5 tips for making a great horror movie

August 8, 2017

So you want to make a horror movie? They’re popular, but also abundant — and varied. Do you want to scare people? Gross them out? Take them on a roller coaster ride? You can’t please everyone, but if you want to make a well liked horror film, here are a few guidelines that might help you.

Have interesting characters: Movies (and stories in general) are about people, not events. Sure, picking stupid teenagers off one by one works, but only for awhile. If you want to do something revolutionary in modern filmmaking, convince your audience to actually (gasp) care about the characters.

The interesting characters rule does not apply to villains: When introducing us to the villain, less is more. Did he suffer a terrible childhood filled with abuse and poverty? Leave it out. A three dimensional villain works in most other genres. But the more your audience knows about your horror movie villain, the less likely they are to sympathize with them. Sympathy isn’t very scary.

Create suspense and tension: One of the biggest complaints I see about horror movies today is the lack of…well, horror. Fake jump scares and loud music in the wrong places cause the audience to release tension too early. By the climax, the audience is no longer scared because all the tension has been released. A skilled filmmaker can build suspense throughout the movie.

Don’t stress about budget: Some of the most well-known horror films have been low budget sleeper hits. Unless you’re remaking Lord of the Rings (which, despite many great examples of building tension, is not a horror movie), you’re not necessarily limited by funds.

Don’t take your movie too seriously: Some of the best horror movies are the ones that try to be scary but end up being campy (see: The Evil Dead, Child’s Play). You’re in the business of entertainment and if you’re not entertained yourself, your audience probably won’t be either. Have fun with it! Plenty of people would kill to be in your position. Well, not literally.

What are your favorite things to see in a horror movie?

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