How to Make a Horror Film

Posted by Anthony Mango Sunday, January 4, 2009

Want to know the rules you need to follow in order to make a standard horror film? Well, here are the ingredients:

1. The Group - Writers use the term "Five Man Band" for the generic group of five main characters that typically happens in all genres, not just horror. In this group you've got the essential attributes of the hero, the lancer (troublesome antihero), the chick, the heart (moral compass), the big guy, the comic relief, the quiet one, and the smart one. Horror also adds the Sacrificial Lamb attribute. Now if you've noticed, there are more than 5 traits. Well, usually a character has two of these traits. The hero in a horror film is almost assuredly the smart one. The "big guy" is usually a thickheaded but tough male of the group which also makes him the Lancer as he'll be the one that wants to fight the villain head-on, stupidly. The Lancer out of the women is usually a total sex freak, as the "honorable" chick is a bit more of a prude. This leaves the comic relief and the quiet one, who play off each other and may be a couple as well, because the hero/honorable woman are together, the dense tough guy and the slut are together, and that just leaves the comedian and the straight man to his jokes.

2. Sex - For some reason, 99% of horror films involve very sexy young adults and there is usually at least one semi or full nude sequence.

3. Villain Types - If its not one of the following, chances are, its not a horror film:
A. Freaky Little Kid [preferably one that also sings a nursery rhyme at some point]
B. Stoic Killer [doesn't talk; can chase you by walking despite how you're running; stabs anything and everything in sight; has no true story arc and is just more of a McGuffin]
C. Anti-stoic Killer [loud; flamboyant; talks incessantly]
D. Paranormal B.S. [some ghost with a gimmick or an alien of some sort]

4. No "Dead End" Signs - The idiots running in these films always go into locations where they can be captured. Apparently they don't realize that this murdering psychopath knows how to turn a doorknob and has watched you run into the abandoned _______.

5. Hard R or Tame PG-13 - Studios love to make their horror films one or the other. On one hand, they think a hard R rating (which will soon enough be pushed as "the Unrated version" on DVD) will make people think its more gruesome and scary. On the other hand, they think having it be PG-13 means more teenagers will go to see it as they'll consider it one of the least controversial movie types. If you're 13 and you want to see a horror film, nobody really criticizes you, so by proxy, everybody else starts to see it too. So you've got two marketing techniques to try to be cash cows. The trouble is that the Hard R mentality usually leads to those full-on nude scenes out of nowhere and profanity that has no true purpose just to bulk up on the R-rated material, and it comes off looking desperate, while the PG-13 is so tame that it wouldn't be scary to an infant.

6. Gore = Fright - This trend is so pathetic. Horror films have a tendency to equate the amount of blood shown on screen to the amount of suspense. If you saw somebody getting stabbed in real life, sure, you'd be scared out of your mind. But if you see it in a movie nowadays, its nothing special. The truly thrilling films are the ones that are able to wrap you in the storyline and get you hooked to where you're not remembering that you're watching a movie. If you watch a film like Hostel, its impossible not to laugh at it and say "this is such a bad movie", which immediately takes you out of the experience and opens your mind up to criticism.

7. Violin Shrieks = Fright - If they're not throwing out the sanguine card, they're throwing out the screech card. Think of the film What Lies Beneath for a good example of this. That entire film is just a series of repetitive low-noise moments followed by a loud shriek from a violin that is supposed to make you jump out of your seat. Its the most basic of all devices. A quick "boo" makes your adrenaline level shoot up and you think you were just witnessing something entertaining, and since its meant to shock you and surprise you, and you know you're watching a horror film, you subconsciously think you were just SCARED as opposed to startled. And then you see people walking out of garbage films saying it was so scary when in fact they could have gotten the same rush out of just standing in a dark room and having someone yell at them during random intervals.

8. "But he's/it's still out there!" - Somebody, usually a woman, has to say this in every fucking horror movie. Of course the killer is still out there. It'd be the end of the goddamn movie if he wasn't lol.

9. Lack of Genre Savvy - Unless its a spoof film (which Scary Movie accomplished expertly) nobody in a horror film has apparently seen any horror film in their life or else they'd be avoiding the pitfalls and scenarios that show up. The only people that have any inclination as to what is going to happen is the audience, but for some reason, some of them have their own fourth wall problems. They don't realize that they're watching a movie and if they scream "don't go in there", the fictional person won't hear you.

10. A False Sense of Security - The directors, writers, producers, and actors...if you can call them those things...are almost always SO proud of their work. They will tell you its horrifying stuff. It'll change your life. This film is not only a good watch, its a great movie. They're breaking the barriers down. Etcetera. When you go to see it, you realize its the same old drivel but the only difference is that they've hired a different set of models that can't act.

That's about all I can say, as these films aren't complicated enough to have anything else to them.

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