You have your low-to-no budget drawn up, you have a camera crew, and you have a bunch of your old college buddies who have agreed that cheap beverages and microwaveable pizza are acceptable forms of compensation. Congratulations! You are ready to make your first horror movie. Since you can only use the camcorder on your Smartphone for so long before the battery dies, allow me to give you a jump start. In honor of the festivities this weekend, I give you the template for the perfect horror movie.
Setting (Choose at Least One):
Small Town (rural): This is important. When it comes to the town that merits being attacked by axe-wielding psychopaths, I say go for the one with little to no infrastructure; whose only defense is one sherriff and a volunteer fire department. Make sure that the nearest hospital is at least 20 miles away, so that anyone who finds themselves in an About-to-Lose-a-Leg-Arm-or-Head situation has no chance of escaping.
Small town (creepily religious): See Small Town (rural). Add a few of those ladies who never leave their houses and think that anything requiring electricity for its operation is demon-possessed [think crazy neighbor in Edward Scissorhands]. They should all be glassy-eyed and hum indiscernible songs to themselves.
**Additional notes regarding setting: Putting Creepytown on an island whose mainland bridge is unsafe is particularly conducive to horrific situations. Don’t forget the obligatory alley, woods, and high school or college campus scenes (as long as those are shot when classes are not in session and it is pitch dark outside).
Characters (Choose at least 4 main characters, you may duplicate characters as needed):
- Scapegoat [Person who everyone in the town thinks is the actual villain, and is really just socially awkward and probably did not get enough love in his or her childhood, thank you very much- I have included a photo of my favorite creepy-movie scapegoat.)
- Actual villain [See below for more help on perfecting the villain.]
- Scores of extras who can scream well and who don’t mind spending hours being covered in makeup and fake gore for less than 4 seconds of camera time
- Jock/Member of an All-Male Social Greek Organization
- Cheerleader/Member of an All-Female Social Greek Organization
- Person of Minority Status (any ethnic minority will do; if you are feeling particularly innovative, represent more than one)
- New Guy/Girl in Town
- Uber-Conservative, Proper Guy/Girl
- Geek/Nerd Guy/Girl
- Hippie Guy/Girl
- Goth Guy/Girl
- Under-Protective Parents (at least one set)
- Over-Protective Parents (at least one set)
- Religious Leader
- Mayor /Governing Official
- Police Officer (one per town)
It is important that within your main characters, you have at least one love triangle, one pair of arch enemies, one pair of best friends, one couple that has been together for a long time, and one that gets together in the course of the film. Don’t be afraid to split up the couples by getting a boyfriend or girlfriend hacked to death. Chances are your main characters won’t have last names, or any real distinguishing personality traits, and that the person they end up with will be more attractive and desirable than the person who was conveniently disposed of by the deranged lunatic with the chainsaw.
Villain: (Choose multiple traits, but use them to form just one villain. Two is overkill. Pun Intended.)
- Lack of Social Skills
- Lack of Social Filter
- Artificial Person
- Suave, Attractive
- Hideously Disfigured
- Just Ugly
- Has Lack of Concept of “Right/Wrong”
- Has Concept of Right/Wrong, but is Evil Anyway
- Charming and Deceptive
- Bloodthirsty (Literally or Metaphorically)
- Little Kid
- Indeterminate Age
- Kills Enemies
- Kills Exes
- Kills Everyone
Plot (I use this term loosely.)
Today’s horror movie doesn’t need to rely on a literary device as outdated as plot development. The important thing is gore, and lots of it. Gratuitous, ridiculous amounts.But if your film must have a story, I suggest you answer just a few driving questions. The things people want to know. The important, heart-of-the-matter things.
- How does the villain kill people? If (s)he uses a weapon, allow me to suggest something that maximizes your gore quotient. Whoever this is has some serious issues, and is not necessarily looking to do a clean job. Axes, Chainsaws, Ginormous Knife-Life Things, any of these are great. It’s okay if your perp’s MO is more psychological, but don’t bore us with the details.
- Who dies, in what order, and how quickly do these events take place in succession? Use your discretion here. But don’t let too much ‘story’ or ‘dialogue’ get in the way of things. Typically, you want to go ahead and get rid of anyone who keeps the group from being homogenous. Also, no one intelligent seems to survive these kinds of things. But if you get overwhelmed, just get rid of pretty much everyone except the villain and leave room for a sequel.
- How cool (and gross, same difference) does it look? The more disgusting your horror movie is, the cooler it is. If you are not putting people in physical discomfort, they are clearly not enjoying themselves.
Last But Not Least: Don’t Overthink It.
I know there’s a lot here. But as your guiding principal needs to be: don’t think too much (or at all, if possible). When putting together a horror movie, follow the example of your characters. The people in these movies are the kind of people that think it’s a good idea to escape the killer is by running away from the group and into an abandoned knife manufacturing plant. Don’t aim too high, stock up on fake blood, and everybody wins.