News archive 2004
Mathematicians declare The Shining perfect scary movie09 Aug 2004, PR 44/04
A team of mathematics boffins, commissioned by Sky Movies, have come up with a unique scientific formula to describe the ultimate scary movie.
(Sky Movies Press Release)
After much analysis, modelling, research and development, the experts from King’s College London [including Anna Sigler, a recent graduate of King's] have identified Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as the movie that most closely resembles their model.
“Danny! I’m coming! You can’t get away! I’m right behind ya!……”
With his wild starring eyes and wielding an axe Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) frantically chases his young son around a snow-covered maze! Anyone that has seen The Shining will remember this scene with horror – as do the experts that created the following model to describe the perfect scary movie.
(es+u+cs+t) squared +s+ (tl+f)/2 + (a+dr+fs)/n + sin x – 1= Ultimate Scary Movie
By watching a selection of movies that are widely considered some of the most frightening of all time the graduates were able to formulate a model, comprised of the scariest elements from all the films. The model is broken down into five parts; suspense, realism, environment, gore and stereotype.
Including factors such as the unknown, chase scenes, being trapped and the use of music – suspense is of extreme importance to create the setting for the perfect horror movie. The Blair Witch Project includes classic scenes of suspense as the three teenagers become increasingly lost in the woods and the activities of the Blair Witch grow more and more disturbing.
For a movie to be truly terrifying it needs to feel as though it could actually happen. Anything too far fetched will inhibit feelings of fear. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre fills some people with absolute horror not only because a chainsaw wielding psycho is perfectly realistic but because Leatherface is based on real life murderer Ed Gein. The studio capitalised on this by billing the film as based on reality one of the movies’ taglines is simply “Inspired by a true story.”
This element of the model considers the environment that the film is set in. The smaller the amount of people featured in a scene and the darker the set the more frightening it becomes, particularly if the audience can empathise with the isolation of the characters. The classic shower scene in Psycho when Marion Crane is alone, naked and at her most vulnerable typifies this section of the formula.
Graphic scenes and gore do not have to be included in a film to make it truly terrifying but too much can be damaging. A maximum level of gore has been identified, when this has been reached scenes start to change the film from truly scary to just another horror movie. Steven Spielberg’s Jaws reached the optimum level perfectly allowing the viewer to see just enough blood to be scared of the Great White Shark but not so much it repulsed us!
If a character or situation falls into a heavily used stereotype the effect is that suspense and fear are taken away because the viewer knows what to expect – they’ve seen it all before! A real trembler of a movie would never fall into stereotypes always surprising the anxious audience. In Red Dragon (and Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal) Dr Hannibal Lecter is a surprising and complex character. Whilst being an evil man incarcerated for his crimes he is willing to help FBI agent Will Graham catch the illusive Tooth Fairy. He surprises viewers by showing a human side only then to shock them again by the revelation that he is in league with the Tooth Fairy.
With its isolated setting and unique storyline The Shining stands as the closest thing to the Sky Movies model of the perfect scary movie. Use of blood and gore is limited to flashbacks of previous horrors in the Overlook Hotel and a dramatic climax. The suspense is built gradually with the premonitions from young Danny who can foresee the evil to come and the nightmare scenes from the past. When Jack Torrance finally succumbs to the demons and goes after his family all stereotypes of a protecting father figure are shattered.
Released in 1980 The Shining was filmed in Elstree, Hertfordshire and based on an original book by Stephen King.
To put this formula to the test, Sky Movies showed some of the most frightening movies of all time, including The Shining, from Friday 6th – Monday 9th August as part of the Scary Movies Long Weekend.
Notes to editors
Key to model
es escalating music
cs chase scene
t being trapped
tl true life
dr dark room
fs film setting
n number of people
Sin x blood & guts
N.B. this factor is put together using a Sine Graph (0 < x <180 degrees)
The below scary movies were used as the basis for the study by King’s College London mathematics graduates.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003)
Director Marcus Nispel
Starring Andrew Bryniarski as Leatherface
Remake of the 1974 classic
Halloween Resurrection (2002)
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Busta Rhymes and Brad Loree as Michael Myers
Red Dragon (2002)
Director: Bratt Ratner
Starring Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes
The Ring (2002)
Director: Gore Verbinski
Starring Naomi Watts, Martin Henderson
Remake of the Japanese film Ringu (1998) directed by Hideo Nakata
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
Directed by: Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sanchez
Starring: Heather Donahue, Joshua Leonard and Michael William
The Shining (1980)
Directed by: Stanley Kubrick
Starring: Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall
Based on a novel by Stephen King
The Omen (1976)
Directed by: Richard Donner
Starring: Gregory Peck and Lee Remick
Directed by: Stephen Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss
The Exorcist (1973)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Starring: Linda Blair, Jason Miller and Ellen Burstyn
Directed by: Alfred Hitchcock
Starring: Anthony Perkins, Janet Leigh, Vera Miles
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