peli, 2007)
- The Conjuring II (James Wan, 2016)
In an interview, Savage claimed that Host was a product of the lockdowns brought on by the pandemic: “I was trying to find a way to make people feel unsafe in their homes, you know? We were being told that outside is scary and inside is safe – that’s a great challenge for a horror filmmaker then to come up and say no, you think that’s safe? It’s not at all!”
Adding, “I always talk about the best, scariest horror movies that stay with you; they are horror movies that take a safe domestic space and pervert it it some way, like Nightmare on Elm Street – the place you’re meant to feel safe is wrapped up in your quilts, and that’s the site of the danger. I’m always trying to think of that as a jumping-off point – where do we feel safe and how can we fuck that up?”.