It’s that time of the year again, a time of joy, family gatherings and watching Home Alone for the gazillion times. Another thing known in Christmas is cooking, specifically cooking for a large number of people at the same time. Isn’t that similar to when you’re making a movie or in this case a horror movie. You want to make your movie be able to frighten as many people as possible and make them scream at the top of their lungs.
However to make a truly bone-chilling movie, one can’t just simply throw things at the wall and see what sticks. You need to be methodical and practical in order to dish out a bloodcurdling experience. But of course, when you’re starting out, you need a set of guidance or a recipe to follow before you venture out into a world of horror excellence.
After hours and hours of research and exploring the vast and macabre world of horror motion-picture, I compiled the steps you need to make a good horror flick. Let’s get creepy shall we.
Prepping the Ingredients
Every good thing needs ample amount of preparation. First thing you need to do is decide what kind of horror it’s going to be, maybe you’re going for a slasher or maybe a monster, you can’t go wrong with the tried and proven supernatural, experimenting with inanimate objects is also a good way to widen your creative palate.
There’s one other type of horror, which is found footage. The most exemplary examples of it are The Blair Witch (1999), The Visit (2015) and Paranormal Activity (2007). After deciding in which way you’re going to scare your audience, the next step is building your world and the characters that live in it.
Is it based in the 16th century like The Witch (2016)? Or a modern 20th century like McAvoy’s stellar performance in Split (2017). Build characters that fits the time period you chose, make them believable, don’t make their whole personality centered on a single trait. A tip in writing good characters is to let them be flawed.
No one likes a Mary Sue after all, build their strengths while keeping in balance the flaws that they have. A believable character can make your audience resonate with the things that will happen to them in the movie.
Cooking is The Soul of Every Meal
Preparations set, time to get into the real nitty gritty. You got a story setting and likable characters, at this stage it’s best that you think about the script and the plot. It can be fictional or based on a true story, either option has its weakness and strengths. If you’re going for non-fiction then you’ll first want to figure out which part of the story you want to focus on and which part to exaggerate the events for the sake of entertainment. You can look at James Wan’s The Conjuring (2013) for inspiration.
For a fictional story, start by creating an antagonist then revolve the story around them. The long-running franchise Halloween (1978 – present) with its slasher figure Michael Myers is a good place to look for ideas. The narrative flow that your story has is essential for a box movie hit. The simplest way you can check your story has structure is to make sure it has a powerful start, an exhilarating climax and a satisfying end. With that said, there’s nothing wrong breaking the usual convention of story-telling if it suits your vision.
Plating for The Perfection
The cherry on top, the make-or-break it, the home run, the final touches of your almost brilliant and awestruck cinema masterpiece. You can have the best script, the most relatable character, the greatest cinematography, but if your audio selection is not up-to-par then you might as well give up on winning that Oscar Award. You cannot underestimate the power of audio and what it brings to your movie. It’s just like listening to a song with touching lyrics, the best singer, a catchy melody but if it’s not mastered well, it’ll sound like garbage.
The same as horror movies, if the visuals aren’t adequate, people are more than likely to forgive you but if you disappoint their ears, people will just outright say your movie is trash and rate it 1-star on Rotten Tomatoes. Okay, it might be an exaggeration but imagine The Shining (1980) with its ingenious use of music instilling fear, tension and overwhelming sense, but now is replaced by Spring In My Step by Silent Partner or commonly known as the old tutorial music of Youtube.
The song itself is perfectly fine but it doesn’t suit the theme of horror movies. The audio that you choose must follow one thing, room tone. The sound should support and give ambiance to a scene and it must be consistent throughout the entire length of the movie. Otherwise you risk making your movie sound like a manky old speaker that your dad bought at a local store just because it has a discount.
In A Nutshell
After reading through the recipe, you might find yourself wondering ‘but I don’t have any intention to make a horror movie at all’ fear not for the recipe is universal. Not only your upcoming John Carpenter that can utilize the knowledge, your casual horror movie watcher can use it too by finding the exact reason why they like a certain movie.
But let’s get realistic, this is only a guide to achieve grandeur. The execution is going to be harder said than done. Not every year are we going to get something similar to the likes of The Thing (1982), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Us (2019) and many more. There’s a saying that I really contemplate on. It goes like this “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.” And I think it’s something you should hold on to in your horror movie-making journey.
Nuruddin Ihsan Affandi