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HomeEditorialCheap scares are king. And that's what's really scary.

Cheap scares are king. And that’s what’s really scary.

My first memory of Five Nights at Freddy’s was on a dreary September morning in 2014. My best friend hurried onto the school bus that day, excited to tell me about the scariest game she had ever played.  

Now, almost a decade later, Five Nights at Freddy’s is debuting in theatres. Whether the movie will be good or bad I can’t really say, but I know it won’t be scary.  

There is too much money in the franchise now for it to be scary. 

As a genre, horror is at its best when it’s low budget. Low budgets require creativity in how scares are delivered to audiences. When Jaws was being filmed, financial problems caused by the animatronic shark meant it wasn’t able to be seen in the movie until much later than intended. The result was Jaws became a masterpiece in suspense building.

An upside-down, grainy picture of a child sitting in a dark hallway with their back facing the camera. The text at the bottom of the image reads "Skinamarink"
Skinamarink had a budget of $15,000 and used a lot of public domain video clips and music in its production.

Too often, mainstream horror relies on expensive CGI monsters or gory special effects to scare people, rather than building terror through effective storytelling or creative use of limited special effects. Once the monster has been shown, the scare is gone. 

A low-resolution inside of a rusty submarine
Iron Lung was created by a single developer using the Unity game engine and has garnered much attention on the internet, with a film adaptation of the game in the works.

In indie horror, talent trumps money. This is why some of the best horror games and movies in recent years have been indie horror works with limited budgets, like Skinamarink, The Mortuary Assistant and Iron Lung.

The first Five Nights at Freddy’s game was made in six months by one developer using a cheap game engine. It was quintessential “indie”. The game wasn’t scary because of the killer animatronics with ghost kids possessing them or the dark secrets of an off-brand Chuck-E-Cheese, it was the “roughness” of the game and how it used that to create an uncanny, unforgettable atmosphere. 

Five Nights at Freddy’s hasn’t been “indie” in a long time, and it has lost the low-budget magic that made the first game so special and so frightening. Now, as it debuts as a feature film, the horror has been lost in the movie’s $20-million budget. 

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