The Halloween season is here and in the run up to the big day I decided to examine what is considered “scary” in the world of horror movies.

Going with Rotten Tomatoes list of the 31 scariest movies, I decided to compare each film with another horror film from the same year to determine which one I found more scary.

For day 1 of this competition, I have decided to pit Rotten Tomatoes’ 31st scariest film 2011’s The Cabin in the Woods against another horror film released that year, Sinister.

The Cabin in the Woods

When five college friends (Kristen Connolly, Chris Hemsworth, Anna Hutchison, Fran Kranz, Jesse Williams) arrive at a remote forest cabin for a little vacation, little do they expect the horrors that await them. One by one, the youths fall victim to backwoods zombies, but there is another factor at play. Two scientists (Richard Jenkins, Bradley Whitford) are manipulating the ghoulish goings-on, but even as the body count rises, there is yet more at work than meets the eye.

Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods has all the hallmarks of a classic horror film. A group of young people go to a remote cabin to do what all young people in these scenarios do; drink, do drugs and have sex. They are then subsequently attacked by supernatural forces and their survival comes down to the “final girl” trope in the form of actress Kristen Connolly.

What makes the film unique is that we as the audience are all familiar with these characters and tropes and the script by Joss Whedon counts on that familiarity to weave in a bigger story about gathering these character types to play out a scenario for a bigger reason. A reason that is clever and subverts the genre. That subversion makes the third act of the film much more entertaining, but I strain to call this a horror movie.

The “hook” in the film is also its biggest liability as a horror film. Bringing the audience in on the joke early is great for parodying the horror genre, but it takes away from what makes a horror film unique; scares.

I enjoyed Cabin in the Woods. I enjoyed the subversion of the genre and all of the inside jokes, but the one thing it wasn’t was scary.

Sinister

True-crime writer Ellison Oswald (Ethan Hawke) is in a slump; he hasn’t had a best seller in more than 10 years and is becoming increasingly desperate for a hit. So, when he discovers the existence of a snuff film showing the deaths of a family, he vows to solve the mystery. He moves his own family into the victims’ home and gets to work. However, when old film footage and other clues hint at the presence of a supernatural force, Ellison learns that living in the house may be fatal.

Sinister has a simple premise and plays on the tropes of the washed up writer desperate for a hit. The true crime writer obsessed with a local mystery and the haunted house story. Co-written and directed by Scott Derrickson, the film has Ellison discover evidence that could help him with writing a new true crime novel and save his flagging career. His desperation leads him to cut off communication with his family and obsess over the depictions of murder and the mysterious shape in the background of the films.

There are several scary visual moments throughout and the supernatural elements are effective as well. The film does have it moments of predictability, but there are enough fresh visual scares to keep the viewer invested. The film is designed to be a supernatural thriller and sells you on it. What makes it work is that, despite seeing the twist ending coming early on, the movie is both entertaining and at times scary.

Both The Cabin in the Woods and Sinister have their high and low points, in terms of pure horror, Sinister has the edge over Cabin in the Woods for going for both the psychological terror and the visual scares.

WINNER – SINISTER

Which film do you consider to be the better horror film? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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