13 Steps To Making A Horror Film - Raindance

Hallowe’en always brings the horror genre into focus. Horror films always have a certain audience, as we are captivated by misfortune that happens to our fellows.

Horror films are a great place to launch a career because they can be made without the huge financial resources other genres can demand.

With us battening down the hatches against trick or treaters, and with hurricanes and tropical storms battering different parts of the world, we thought we’d put together a how-to list about horror filmmaking:


1. Pick a main character – hero

Your hero should be an average person but part of a typical social group. The typical hero is a college student (Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream). They usually work on their own, like a babysitter (Hallowe’en).

2. Pick a sidekick and make them bicker and compete

A good story has a hero (the main character) and a sidekick. The sidekick starts the story as the heroes best friend, but part way through the story they betray their best friend and oppose the hero and what they want. Horror films also have creepy children (Children of the corn), or children who are corrupted by creepy characters (Mama).

3. Pick a universal moment

A universal moment is an event that many of us will have experienced and when in a story becomes something your audience can relate to. For example, being alone in a house (Paranormal Activity, Night of the Living Dead)

4. Pick a location

Cheap movies are shot in one location. Pick a big house, ore factory, or any building you can get hold of cheap. Black out all the windows so it’s dark and evil looking. For added effect water down the floorboards so they glisten in the candlelight. Another advantage of the single location is you can block the exits so the hero can’t escape.

5. Pick an inciting incident

An inciting incident is an event near the beginning of the story that creates the drama and kicks off the story. Inciting incidents can be macro (like an epidemic in Shaun of the Dead) or micro, like the death of a daughter (Don’t Look Now).

6. Pick a ghost

Good stories need to have a ghost. Ghost is an event in the past that the hero still fears or is ashamed of.

Each genre treats ghost differently. In crime stories, ghost is referred to as ‘personal crime’ – something the main character did that was wrong, and which still causes them embarrassment and pain. In horror stories the ghost takes on a physical shape and must be overcome by the hero.

Make sure the ghost is painful to the main character and not easily overcome.

7. Pick a nightmare

Nightmare is that thing in the future that the hero is afraid of, and it is so powerful that it prevents them from getting what they really want.

8. Pick a trap

Many horror films are filled with traps. Saw, Buried, Phone Booth, and the first Evil Dead are all stories with traps where the unwary perish.

9. Pick the moment the sidekick dies

In horror movies, the hero confronts the physical ghost and in the confrontation there is a struggle which causes the death of the sidekick. Pick this moment for maximum dramatic effect, and the moment that cause the most guilt and remorse in the main character.

10. Pick the confrontation

The confrontation that causes the death of the sidekick is the climax of the movie. it is a do-or-die confrontation, in which the hero must overcome the ghost or else suffer the direct consequences. There are three different types of consequences: Physical (the hero could lose their life); social (they could lose their place in society; or psychological (they have their core beliefs challenged to the point where they can no longer function as normal and healthy human beings).

11. Pick the right fake blood formula

A horror movie needs lots and lots of fake blood, right? Make sure you pick the right fake blood recipe. You  can learn to make your own fake blood at a special evening class in London, or follow one of these fake blood recipes.

12. Pick the right music

Horror film scores seems to feature low stings, children singing or amplified heart beats as in The Blair Witch Project.

13. Pick the film festival that debuts horror

Film festivals provide the ideal route to start publicising your film, whatever the genre. festivals tend to specialise in different sorts of genres. London has the world-famous Frightfest. Here’s a list of the top horror and fantasy genre film festivals in the world.

Fade Out

Armed with this simple list go make a movie.

Yours in filmmaking,

Elliot Grove



Photo Credit David Martinez / BIFA 2018

Few people know more filmmakers and screenwriters than Elliot Grove. Elliot is the founder of Raindance Film Festival (1993) and the British Independent Film Awards (1998). He has produced over 700 hundred short films and five feature films: the multi-award-winning The Living and the Dead (2006), Deadly Virtues (2013), AMBER (2017), Love is Thicker Than Water (2018) and the SWSX Grand Jury Prize winner Alice (2019). He teaches screenwriting and producing in the UK, Europe, Asia and America.

Raindance BREXiT trailer 2019

Elliot has written three books which have become industry standards: Raindance Writers’ Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay, now in its second edition, Raindance Producers’ Lab: Lo-To-No Budget Filmmaking and Beginning Filmmaking: 100 Easy Steps from Script to Screen (Professional Media Practice).

In 2009 he was awarded a PhD for services to film education.

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