Dark and Scary . . . or Musical and Scary?

I am not one who particularly enjoys scary movies. However, last weekend I was tricked into going with some friends to see the movie Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. While this was not the scariest movie I have ever been taken to see against my will, it was very suspenseful and wasn’t going to be mistaken for a romantic comedy anytime soon. While reading the Klosterman article about canned laughter, I started thinking about what it was in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark that made me scared. The plot wasn’t particularly scary to me. I don’t make a habit of wandering into basements of old mansions, so it seems that I would be safe from any hauntings or demonic infestations. However, I constantly found myself on the edge of my seat gripped with fear. But why? 

Mansion from the movie

The scene I kept thinking about while wondering why I was so scared of scary movies was one of the first in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. Sally has been sent to stay with her father and his girlfriend who are in the process of restoring an old mansion. In the scene where the mansion is first entered, I immediately felt suspense despite the fact that nothing scary was happening. The mansion isn’t really that scary. I mean, it is big and old, but nothing about it screams fear. Personally, I would be excited to see a historic home like the mansion in the movie.

When Sally first walks into the mansion, the music makes it scary. The moment she steps over the threshold, the music changes into something that sounds dark and sinister. I watched the same scene with and without sound. Without sound it was much less scary. I found myself admiring the beauty of the historic mansion rather than wondering if something was about to jump out from behind a corner. Much like canned laughter in sitcoms that tell us when something is funny, the music in the scene is telling me to be afraid.

Music is a powerful tool in manipulating emotions. Much can be expressed through music that may not be expressed directly in words. Music can be playing in the background and without drawing attention to itself, set the mood for what is going on in the foreground. Music is something to be mindful of in everyday media as well as in movies like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. If music can make me afraid of something that I wouldn’t normally think is scary, how else might it be able to manipulate how I feel about something?

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