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Last Updated: Monday, 9 August, 2004, 07:38 GMT 08:38 UK
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Shining named perfect scary movie
 The Shining is the perfect scary film, the formula found
Stanley Kubrick's The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson, has been named the perfect scary film, according to a new mathematical formula.

The secret of making a scary movie has been calculated by university experts.

Scientists have worked out an equation to prove why thrillers like Psycho and the Blair Witch Project are so successful at terrifying audiences.

The formula combines elements of suspense, realism and gore, plus shock value, to measure how scary a film is.

Researchers spent two weeks watching horror films like The Exorcist, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs in pursuit of the formula.

The model focuses on three major areas: suspense, realism and gore.

Shock impact

Factors considered include the use of escalating music, the balance between true life and fantasy, and how much blood and guts are involved.

As suspense plays such a pivotal role in the success of a scary film, its elements - escalating music, the unknown, chase scenes and a sense of being trapped - are brought together and then squared. Shock value is then added.

 SCARY MOVIE FORMULA (es+u+cs+t) squared +s+ (tl+f)/2 + (a+dr+fs)/n + sin x - 1. Where: es = escalating music u = the unknown cs = chase scenes t = sense of being trapped s = shock tl = true life f = fantasy a = character is alone dr = in the dark fs = film setting n = number of people sin = blood and guts 1 = stereotypes
In addition, the experts say a film needs to be realistic to be truly frightening. Accordingly, they tried to balance out the parts which made a film either too unrealistic or too close to life.

They then looked at how many characters were in the movie, assuming audiences empathise with a smaller number of people.

The team at King's College, London also took into account the darkness of the film's setting.

The Shining's isolated setting, with the family living in a huge hotel closed down for the winter, and the shower scene in Psycho, were perfect examples of the winning formula, experts said.

The formula also looks at the levels of gore and offset this against the number of stereotypes present in the film.

Jaws was the perfect example of appropriate levels of gore in a film, researchers found.

"Steven Spielberg 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 that it repulsed us," experts agreed.

The research was commissioned by Sky Movies, to launch a season of scary films.

What does make a really scary movie? Below is a selection of News Online readers' comments.

Things not seen, but known. Not perfect dark, but dark enough only to see elements of the whole. Ordinary activities and sounds turned upside down. A knowledge of coming terror amidst a seemingly normal setting. All in all, the archaic human fear of ignorance, of knowing just very little, of being lost and in the territory of the unknown.

Anything with a sinister child. For some reason, children in horror films can be extremely creepy. A prime example is the Japanese horror film Dark Water. It's the most terrifying thing I've ever seen and the scariest aspect is an seemingly innocent 'Hello Kitty' style red schoolbag that just keeps turning up no matter how many times it's disposed of. *burrrrr*
Pam, Glasgow, Scotland

It has to be The Haunting (The Robert Wise 1963 version.) I first watched it when I was in my early teens and have seen it several times since. It scared me as a child, it still can manage to unnerve me as an adult. It's what you don't see in this film that will keep you both hooked and entertained. "Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just...catch something out of the corner of your eye?" Very very creepy. (Note to self: Must check under the bed again tonight.)
John O'Brien, Woking, Surrey

They seem to have got it down to a fine art in the Far East at the moment - Ju-on, Ringu, Audition, Dark Water and The Eye are all terrifying - it's the creepy images and sound effects (but not necessarily the music) rather than shocks and gore that terrify me in these films.
Rob, London

Miike Takashi's Audition is terrifying, and as far as I remember it doesn't have any chases, or escalating music. It's the only film to give me nightmares, and I had to turn it off halfway through the final scene to pull myself together; I wasn't going to finish it, but I had to know how it ended. Haven't been able to watch it again.
Paul Cosgrove, Belfast, N.I.

The "Don't Warch Alone Films" late on a Monday night in the 70's were all pretty scary. Particularly the night the TV voice over at the end gave the usual instruction not to forget to turn the TV off and unplug it etc. and finished off by saying "and for those of you living alone.....BEHIND YOU!!!!" I take it this was the guy's last night in the job and he had been fantasising about doing it for weeks. Nice One, whoever you were!
Celia, Glasgow

Clowns are scary. Really scary. I agree though that The Shining is the best horror film, it certainly is my favourite.

Forget scary films. A lot of the films mentioned here are also books. Read It and The Shining. Much scarier and more enjoyable than the films.
Matt,

The original "Halloween." I still cannot watch that without watching my back for weeks afterwards. I think what gets me is the scene where Jamie-Lee Curtis is frantically pounding on doors trying to escape The Shape. No one answers or responds to her. During this, off in the distance you see The Shape exit the house calmly, and then begin walking towards her nonchalantly and without any hurry for he KNOWS that there's no escape for her. That near futility of it all is what scares me the most. That and John Carpenter's music in that movie is what does it for me.

I think Hill House (sometimes called the haunting)is one of the scariest films made, with the absence of a solid 'monster', the scary noises and dramatic filming angles. Even in broad daylight it gets me jumpy. The remake was laughable though.
Oonagh Keating, Liverpool UK

I am a film student at MSU in Bozeman and have been studying horror films for quite some time now. First, to try and assign a "formula" to any art form is ridiculous. Art by nature is un-formulaic. Second, our team of researches here have concluded that while soundtrack, lighting, and gore play a role, the scariest films will ultimately tap into phobia's such as fear of the dark or fear of the unknown. Our own team found Fire in the Sky, an alien abduction movie, to be the scariest because it played off the fear of the unknown. This week, the movie Open Water will be released. For me, I am TERRIFIED of being in the middle of the ocean with no land in sight. It is these types of films, movies that play on common phobias, that will scare the most.
anonymous, Montana, USA

Ringu 2 is certainly the most frightening movie ever. I suspect the so-called experts were too afraid to watch this movie. With good reason.
John, NYC, US

The BBC's 'Threads' in 1984 scared me so much I had nightmares for weeks. I'm 33 now, and many many horror films later, I still rank it as the scariest thing I've ever seen. I recently managed to find a Threads video, and watched it again, thinking that now I'm grown up it wouldn't have so much effect on me as it did when I was a 13 year old child. But it did. I had the nightmares all over again.
Jo, UK

There are too many good scary movies and scenes to mention, but my scariest experience was watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre II. I had taken my car to get worked on and while I waited I decided to watch a movie at the mall cinema across the street. I went in the theatre (it was during the work week and at noon) and sat down when I realised that I was the only person in the entire place. I don't recommend watching a good scary movie, by yourself, in a dark theatre. I was shaking and sweating when the movie was over and I had to sit down out in the bright sunlight for about 30 minutes to calm down. I love scary movies, but this experience really got to me!!!
Bill, Newport, RI, USA

The Howling was the one that got me. I saw it when I was about 7 or 8. I couldn't get out of bed to go to the bathroom for months for fear that a relative might have been a werewolf.
Mike, Linden New Jersey USA

In my opinion, the best horror films rely on these things the most: 1.Helplessness 2.Unknown 3.Soft Eerie Music 4.SHOCK factor 5.Realism
Oxman Barak, Seoul, South Korea

One of the scariest films for me was The Thing, directed by John Carpenter. True isolation (the Antarctic) a nice escalation of suspense and some truly brilliant special effects. Not to mention of the best ensemble films in the genre - all the characters were believable. As for the ending ... not a Hollywood ending at all.
Tony , Sheffield, UK

Without a doubt, for me the most scary element in any movie are little children, younger than about 8, girls, twins in dresses, like brides-maid dresses. Even this as a single static picture can be horrifying as well as just words describing them. I'm not sure what it is about this, but once the image is on your head it's hard to get out and forget. Even as i type, the images keep flashing in my head.
Matt, Tasmania, Australia

Films like the new "dawn of the dead" movie. The introduction with the credits, the news footage. It gave a sense of realism and the noises that actually get to you, the sounds that leave your body all tense during disturbing scenes. that film left me paranoid walking home at 12 that night. i was actually nervous in the cinema watching the film
Ben, Maidstone, Kent

The Omen had all of the elements of a truly creepy movie. I think young people will find its beginning a little slow, as newer movies seem to need constant, 3 seconds or less cuts (thanks to MTV). But the build up and escalating music make this one of the best.
Frank, WV, USA

Anyone ever see "The Secret Adventures of Tom Thumb"? Something about the entire movie being in stop-motion animation makes ever the "normal" people seem pretty freaky.
Chris, Portland, OR, USA

Definitely "Jaws", and there are two keys to it. The first is Spielberg's use of Hitchcock's "less is more" technique--you never actually see the full length of the shark until about two-thirds into the movie (granted, this was largely due to the chronic malfunctioning of the film's mechanical star). The opening scene on the beach where Chrissy becomes fish food is a classic example of this; it's that much more terrifying because of what you can't see. The second key is of course John Williams' brilliant music. It is so primal, so menacing, and one of the greatest signature themes of all time. It brands the image of the unseen monster fish into your brain, illustrating perfectly its enormous size and equally enormous appetite. It is relentless and never lets you go, as it becomes ever louder and faster and your hands grip the armrests tighter and tighter. "Dum-dum...dum-dum...dum-dum-dum-dum-DUM-DUM-DUM-DUM!"
Michael Tullberg, Hollyweird, California!

I love horror films and I can honestly say not one has ever frightened me, you can kind of tell what is going to happen because people rip off other horror films or foreshadow too much.
Matt, New York, NY USA

I feel the "creep" factor is what makes a good horror film. Its not about what is around the corner, but what MIGHT be there. Another important factor is that the villain(s) have to make sense. Third, you have to be able to care about the victims' plight, and the victims' actions have to be believable. My tope 3 picks are "Alien", "Poltergeist", and "Jaws". Alien had immense creep factor with its dark environments, and a highly intelligent, cunning predator. Poltergeist had a lot of creep factor that still sends shivers up my spine, as well as strong characters you can relate to and share their plight. Jaws had teeth (pun intended) with a villain we all know and fear in real-life, and story that could happen all too easily. These movies work because they bring our darkest fears to life on the screen, in a way that we can easily believe could happen.
Stephen, York

Poltergeist ... scariest film ever made! And The Howling scared me when it first came out. After a while anything original ends up being "done to death" and loses its scare value. Then all that's left is to spoof them like "Scary Movie" and "Young Frankenstein." And then, eventually, the Spoofs get done to death ...
Tami, Martinsburg, WV USA

Toy Story!, now that is scary. Imagine sleeping at night and finding yourself in a room with toys wandering about. Every time you turn your back on that fifteen Barbie with her head off.... hmmmm.. creepy
Vick, Chicago, US

I think that the scariest films, are those filmed in poor quality, such as the earlier zombie films, Cannibal Ferox, Cannibal Holocaust, Night of the Living Dead to name a few. The grainy film quality and bad sound make a terrifyingly real sense. I personally think that the Original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is the perfect horror film
Kurt, London,Uk

Definitely escalating music . If you watch any scary movie on mute, you will not feel anything. Try it.
Yvette, Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.

I think the biggest thing is the realistic and commonality factors. For instance in "Psycho" the idea of someone showering is realistic and something that everybody does. The idea of someone breaking in is realistic but not something that one thinks of and when a person sees Norman break in and kill Janet Leigh's character it adds up to someone thinking "my God, that could happen to me." That is why it is a classic scene.
Gregg Barkley, Mechanicsville, Va, USA

Any one of Hugh Grants films make me scream with terror. Although I'd watch a film where he was killed, alone, in the dark, at the end of a chase, after being trapped in an isolated location, accompanied by escalating music, with plenty of blood and guts..........hang on. This formula works!!
John Clement, Newport, South Wales

Music. Music gets me every time. Still can't listen to Mike Oldfield's music without thinking of the Exorcist, or the old 'one, two Freddy's coming for you.' Freaky!!
Marcus, Switzerland

The Ring or Ringu. Good horror films rely on silence, the greatest horror films have a villain worthy of remembering. Yes you got the manic wielding chainsaw man after horny teenagers, or a creature spouting out blood? Is that scary though? Well not really, these days were immune almost to video violence as we see it everyday, and the horny teenagers horror just creates a feel of sexual fascination. True horror comes in the form of a villain that can show its the manifestation of evil. And that is why I think the Ring/Ringu is horrifying. Not because of silence or having a manic but by having a being born out of tragedy to cruelty driven solely to kill..
Daniel, Blackburn, England

Pingu. The demented little penguin. If you look closely as he 'walks' you'll see that his feet don't move at the same rate as the ground - he is levitating with the aid of Satan! Clearly he has been possessed and is talking in tongues... just like the Teletubbies. Also, I hope someone assaulted whoever made that terrible maths joke (is there a good maths joke?) in the key to the equations. "sin = blood and guts"
Dan, Kent, UK

One of the main key elements that gets a lot of audience is when the theme is religion. Like the end of the world, the return of the anti-Christ, going to hell, demons etc.. For those of the religious sort who are deep in that realm cannot handle these types of movies because to them it's more real than your average slasher movie. It gets them all the time.
Cesar, Anitoch, CA USA

I find that truly scary movies are ones which reflect on the unknown. I find gory movies funny and sometimes boring, like Nightmare on Elm street, all of the Friday 13ths and Jason films. The originals are not bad but axe wielding maniacs are just dull. The Exorcist is excellent because it's not only scary from a supernatural view but also makes you think a bit, especially the special edition version which is much better than the original. I also think the jump element is really important, I thought, What Lies Beneath, illustrates this perfectly, the first hour very chilling, Signs & The sixth Sense do this brilliantly also. Can somebody also tell me how much these scientists get paid, It sounds like the sort of job I'd like...
Matt, Chelmsford

Anything with little girl ghosts. Like The Ring....never ever going to watch that film.
Doots, Cambridge

Salem's Lot scared the life out of me as a child. I doubt this horror equation though...The Shining is atmospheric but not that scary - Kubrick can't direct horror and miscasting and several key scenes where potential frightening moments are built up then frittered away for some reason make The Shining a flawed film.
Jock, Blackwood, Gwent

Not seeing the complete monster is always a good thing...remember there was a scene in Alien cut because you could see the whole thing and it looked like a man in a rubber suit (which it was!)...without this image the film produced one of the scariest monsters of all time.
Bill, Manchester Uk

Can't believe no one has mentioned the most disturbing and scary film I have ever seen - Audition. *shudders*
John, Brighton

Mr. Cool, Cool Britannia.

"Carrie" must be the best horror movie. It's not scary in terms of leaving you in bed with the lights in, but it's utterly creepy to watch. That it takes place in 70's America adds to the creepiness factor a lot, too, in my opinion. Perfectly cast. I wonder how it rated?
John MacGinnis, Berkeley, USA

A particular episode of Dr Who in the 70s called the Green Death. Giant Green Maggots in a coal mine? - scarred this 7 year old for life.
Mike, Hamilton, Bermuda

The black and white movie "The Tingler" scared me and my younger sister Ann so much we nearly swallowed the cushion we were hiding behind. The scene were the deaf and dumb wife is horrifically murdered and she cannot scream out , still haunts my dreams today
Owen Senior , Hull UK

Finally, an opportunity to apologise to all the people who saw Jaws in Dublin all those years ago. The head falling out of the boat had me reduced to loud and shuddering sobs for the rest of the movie, my brothers have never let me forget it!
Geraldine Scott, Palm Springs, California

The scariest moment on film for me was the last 30 seconds of "Blair Witch" when the guy is seen standing in the corner of the basement. However, I was a) on my own and b) in a dark room. The scene did stay with me, and I couldn't bring myself to watch it again for weeks.
Andy, Felixstowe,UK

"It" was the scariest movie. A monster that preys on little kids pretending to be a clown. And to top it off, every scene where the monster is, I can picture myself being there. It gave me nightmares for weeks.

A short British animated film called "The Sandman" was the scariest I've seen - all about a demonic skinny man who pulls out kids' eyes, puts them in a little sack and takes them away to feed his offspring. Horrible stuff.
Jay, Wandsworth, UK

The Australian movie Picnic at Hanging Rock is one of the most unsettling films I have ever seen, with not a mad axe man, alien, slashed throat, or zombie in sight - just an overwhelming atmosphere of menace created by the music of panpipes and lingering shots of barren rocks from behind which nothing ever emerges, though you think every moment that something will. George Romero's black and white Night of the Living Dead is also something to avoid watching alone - truly nightmarish.
Duncan Hunter, Kowloon, Hong Kong China

Characters you can identify with put in situations you can't. Feelings of claustrophobia, panic and terror. Essentially projecting your worst nightmares onto celluloid. On a side note if they have found the perfect formula for scary films why are most of them so poor? Surely all this study shows is that the best horror films (Jaws & the shining) were made during the seventies? How does that take into account Psycho which is a mystery film for the first 25 mins? Didn't someone else come up with the perfect formula for action comedy movies about six months ago? Funny we haven't heard anything from her in a while...
Rob, St. Asaph, Denbighshire

Moments where you are just helpless, and nothing you could do would make it any better. Like moments of disaster in a Horror film, where you know somehow in that situation you - personally - wouldn't survive or do anything differently. A great 'helpless moment' in a Horror film is the central violent scene in 'The Hills Have Eyes' with the first attack on the women in the caravan. It's just a helpless, terrifying situation I wouldn't wish on anyone.
Clive Reames, Exeter, UK

I always found Stephen King's "It" the scariest film I've seen. It was extremely spooky, and left me with a lifelong phobia of clowns!
Matthew, The Hague, Holland

Interestingly, The Shining has few shock effects at all. The 'Here's Johnny' scene, isn't a shock moment, we don't leap out of the chair because the axe goes through the door, we've already seen Jack dragging the thing through the hallways, taking aim and swinging back. Kubrick reasoned that the bloke trying to kill his family with an axe was a lot scarier than a sudden loud noise and someone going 'Boo!' And you know, he was right...
Bob, Leeds

Realistic?! Don't the scientists think that realism is that much of a factor?! The first two Alien films, how realistic was that. But it still scared me witless! 'It' with the clown's bad teeth. Even the Temple of Doom, I was about 13 but the heart pulling scene made me sick, not recommended with a house proud mother! I demand a re-think!
Tom Hunt, Leeds, UK

Sometimes, the scariest things are the ones that they don't show you, when you let your mind wonder and imagine how horrible the situation could be...
Maud, Bristol, UK

People in the movies that seem so normal.. then turn out to be the most depraved and abnormal of creatures. Texas Chainsaw Massacre, People under the Stairs(scarier when i was younger) and others of this sort. And the other scary thing for me is when something can happen to the human race to change us into something more primitive or cruel. Dawn of the Dead, 28 days later...
Shelley, Roan Mountain, Tennessee USA

Attachment to the characters. When I watched "28 Days Later" I was just expecting a re-hash of an old formula. What got my heart racing most (and it really did - my heart was pumping like I was ready for a coronary!) was the way I cared what happened to the lead characters after such a relatively short period of time. The direction was nice and taut, the story was believable within its own boundaries, and above all the actors portrayed their parts very convincingly.
Richard, Nassau, Bahamas

I reckon the scariest part of any movie is the last scene in Brian de Palma's film of Stephen King's "Carrie". I nearly jumped out of my seat and had an accident in my underwear!
Phil Moye, Melbourne, Australia

Music. It has to have a crescendo leading the viewer to suspense then stops...leaving silence. It cannot be overwhelming though. If the sounds take your attention away from the movie, it is no good. When the first couple times played, upcoming scenes will usually be a set-up. But after that...
John Homza, Harrisburg, USA

The dark is never, ever scary. Neither is the night. What lurks in the dark and what hunts in the night is wholly different. Vulnerability is what makes us scared, and because humans cannot naturally see in the dark, we are frightened of it.
Casper Kerrick, Richmond Virginia

Zombies have always freaked me out! Leatherface, Jason, Freddy, Michael, Jaws etc.. heck yeah - BRING EM ON!! But bloodthirsty, flesh-craving zombies give me the absolute creeps, and have been the subject of many nightmares! Thanks and see you :)
Shona, Perth, Australia

James Nesbitt, Belfast

Different things scare different people. Personally I found "Showgirls" terrifying. But on a serious note, what is lurking behind the closed door is usually far scarier than showing it in the flesh...
Paul Spencer, Scarborough, North Yorkshire

Jan Svankmejer's Alice - all animated animal skeletons and a White Rabbit that starts off as a stuffed specimen in a glass case - comes alive, pulls the nails from it feet and breaks out of the case!
Chris, Farnborough, UK

I've always thought that the key to frightening an audience is creating an increased sense of vulnerability. Consider the shower scene in Psycho, where the nakedness of the victim makes her extremely vulnerable. It is also a key to the success of thrillers like Alien and The Terminator, with their unstoppable villains. But more frightening for older movie fans with families are films like One Hour Photo, which contain no fantastic elements at all, but demonstrate how terribly vulnerable the family unit can be. On a more personal note, I have found the films that frighten me the most are not those where the characters are threatened by death or torture, but rather by the loss of that which makes them uniquely human. The classic example of course is Invasion of the Body Snatchers- the thought of living in a world populated entirely by pod people is truly chilling.
Jim, Chelmsford, UK

Children ages 7 or under, especially twin girls. Clowns. Close ups of the eye Low quiet music...
Kirsten, Berkshire, UK

The scariest film I've ever seen has to be "Eraserhead" - people treating manifestly bizarre and unreasonable situations as normal, and with no way out of them; THAT is truly spooky.
Simon Holt, Dublin, Ireland

Nothing......... Don't get me wrong! Take a film like The Haunting (the original!!) get film really scary and what do you see? Nothing Great acting, lighting and setting in a scene is far more scarier than a chainsaw wielding maniac! And for the record do these so-called clever people have nothing better to do than work out a pointless equation to see what makes a film scary? What a waste of time!!!
Gary , York, England

What's scary is that people are being paid to research this.
Chris, West Yorkshire

Glitter is possibly the scariest movie I've ever seen. Mariah Carey is horrific in her role.
Johnny, Newtownards, Co Down

Sudden jumps are the scariest thing, but ONLY when the director successfully misdirects you so you don't expect it. All too often you can see it coming. The successful occasions - like the head-in-the-boat in Jaws, and shocks in Seven and Independence Day, really do the job.
James, London, UK

Realism or the lack of it has always seemed to me to be the most significant factor in whether a film is scary or not. A good example is the film "Jeepers Creepers" which builds brilliantly for the first 30 or 40 minutes and then completely blows it when the appallingly silly looking monster is revealed. On the other hand "Silence of the Lambs" works because there is nothing in the film that could not be true and so we cannot comfort ourselves with the thought that it is just make believe.
Matt Newman, Cardiff, UK

I find anything which involves a small child pretty scary - including Three Men and a Baby!
Melissa, Surrey, England

Don't Look Now is damn scary. It has a terrifying midget in it. Imagine if she was dressed as a clown...
Mat, London, UK

I reckon the scariest material ever committed to celluloid was actually a BBC production - Threads in 1984. It was about the lead-up to and after-effects of a nuclear attack on Sheffield, and basically pulled the rug out from under contemporary British society, on every level. Chilling, relentlessly grim and horribly realistic. Gawd - I'm off to watch Ivor the Engine.
Neil McFarlane, Glasgow, Scotland

Anyone who doesn't find a film frightening should try watching it with your back to an open patio door at midnight with the lights off.
Jules, Oxford, UK

Nice to see that university funding is being spent on such essential scientific research.
Anjool Malde, Oxford

A Nightmare on Elm Street, now that's a scary movie.
Daryl, Akron OH, USA

When that dog gets stabbed in the face in Bloodthings - I don't care what the statisticians say, I know what scares me and when I'm scared, mathematics goes out the window. As do I, on occasion.
Karl Allan, Luton

I'll tell you what scared the hell out of me, the first time that car took off in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I had nightmares for four days after that because being in a flying car was always a fear of mine, for some reason. I doubt it scores very highly on this 'formula', though.
Ivan Thal, Summerisle, UK

Innocent things turned diabolocal. I can still see the evil clown face from the film Poltergeist.. and it's sending shivers down me right now! The whole film is scary because of this sort of switch - the TV, the pool, the tree...
Tom Knight, London, UK

Surely has to be Ringu. Sound effects that make you shiver, suspense, and an end that stays in your mind. Six months after I first watched, am still having problems with dark houses and white reflections. I need counselling!!
Paul, Bristol, UK

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