Being a genre that never gets old (there is always an audience for preying on the misfortune of others), horror movies are always in abundance. The question is, how good are they at ACTUALLY being scary?
Horror films can be considered a great place to launch an independent film maker’s career; they can be made without big budget resources, and still achieve the desired edge-of-your-seat affect.
That said, we are now living in a society gradually getting more and more desensitised to violence and gore. It is now more important than ever for film makers to understand their audience, understand what fear means today, and, consequently, get horror right.
We’ve thought up some essential fear wrenching tips to keep in mind when you’re making your horror feature. Remember to give us your own tips in the comments box below.
Setting and Atmosphere
Obviously. In the instance where one falls short on bad acting, flawed plot and disruptive audio, you can potentially save with a powerful, underlying tone of dread. If you’re looking to scare audiences, you need to create an atmosphere that is solidly associable with fear. Starting with the basic conventions of somewhere with very little light, or very contained with no obvious escape, the location of the film will help with the procession of the audience identifying what is going to be scary, due to their exposure with these conventions before.
Of course, this doesn’t always have to be the case, and if you can think outside of the box and be more original with the action of your horror there is always room to break these stereotypes. Just keep in mind the power of audience imagination; you make it a lot easier on yourself if they are easily transported to the ‘dark and scary’ mind set that they’re used to.
Don’t rely on the ‘Jump Scare’
Undoubtedly the use of a Jump Scare technique is an easy way to startle us, but there is a big difference between being surprised and being scared. In moderation, the backbone to a good Jump Scare is sudden punctuation in a scene that is otherwise calm. The other secret to keep in mind is making sure that the scare is unpredictable. Too often the audience knows when it’s coming, be it down to obvious symbolism or climactic music. This brings me on to point three…
Never underestimate the use of SILENCE
Think about the moments that you feel most scared. How about late at night, in the pitch black of your room, hearing a sudden noise close by? Would you have felt the same way if your place wasn’t otherwise still and silent? Not to say that the use of the right score is unimportant- IT IS, VERY- but playing the right music at the right time is difficult, and utilising silence can be very effective without stressing too much over technicalities.
When you are using music however, consider using low strings, or eerie motifs such as children laughing or amplified heart beats. More tips on the practical making of your horror film can be found here.
Take great care with your plot and characters
If we are invested in the character, our power to empathise with them puts us in amongst the action. In this case, their fears are ours, and the traps they face make us feel trapped too. If the character is accessible in this way, we CARE about them living and reaching an objective.
This can also be said for the formulaic killing off of the sidekick. Picking the right moment is crucial for this, but also picking the right character attributes makes us fear and dread their inescapable fate.
Use space and technique creatively
Horror is a successful popular genre because of its ability to manipulate formalities. This includes the varying of camera perspective for example, or expertly timed editing to create pregnant tension or sudden, expertly timed jolt. The Dark Voyeur perspective is a framing device used to imply that there is a malevolent other watching the character, putting them directly in the crosshairs. Alternatively, why not try using deep focus photography, where the background of each shot becomes an additional source of suspense. There is an uneasiness created when the audience’s attention is drawn to something in the distance. In this instance, even off stage can be considered a danger zone, becoming an even greater unknown where anything can emerge.
Be creative with the time or place
This applies the fear of the unknown element to your film. By placing the action somewhere eerie and unfamiliar to the audience, your film will be given an edge of originality. Even if the plot line and choice of monster has already been done, relocating the when-and-where allows you more room to play with the chillingly unfamiliar.
Merge your narrative horror world with the real world
What if the horror films we watched that stuck with us were all too much of a possibility? Relating back to having an accessible protagonist, keep your fantastical monsters and supernatural powers grounded, and as realistic as possible. Few things can be scarier and more unnerving than the unravelling realisation that someone/ something you thought you knew isn’t quite what it seems.
See how this is done in Deadly Virtues: Love Honour Obey, written by Mark Rogers, directed by Ate De Jong and produced by Raindance Raw talent.