The Art Of Making Horror Films

Horror films tap into our deepest fears and anxieties, and what is suggested is often more frightening than what is revealed.

The German expressionistic films of the 20s (Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari), influenced by the English Gothic novel, were among the first examples of the Genre.

The Protagonist is a victim, rather than a hero. The Antagonist is often manifested from a technological aberration (such as Frankenstein’s monster) or a social aberration (such as Jason, Freddy or Michael Meyers).

Unbridled aggression and sexuality play an important role; technology, science, and scientific activity often unleash the antagonist.

Fears about the future are as important as are our fears about the past.

Children have special powers in this genre – children exhibit vision, insight, and tolerance; adults exhibit the opposite traits.

The location (house, village, ruins) has a special significance that influences the outcome of events; the supernatural has a significant role in the horror film genre

The genre dwells on the irrational.

Whilst there are some stories that are clearly conceived as horror stories, there are stories that use the horror genre to give to a story idea that, if rendered as a drama, would be boring

Horror Sub genres

  • The Uncanny: The source of horror is astounding but subject to ‘rational’ explanation, such as beings from outer space, science-made monsters, or a maniac (Signs, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jeepers Creepers)
  • The Supernatural: The source of horror is an irrational phenomenon from the spirit of the realm (Poltergeist)
  • The super-uncanny: The audience is kept guessing between the other two possibilities: (The Tenant, The Shining)
  • Splatter Films: Gore and blood dominate: (Bad Taste, Dead Alive, Freddy vs Jason)

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The Art Of Horror

Films listed alphabetically/  Films featured from 2015 to present) Click on title to read feature

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE Telling the story of three people trapped in an underground bunker, this daring and no-nonsense psychological thriller will rip your nerves to pieces and truly blow your mind. It is not a literal Cloverfield 2, but there is some connection. It is the second film in the Cloverfield franchise and was developed from an “ultra low budget” spec script penned by John Campbell and Matt Stuecken, titled The Cellar, but under production by Bad Robot Productions, it was turned into a spiritual successor of the 2008 film Cloverfield, written by Josh Campbell, Matthew Stucken and Damien Chazelle.

A GHOST STORY The mindblowing Independent film A Ghost Story was shot lost year on the outskirts of Dallas in secret by Pete’s Dragon filmmaker David Lowery. For Lowery it was more than a return to indie production after a large-scale Disney adventure

A MONSTER CALLS Directed by J.A. Bayona (The ImpossibleThe Orphanage), A Monster Calls is a visually spectacular and stunningly emotional drama based on the award-winning novel. The screenplay adaptation is by the book’s author, Patrick Ness, who wrote the novel from an original idea by the late Siobhan Dowd.

A QUIET PLACE In the modern horror thriller A Quiet Place, a family of four must navigate their lives in silence after mysterious creatures that hunt by sound threaten their survival. When John Krasinski first read an early draft of the script for A Quiet Place by screenwriting duo Bryan Woods & Scott Beck (Nightlight), the terrifying premise hit home especially hard.

ALIEN COVENANT With this, the sixth installment in the blockbuster series  (screenplay is by John Logan and Dante Harper, from a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green) , visionary director Ridley Scott edges ever closer toward revealing the mysterious origins of the mother of all aliens, the lethal Xenomorph from the original film.

ANNABELLE:  CREATION After a chilling cameo in The Conjuring, followed by a starring role in her own film, it became clear to filmmakers that moviegoers were ready to uncover the origins of the doll that has both terrified and captivated them.  So, on the heels of his successful feature directing debut, last summer’s hit Lights Out, director David F. Sandberg was tapped to helm Annabelle: Creation, the next chapter in James Wan’s Conjuring universe produced by Peter Safran and Wan, from a screenplay by Gary Dauberman, who also wrote Annabelle.

BEFORE I WAKE Fear is real in the tense and terrifying Before I Wakewhich exists in a world with supernatural elements while maintaining a strong foothold in reality.“The horror of Before I Wake is born of the souls of its characters,” says Director/Co-writer/Editor Mike Flanagan. “This is really a bedtime story for grownups complete with its own boogie man.”

BLAIR WITCH It’s been 20 years since James’s sister and her two friends vanished into the Black Hills Forest in Maryland while researching the legend of the Blair Witch, leaving a trail of theories and suspicions in their wake.Blair Witch is directed by director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest, V/H/S, V/H/S/2), who has assembled an accomplished behind-the-scenes team that includes screenwriter and longtime collaborator Simon Barrett (You’re Next, The Guest, V/H/S, V/H/S/2).

BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN Tyler Perry’s Boo! A Madea Halloween heralds a fresh turn in the Tyler Perry/Madea franchise: a movie that blends Perry’s distinctive humor with elements of horror. Before committing to the concept, Perry knew he had to create a story that worked for him as a filmmaker, and for Madea as a character. ”So I came up with an idea I thought would be hysterical and wouldn’t take Madea too far out of her lane,” he says. “This is not your typical Halloween movie — there are so many pee-your-pants moments. Anyone who sees this movie should bring Depends.”

THE BOY In search of a fresh start away from a troubled past, a young American woman seeks refuge in an isolated English village, only to find herself trapped in a waking nightmare in The Boy, an unconventional horror thriller from director William Brent Bell (The Devil Inside) and screenwriter Stacey Menear,

CATCH HELL Ryan Phillippe has been acting professionally for over twenty years, and he can now add writer and director to his impressive resume with the thrilling Catch Hell 

CHILD’S PLAY Producer Seth Grahame-Smith was 12 years old when the original Child’s Play was released and remembers being absolutely terrified by it, then watching it again and again. “I’ve been a fan ever since.”So when MGM and Orion Pictures brought up the idea that they  wanted to update the original movie, Grahame-Smith and fellow producer David Katzenberg were initially apprehensive. “We didn’t want to just remake the 1988 movie, which is a horror classic that introduced the world to one of greatest horror villains of all time. We wanted to introduce something new to it, something relevant to today’s audiences.”

COLOSSAL is a film in which a universally recognizable story is told through a collision of genres that, a priori, is impossible. It refers to giant monster movies that, from King Kong until today, have become icons of fantastic and catastrophic cinema, definitively bigger than life. The plot follows the financial collapse of someone who has lost her job, a situation relevant to our time, which coincides with the frustrating and messy transition to adulthood after age 30 (relevant to any time).

THE CONJURING 2 The supernatural thriller The Conjuring 2, with James Wan once again at the helm following the record-breaking success of The Conjuring, seeking to terrify moviegoers once again with his depiction of another highly publicized case involving the real-life horrors experienced by paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren with The Conjuring 2, from a screenplay by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes (The Conjuring) & James Wan and David Leslie Johnson (Wrath of the Titans) , story by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes & James Wan

CRIMINAL questions what happens when the CIA’s only hope to stop a terrorist threat to the nuclear arsenal lies in the dark, unpredictable recesses of a criminal’s damaged mind? The futuristic, yet science-based, concepts that lie behind Criminal emerged from the minds of the screenwriting team of Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, who previously wrote the hit prison escape thriller The Rock, among others.

CRIMSON PEAK “This movie is my attempt to harken back to a classic, old-fashioned, grand Hollywood production in the Gothic romance genre,” says master of terror Guillermo del Toro who brings to the screen a dark and imaginative Gothic romance with his masterful Crimson Peak,

DON’T BREATHE In Don’t Breathe writer-director Fede Alvarez goes for the jugular with an unapologetically brutal and twisted horror-thriller that pits a trio of thieves against an unexpectedly dangerous adversary. In 2013, writer and director Alvarez made his mark in the horror movie world with a bone-chilling reboot of Sam Raimi’s classic, Evil Dead. In his new film, Don’t Breathe , he explores different but equally terrifying territory in a shocking, suspense-driven tale. Alvarez once again joins forces with producers Raimi and Rob Tapert of Ghost House Pictures for a home- invasion story that blurs the line between horror and thriller. “It has elements of both,” says the director.

THE FOREST is a supernatural thriller that takes its inspiration from the real-life Aokigahara Forest. Known as jukai, or the “Sea of Trees,” it is situated at the northwest base of Japan’s Mount Fuji. The Aokigahara’s peaceful beauty belies its history of violence and its reputation for paranormal activity. Ben Ketai wrote the first screenplay draft, providing the underlying framework from which the script would evolve. When Ketai had to move on to other commitments, the producers engaged a first-time screenwriter, novelist Sarah Cornwell, to work on the script.

THE GALLOWS The Indie Horror The Gallows was written, directed and produced by Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff and shot entirely outside of the Hollywood system on a budget of $100 000, and found its way to the big screen in July 2015 thanks to the filmmakers’ use of a much smaller one—the computer—and their own ingenuity, now totaling $40 million at the box office internationally.

THE GIFT  is a heart-stopping, thought-provoking psychological thriller from producers Jason Blum and Rebecca Yeldham and actor, writer, producer and first-time director Joel Edgerton (The Great Gatsby, Zero Dark Thirty, Warrior), that asks the question: What if someone you wronged long ago reemerged in your life through a chance encounter?

HATCHET HOUR Writer-director Judy Naidoo’s film Hatchet Hour marks her directorial debut and is most definitely a landmark on her 20-year journey as an independent filmmaker in South Africa.

THE HOUSE ON WILLOW STREET In The House On Willow Street  a roguish kidnapper and 3 accomplices, abducts a young heiress. When they have her locked up in their inescapable lair, they discover she is possessed by a terrifying demon, which plunges them into a nightmarish experience of supernatural horror.

INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY The creative minds behind the hit Insidious trilogy return for Insidious: The Last Key and takes us back to the beginnings of the Insidious franchise.“This is an origin story,” says producer Jason Blum. “It shows how Elise came to be, and how she got her special powers. The first 20 minutes of Insidious: The Last Key take place in 1954, but the rest of the movie takes place right before Insidious starts. So, it’s actually Insidious: The Last Key, Insidious: Chapter 3, Insidious and then Insidious: Chapter 2.” The film is written by co-creator Leigh Whannell (Saw), who wrote the trilogy and directed Chapter 3; produced by Insidious regulars Jason Blum (The Purge series, Get Out, Split), Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) and co-creator James Wan (The Conjuring, Furious 7); and directed by series newcomer Adam Robitel (The Taking of Deborah Logan).

IT acclaimed director Andy Muschietti, who made his feature debut with the horror hit Mama, based on his own short film of the same name, brings Stephen King’s seminal bestseller to the big screen for the first time.

IT CHAPTER TWO Evil resurfaces in Derry as director Andy Muschietti reunites the Losers Club in a return to where it all began with IT Chapter Two, the conclusion to the highest-grossing horror film of all time.

JIGSAW The Saw franchise has been a shiver-inducing, thought-provoking global powerhouse and redefined fright night at the movies with a unique blend of fear, mystery, deviousness and gore. Now the screws have been further tightened with Jigsaw, the newest entry in a series that The Guinness Book of World Records named as the most successful long-running horror franchise of all time.

THE LAST WITCH HUNTER A gorgeously rendered, explosively physical and thoroughly original fantasy adventure, The Last Witch Hunter propels audiences into a complex mythological universe packed with shocking violence, unthinkable treachery and unforgettable characters. Set in a world never before seen by on screen, the story spans over 800 years of one man’s quest to keep at bay an army of vicious supernatural creatures determined to wipe out humanity. Diesel’s favorite character to play in the game was Melkor, a dark elf and witch hunter that was not part of the original game. “I found it in a third-party book called Acheron,” he explains.“The idea of doing an action-fantasy film was always appealing to me. I met with screenwriter Cory Goodman (Priest)  five years ago and we geeked out about Dungeons & Dragons and next thing you know I get this amazing script about a witch hunter.” Goodman –  who co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Sazama & Burk Sharpless –  brought the project to Summit Entertainment and producers Mark Canton and Bernie Goldmann, who recognized its potential as a spectacular action franchise and a vehicle for Diesel.

LIFE Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick (Written by) have been partners since 2001. They came up with an idea for a completely original alien creature in Life,  a terrifying sci-fi thriller about a team of scientists aboard the International Space Station whose mission of discovery turns to one of primal fear when they find a rapidly evolving life form that could have caused extinction on Mars, and now threatens the crew and all life on Earth.

LIGHTS OUT From torches and candles to LEDs.  Street lamps, headlights, neon, flares.  Since the origin of our existence, humans have sought ways to escape the encroaching shadows and the frightful things they conceal and in the terrifying Lights Out, fear is real! Making his feature film debut with Lights Out,  David S. Sandberg has written and directed a slate of short films with deliciously disturbing titles like Closet Space and Attic Panic, and earned a throng of internet devotees who expect him to scare the wits out of them. Lights Out is based on Sandberg’s recent horror short of the same name, and it was both the quality and the impact of that insomnia-inducing gem that brought the young Swedish filmmaker to the attention of Hollywood.

MARROWBONE Sergio G. Sánchez is responsible for writing some of the best screenplays in recent Spanish cinema. He is praised for his ability to manage emotions and connect almost immediately with the audience, and is well known for The Orphanage and The Impossible, which were both helmed with great success by his friend J.A Bayona.Although Sánchez describes himself as a filmmaker first and a screenwriter second, he had been searching for a story that was powerful enough to take on as a director. In Marrowbone a young man and his younger siblings who have concealed the death of their mother to remain together are plagued by a sinister presence in their home.

MIDSOMMAR From the visionary mind of Ari Aster comes Midsommar, a dread-soaked cinematic fairy tale where a world of darkness unfolds in broad daylight. Aster explores a journey into the heart of darkness as an American couple, Dani and Christian (Florence Pugh and Jack Reynor), find themselves unexpectedly drawn into the world of a mysterious and dangerous primeval cult during a vacation getaway with their friends in a bucolic, hidden Swedish village.

MOTHER! The relationship thriller Mother! began when Writer / Director Darren Aronofsky spent five fevered days at his keyboard alone in an empty house.

THE MUMMY David Koepp (Mission: ImpossibleWar of the Worlds) and Academy Award winner Christopher Mcquarrie (The Usual SuspectsMission: Impossible series) and Dylan Kussman wrote the screenplay for The Mummy, which is from the screen story by Jon Spaihts (Prometheus, Doctor Strange) and Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet (Rachel Getting Married).

DIE ONTWAKING  A grisly, action-packed thriller that investigates the mind and motivations of an acutely intelligent serial killer, and marks the directorial debut of acclaimed production designer Johnny Breedt (Paljas, Hotel Rwanda, A Long Walk to Freedom). Hailed as a game-changer for South African film, Die Ontwaking is based on the first book of the ‘Abel’ trilogy, Abel se Ontwaking (translated into English as The Skin Collector), by well-known crime writer Chris Karsten.

OUIJA: ORIGIN OF EVIL Inviting audiences again into the lore of the spirit board, Ouija: Origin of Evil tells a terrifying new tale as the follow-up to 2014’s sleeper hit Oculus.Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) directs from a screenplay he wrote with his Oculus and Before I Wake collaborator, Jeff Howard.

PACIFIC RIM UPRISING The globe-spanning conflict between otherworldly monsters of mass destruction and the human-piloted super-machines built to vanquish them was only a prelude to the all-out assault on humanity in Pacific Rim Uprising.Building on the incredible visual world that Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pan’s Labyrinth) and Travis Beacham (Clash of the Titans, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) created in the first film, Pacific Rim Uprising features a next-generation battleground: new Jaegers and new Kaiju, offering a state-of-the-art spectacle built for the big screen, directed by Steven S. Deknight (Netflix’s Daredevil, STARZ’s Spartacus) from a screenplay by DeKnight & Emily Carmichael (The Adventures of Ledo and Ix), & Kira Snyder (The Handmaid’s Tale) and T.S. NOWLIN (The Maze Runner), based on the characters created by Beacham.

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES Written and directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, Charlie St Cloud), and based on the best-selling novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a fresh twist on Jane Austen’s classic novel Pride and Prejudice.

RAMPAGE Like movie fans around the world, Rampage director/producer Brad Peyton loves to see Dwayne Johnson in terrifying, larger-than-life scenarios that require all his skill and strength, humor and charm, to overcome. In Rampage Johnson stars as primatologist Davis Okoye, a man who keeps people at a distance but shares an unshakable bond with George, the extraordinarily intelligent, incredibly rare albino silverback gorilla who has been in his care since he rescued the young orphan from poachers.  But a rogue genetic experiment gone awry mutates this gentle ape into a raging creature of enormous size.

REGRESSION Spanish Writer-director Alejandro Amenábar returns to the big screen with the mind-bending Regression, which represents a return to suspense, the genre of The Others which marked his feature film debut in 1996.  It offers different layers of meaning for different audiences, and most of all, a good show to entertain wide audiences who appreciate effective, unpredictable narrative.

SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK A horror tale drawn from the iconic but deeply eerie book series by Alvin Schwartz. As brought to life by the visionary team of producer Guillermo Del Toro (The Shape of Water, Pacific Rim, Pan’s Labyrinth) and director André Øvredal (Trollhunter), the film is anything but an anthology. Instead it’s a tale of a group of young misfits who must confront all the fears that stand between them and the future.

SCOUTS VS ZOMBIES Zombie fever strikes again with Scouts vs Zombies, directed by Christopher B. Landon and co-written by Carrie Evans, Emi Mochizuki, Lona Williams, and Landon.

THE SHAPE OF WATER  From the inspired mindscape of master storyteller and visionary Guillermo del Toro – who gave us Pan’s Labyrinth, Cronos, and The Devil’s Backbone – comes another astounding and mind-blowing cinematic experience: The Shape Of Water.Del Toro casts an other-worldly spell with The Shape Of Water, merging the pathos and thrills of the classic monster movie tradition with shadowy film noir, then stirring in the heat of a love story like no other to explore the fantasies we all flirt with, the mysteries we can’t control and the monstrosities we must confront. This other-worldly fairy tale is set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962 where a lonely lab assistant (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation in the hidden high-security government laboratory where she works, until the day her life changes forever when she discovers a secret classified experiment.

SHUT IN Writer Christina Hodson says the inspiration for Shut In came to her while she was living alone in a creaky New York City studio apartment. Imagining the possibilities behind the unexplained noises she heard late at night, the first-time screenwriter penned the script in just six weeks.

SIEMBAMBA Returning to her hometown, Eden Rock, and overwhelmed by the birth of her first child, Chloe van Heerden (19) tries to come to terms with motherhood. Despite the support from her mother, Ruby (35), Chloe struggles with the demand of being a new mom.The incessant crying of her baby, the growing sense of guilt and paranoia sends Chloe into a dark depression. With a heightened urge to protect her son, Chloe sees danger in every situation.  Chloe starts to hear voices and the humming of a childhood lullaby and sees flashes of a strange entity around her child.Convinced that the entity is real, Chloe does everything in her power to protect her son. Her decline reaches fever pitch, and everybody seems to be moving against her. Desperate, Chloe finds solace in the arms of her childhood friend, Adam Hess (20s).The world around Chloe implodes and it becomes clear that she and her child are in imminent danger. But from what? Is Chloe haunted by evil or is it just the baby blues? The film stars Reine Swart, Deànré Reiners, Thandi Puren, and Brandon Auret and directed by world-renowned director Darrell James Roodt (Sarafina! Treurgond, Cry the Beloved Country, Winnie Mandela) from a screenplay by Tarryn-Tanille Prinsloo.

SOLACE More than 13 years ago, when producer Beau Flynn first read the supernatural thriller Solace, a spec screenplay written by the then-unknown writing team of Sean Bailey & Ted Griffin, he knew immediately he wanted to make it.

SPLIT Writer/director/producer M. Night Shyamalan returns to the captivating grip of The Sixth Sense,  Unbreakable and Signs with Split, an original film that delves into the mysterious recesses of one man’s fractured, gifted mind.

SWISS ARMY MAN the brilliantly bizarre new movie from first-time feature directors Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert will break your heart and most definitely change your perceptions in the human condition.

WINCHESTER “This is a ghost story. A scary haunted house ghost story. What’s unique about it? It is based on a real person. There’s a real house that still exists. A real situation. A story, a history, with a lot of modern connotations as well. These ghosts haunted Sarah Winchester because of that gun, a real invention. This is about the real woman,” says Peter Spierig.A woman, adds his collaborating twin brother Michael, who “always felt like a woman out of time.“We saw her as a person that was plagued by the legacy of this gun…an intelligent, progressive thinking woman who’s been misconstrued as a crazy person.”

Copyright © 2017 The Writing Stuidio / Daniel Dercksen