How long has it been since you read a real page-turner? A while? Yeah. Me too. I think that’s why I love watching thrillers. They are the ultimate in creating and sustaining suspense. Talk about tight writing. They race ahead with twisted turns in a world where you’re hooked into finding out what happens to the characters or who survives.
My heart simultaneously leaps with the evil guy who comes into view behind his latest victim in the dreary, deserted park. “Turn around. Turn Around! TURN AROU… Oh, never mind. Too late.” I slump down in my seat, heart hammering in my chest like I ran a 100 yard dash.
I’m not a slasher or horror movie watcher although they can be thrillers too. I couldn’t get through Nick Cage’s Drive Angry, although I loved the creepy, alien-like quality of the accountant played by William Fitchner. It was too violent for me. Silence of the Lambs haunted my nightmares for years.
I love the white knuckle-busting, heart-tapping, “Oh my God, He’s in the house!” terror.
But why is that?
There’s a lot of reliable research out there on the internet, including Web MD which claims, we love thrillers because there is inherent satisfaction in surviving the length of the film. For me, it’s a lot more than a trophy or bragging rights. Wait. I don’t think they give out trophies.
Watching and reading is a time commitment. Writers hope you won’t toss the book, change the channel, or walk out of the theater. Thrillers step it waaaay up, tautening the tension to a high pitched SQUEAL.
A well written thriller captivates its audience. It engages us early so we form attachments to the characters. We have to care about someone and hope they make it out ALIVE! Sometimes we cling to the armrests, our hands like arthritic claws until we find out.
All genres rely on suspense, but thrillers use many tactics to bring us to a heightened emotional state of sheer terror! BWA-HA-HA-HA!
After we’ve been introduced to the evil antagonist, we cringe every time they come in contact with our hero. We know Norman Bates in Psycho isn’t normal and tense up when Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) talks to him in the office. When the bathroom door opens and she’s taking a shower, my high pitched scream drowned out the screeching violins. EEH! EEH! EEH! EEH!
Two musical notes caused our hearts to gallop in Jaws. We knew he (or she?), had entered the scene deep within the darkness of the sea. We would start preparing for an attack by huddling in our seats or peeking between our fingers. Sometimes all it takes is a shadow moving across the floor, the thumping of a shutter, or an creak of a door.
Knowing a creepy characteristic of the evil dude in the movie can set up a great scenario. In Sleeping with the Enemy when Laura Burney, (Julia Roberts) comes home, opens a cupboard, and finds the cans in alphabetical order, she screamed. So did I.
Why is it when anyone comes home to an unlocked door, they step inside, as if it’s no big deal? For the creepy factor, of course! Even if they are stupid enough to shrug it off, we know that stranger danger lurks somewhere…. inside….the…. house. In Halloween, Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Leigh Curtis, walks into her friend’s house while the serial killer slips into the shadows. She escapes, but Michael Meyers follows her home.
Using foreshadowing is another way to build suspense. In The Birds, Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedron), walks into a pet shop with her new lover and the birds go WILD. You know that life is going to get pretty interesting in a very bizarre way for this new couple.
A twisted ending can leave us reeling. Side Effects with Jude Law raised the question of who to trust. for a while, I didn’t believe him. Just when I thought I had it all figured out, the plot took another hairpin turn. In Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, we are led to believe, oh wait, spoiler alert…Just watch the movie. Talk about being sucked in!
Tension built slowly through a movie can end up as tight as plucked violin strings. In Misery we are introduced to super fan, Annie, (Kathy Bates). We soon realize she’s really a stalker who will stop at nothing to keep best-selling author Paul Sheldon (James Caan), a prisoner inside her house. She is completely diabolical. By the end of the story, we want her DEAD.
Thrillers magnify what every book or movie should contain which is enough suspense to keep us glued until the ending. The successful ones entertained us all the way through to the credits. I commit to the ones that have interesting characters who draw me into the story and promise a satisfying ending. What? They don’t promise that? At the end of Halloween, Michael Myers disappears. I’m not sure if I was satisfied when I didn’t sleep for the next three nights…
What thrills you?