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Why the ‘Silent Killer’ Is So Scary In Horror Films

Richard Brooker Jason Voorhees Friday the 13th Part 3
Paramount Pictures

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Why the ‘Silent Killer’ Is So Scary In Horror Films

Sometimes, less truly is more when it comes to scares.

Horror is possibly the most unique mainstream film genre, so often full of shocks, unorthodox stories, and crazy imagery. One very popular, very effective trope of the genre that has persisted since the days of Frankenstein’s Monster is the “Silent Killer,” a monstrous being, human or not, that lumbers forward, attacking our protagonists with no fear or hesitation, all without a sound.

As mentioned above, Frankenstein’s Monster from the original Boris Karloff films was one of the first big baddies like this. Two of the most notable, however, are Jason Voorhees from the “Friday the 13th” series, as well as Michael Meyers from the “Halloween” series.

It’s often forgotten that in the original “Friday the 13th”, Jason wasn’t the big bad – his mother was. However, for most of the film she lurks in the shadows, watching from afar and killing on camera. In my opinion, the weakest part of that film is the final fight, where the counselor Alice fights Jason’s mother to the death. The rest of the films focus on Jason, who is that perfect archetype of the Silent Killer.

Similarly, Michael Meyers in the “Halloween” films is a really effective killer. Like Jason, he feels untouchable and unstoppable as he powers forward towards a doomed teenager, on his way to add to his kill count. As the recent reboots of both series show, this type of villain is very enduring, and still very scary.

In a lot of ways, Michael and Jason are effective for the same reason Bruce, the shark in “Jaws” is. The less you know about the villain, the scarier it tends to be. Without knowing a villain’s motivations or their desires, you simply don’t know how to beat them. When the big bad starts monologuing, they become so much less scary as you know more about them.

If Jason was spouting about his mother while trying to off campers, or Michael was comparing Laurie to his sister as he chased Jamie Lee Curtis down, they wouldn’t be scary anymore. That sense of the unknown, and often the unknowable, is what really draws audiences in and makes these films so effectively scary.

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