Alfred Hitchcock explains why his suspense films mess with our minds in 1973 clip

Originally published at: Alfred Hitchcock explains why his suspense films mess with our minds in 1973 clip | Boing Boing


Very reminiscent of this [portion of an] essay by Orson Scott Card on writing horror fiction:

[…] Which brings us to the most potent tool of storytellers. Fear. And not just fear, but dread. Dread is the first and strongest of the three kinds of fear. It is that tension, that waiting that comes when you know there is something to fear but you have not yet identified what it is. The fear that comes when you first realize that your spouse should have been home an hour ago; when you hear a strange sound in the baby’s bedroom; when you realize that a window you are sure you closed is now open, the curtains billowing, and you’re alone in the house.

Terror only comes when you see the thing you’re afraid of. The intruder is coming at you with a knife. The headlights coming toward you are clearly in your lane. The klansmen have emerged from the bushes and one of them is holding a rope. This is when all the muscles in your body, except perhaps the sphincters, tauten and you stand rigid; or you scream; or you run. There is a frenzy to this moment, a climactic power—but is the power of release, not the power of tension. And bad as it is, it is better than dread in this respect: Now, at least, you know the face of the thing you fear. You know its borders, its dimensions. You know what to expect.

Horror is the weakest of all. After the fearful thing has happened, you see its remainder, its relics. The grisly, hacked-up corpse. Your emotions range from nausea to pity for the victim. And even your pity is tinged with revulsion and disgust; ultimately you reject the scene and deny its humanity; with repetition, horror loses its ability to move you and, to some degree, dehumanizes the victim and therefore dehumanizes you…

So: I don’t write horror stories. True, bad things happen to my characters. Sometimes terrible things. But I don’t show it to you in living color. I don’t have to. I don’t want to. Because, caught up in dread, you’ll imagine far worse things happening than I could ever think up to show you myself.


And for many, their own imagination is downright scary. Gore makes me queasy, but a good psychological horror will keep me awake at night.

And then, there’s “the worst pain you can imagine” for 10/10 on a pain scale.


Are we talking a linear scale or logarithmic?

We really need a quantitative measurement of pain, but I’ll be darned if I can think of an ethical way to determine one.


Reality has overtaken Hitchcock.
It has long since passed the ‘suspense’ era, and we have been in the ‘terror’ portion for some time.
That part shows no signs of abating anytime soon & I see no reason why it won’t cycle between the two, with plenty of Horror interspersed…


He’s inside your head. Messing with your brain.


That’s one of those things that sounds trivial, like “we need a gauge to measure how full this water tank is”, but is actually the tip of a philosophical iceberg that thousands of years of deep thought have barely dented.

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“We really need a quantitative measurement of pain, but I’ll be darned if I can think of an ethical way to determine one.”

That quest was part of the slippery slope that partly lead to the opiod troubles.

Because if you can rate your pain with a useful number, we can treat your pain, and if we CAN treat your pain, we Must treat you pain, down to Zero - or we get bad customer satisfaction ratings.

Back on topic - though pain ratings ARE horror - Stephen King called suspense the high point of horror, and gore the “grossout” and easiest laziest horror - Danse Macabre is a great exploration of what creates scariness.

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In 1962, while The Birds was in post production, François Truffaut sat down with Alfred Hitchcock for a week to talk about movies, and then made this into a book.
The tapes and films from the interview sessions have resurfaced and are available on teh interwebs in various formats from various sources.
I understand there are also books about the book and the interviews, and a documentary, and whatnot.

Anyway, if you like films in general and/or Truffaud/Hitchcock, the interviews are a treat. And a masterclass about films and interviewing.

No inbox, but has links to 25 recordings of the interviews, each is about 25 minutes:


Here’s a scan from one of my old textbooks…
Weber-Fechner.pdf (262.6 KB)
(‘Human Information Processing’, Linday & Norman)

Most people can rate most sensations from 0 to 10. The response will be flat for very low stimuli, generally rises as some power law, and then saturates when the person cannot sense any more. The graphs are from Stephens, who in 1966 replaced picking numbers with a hand-grip dynamometer. This is a bit better as it avoids us wondering whether the numbers are log or linear or what. These gadgets are not that expensive. A bluetooth one with no display the user can see would be ideal.


I recommend the book Hitchcock/Truffaut where they go deep into the director’s thought process and production/cast/crew challenges.
There was a recent doc that goes into that book featuring modern directors and how they were influenced by that book and Hitchcock’s films.

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