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If one thing can be gleaned from watching BBC3’s recent supernatural talent show, ‘The Fear’, it’s that the intelligence required to make a truly decent horror film cannot be underestimated.

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Any fool can make you jump.

To truly unnerve someone takes craft and guile. Nuance, a delicate touch and a passing acquaintance with the depths of the human psyche. A bed sheet, a long black wig and over familiarity with the work of Hideo Nakata (Ringu, Dark Water) simply aren’t going to cut it.

But don’t let that stop you.

The premise of ‘The Fear’ is surprisingly straightforward and free of unsightly medical complaints and/or bridezillas for a BBC3 production. Sit a bunch of people in a movie theatre, feed them inordinate amounts of popcorn, show them a series of four minute horror shorts and record their reactions. Afterwards, get them to rate each film for scares and wheel out an expert in the field for final judgement.

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For reasons outlined above, I was sceptical when this was suggested as a viewing experience. Aside from the fact that I’m a known movie snob, fabricating fear in four minutes is a tough ask of the most experienced director. For amateurs?

I wasn’t optimistic.

The early efforts enthusiastically bolstered my scepticism. Without saying too much (fear of the unknown is, after all, one of the richest veins to plunder) the influence of the aforementioned Sadako was writ large across a few contributions , as was the frenzied shaking from Saw, while I suspect the director of The Butcher Man is as much of a fan of the inexplicably abominable Salad Fingers as I am.

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Those who relied less on horror tropes fared better. Paranoia is a tidy little flick, while Chestwyrm and The Breakdown employ neat twists in their narratives to great effect.

And for any budding filmmaker who wants to learn how to hat tip a genre without being derivative, there’s DS; a short that stands alone for a number of reasons.

Despite the varying quality of the short films on offer, ‘The Fear’ works. This is principally down to the programme makers nailing the format, the presenter and audience selection. Matthew Giffen is engaging without veering into pantomime (the same cannot be said for his moustache, but hey, live and let hipster), the punters are a great blend of knowledgeable and willing and the balance between the two encourages the viewer to keep watching.

It’s also pretty inspiring. If you were unaware of the affordability of filmmaking equipment and editing programmes before, you certainly won’t be afterwards and if you’re of a remotely creative bent, you’ll be trying to scare the shit out of people on YouTube with your homespun tales of night terrors and haunted houses before you know it.
Just leave Sadako in the TV, will you? Her position in the horror pantheon is secure without you raiding your mum’s laundry basket.

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