So, You Want To Write A Horror Film.

The time has come where you have seen every scary film and witnessed every death. So much so, in fact, that no longer does the likes of Freddie or Jason keep you up at night. No longer does gore make you queasy, and the hapless heroine has become a tired cliché.


“I know,” you say to yourself one night, “I can do this myself! I can write a film.”

Yes you can. Here are four things I think will help you when penning the next big flick.

1)      We Are All Scared Of What We Don’t See:

Remember M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs? That was a chilling tale of unknown creatures spooking Reverend Graham Hess. It was good stuff (Let’s just ignore his movies that came after that, shall we?). Much like Hitchcock, it’s the build of suspense and the unknown that drives the story forward and engages its audience. So why ruin it with an unsatisfying reveal?


We are almost never happy with what we see has been scaring us for most of the film. When making your film, remember that humans are inherently afraid of the unknown and what we can’t see. Think darkness, shadows, and sounds from off camera.

2)      Don’t Always Rely On Gore:

Slasher films are undeniably popular. Among the rise of the horror in the 80s, we saw a bunch of films that played on this idea. Then Saw came along and revitalized the concept, bringing it to a disgusting new level. I equate gore in horror films with swearing in comedy. It works, but it’s a cheap shot. And if it isn’t done somewhat tastefully, it can easily be seen as a desperate last resort for a scare. You are better than that, reader! You won’t need to rely on such tropes. Speaking of which…

3)      Remove The Clichés!

We’ve seen it all. We know how the pretty girl falls over nothing as she escapes a certain but prolonged death. We know that the group of naively arrogant teenagers thinks they have a better chance of survival if they split up.


One thing that Joss Whedon achieved in his 2012 hit Cabin In The Woods’ is that he managed to turn every trope and cliché against itself and transform it into a whole new sub-genre. Avoid the easy tactics. Yes, they work, but that’s exactly why your audience deserves to see something more from you.


4)      There’s More To Horror Than A Single Murder:

Everyone likes to be frightened. We like to be scared because it allows us to break out of our comfort zone. There is a transient fear instilled in audiences when quick editing and excessive gore is the filmmaker’s intention. Personally, the scariest movie I watched wasn’t the conventional Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween series; it was Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange. Malcolm McDowell’s performance wasn’t what kept me up at night, though. It was the impact he was having on society, and the impact society then had on him.


I feel the same way with Spielberg’s War Of The Worlds – what if that had actually happened? What if society was getting wiped out by something a lot larger and more powerful than us? What is scarier, being completely alone in the universe, or having a potential foe? These thoughts kept me up for days after seeing these films. Don’t settle for a quick stab of your teenage victim. Don’t spill the guts of someone for a scare. Make your audience consider the world they live in. Scare them psychologically, not just temporarily.

Reader, you have the passion and experience to take your crazy thoughts and ideas and execute it in the best way possible. Avoid the old, create the new.



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About The Author

English Journalist and Filmmaker who moved to New York, as I don't play soccer or drink tea. Sometimes I say funny or interesting things on Twitter, at @JamesSpiro.