Breaking the Mould: Making Horror Films That Matter

Welcome back to the wonderfully named Genre Format Series (Working Title) Extraordinaire. Second up we’re looking at (my favourite) genre – HORROR! Horror films are often dismissed as disposable texts, however, to that we say:

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Kat and Dusan are back to examine some of the prominent horror films over recent years and what makes them stand out from the crowd and become both critical and commercial successes.

Get Out 

“Get Out? More like get in (it’s great).”
– Harley, 2018

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Get Out (Jordan Peele, 2017)

The Oscar-winning screenplay from director Jordan Peele surpassed all expectations of a low budget horror, grossing $255 million worldwide box office on a budget of only $4.5 million. Its unique mix of humour and nods to both modern day racial debates and ongoing racial politics expressed in  films like Guess Who’s Coming To DinnerGet Out challenges audiences and genre boundaries. The strong genre conventions of both horror and comedy are utilised to make the film stand out as a key cultural text of 2017. The way in which both genres elicit physical responses from viewers, means that the film is incredibly engaging and fast-paced throughout. Why not consider using political motivation for the basis of your horror? Don’t be afraid to use challenging subject matter and incorporate genres which may seem worlds apart.

It Follows

“Oh is it the one with the singing mermaids? It’s not? Never mind then.”
– Eleonora, 2018

“Just when you thought STIs couldn’t get any scarier, this came along”
– Harvilton, 2018

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It Follows (David Robert Mitchell, 2015)

After grossing over ten times its $2 million budget, It Follows uses contemporary fears surrounding STIs in teen consciousness to create an impactful and effective horror. Using typical aesthetic conventions associated with horror, the film reworks the ‘monster’ to embody the fears present in society today. The film has become a cult success by using the threat of impending death throughout, and the pace never lapses due to the constant threat throughout. It Follows challenges us to rethink the common conception of ‘teen horror’ films, so try and subvert expectations and make your audience empathise with characters based on common experiences. You can also use common fears in society today and try to embody those in different ways.

The Purge

“On screen wish fulfillment.”
– Tristan, 2018

“Too scary.”
– Susan, 2018

The Purge screenshot

The Purge (James DeMonaco, 2013-2018)

The Purge series has gone from strength to strength by initially playing on the common sub-genre of the home invasion film. Although initially set within one household, the universe in which the first film is set has managed to endure a large scale-up to support the subsequent franchise spanning multiple locations and characters. It was the lowest-budgeted film since 1988 to reach the top of the box office charts, and centres on a totalitarian government in control of America. Again, the film draws on political fears and hypothetical futures, and uses many conventions of the thriller to broaden it’s appeal. Another example of how low-budget formats can work for you if you create a wider universe into which you could expand your plot. A great basis for shorts or even a web series.


“Nope. I won’t watch it. Too scared. Sorry.”

– Eleonora, 2018

It screenshot

It (Andy Muschietti, 2017)

Following on from the recent spike in horror TV successes, like American Horror Story and Stranger Things, the Stephen King adaptation became the biggest September box office release and the highest grossing horror to date. It relies on preconceived notions of horror and the trope of clowns within horror films. The narrative, however, reveals much more horrific traumas that push the boundaries of a typical horror story and make it just as equally a coming of age story. So why not try and rework typical characters and conventions but play with expectations and surprise your audience with deeper, more complex storylines and motivations.

A Quiet Place

“I kept thinking Pam was going to show up at one point.”

– Dusan, 2018

A Quiet Place screenshot

A Quiet Place (John Krasinski, 2018)

A Quiet Place takes the meaning of ‘tension’ to new levels. The use of silence has always been used to built up tension before jump scares and reveals in horrors, but what happens when you use silence throughout the entire film? The way in which the film uses sound (or lack thereof) shows how thinking outside of the box and constantly pushing genre boundaries can work for you in your film. A Quiet Place continues where films like Don’t Breathe left off, and the use of sound positions our empathy with specific characters. Think about how you can use genre elements to manipulate your audience into feeling and reacting how you want them to. Constantly challenge the norms and redefine what it means to make a horror film that lasts the test of time!

Check out other genres from our series like – noir or musicals or comedy!

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Kathryn is an MA graduate in Film and Television from The University of Bristol. After moving from the depths of the countryside, Kathryn has swapped fields for filmmaking and has recently worked as a Production Assistant for Baby Cow. Kathryn continues to make informative (read: hilarious) videos with fellow Raindancer Dusan, and hopes to pursue a career in the film industry to financially support her cat.

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