Horror movies are a ubiquitous film genre that rides consumer ebbs and flows. In today’s market, horror concepts are mercilessly rebooted, remade, repurposed, repackaged, reimagined, reduxed, restored or redone based on a brand.
A remake such as Psycho (1998) shot for shot, was a pointless exercise because it didn’t add anything to the 1960 Hitchcock original. However, a modern twist on a pre-existing franchise can reinvigorate a remake. Older horror films were the playground for auteurs, whereas today, they are the domain of marketers. The risk averse studios are still disinclined to launch new horror concepts.
With the cost of below the line film making plummeting, horror is the easiest way to get into film because it inherently targets the 14-24 year old target demographic. As long as new horror films contain suspense, spooky atmospheres and dramatic characters, they will be enduring. Make your script scary. Keep it around 95 pages. The shock value of splatter, gore-filled horror comes and goes. A good story will last forever.
The nature of horror only allows a limited number of ideas to be explored. Horror films are often metaphors for life exploring powerful social comments. Werewolves metamorphosizing from men are a metaphor for puberty, while the deep red palette of Dracula explores human desire and sexuality.
All good stories follow mythological protocols and identical rules of drama. Horror explores our fear of the unknown, the misunderstood and the darkest crevices of human consciousness. Examine the external horror (physical threat) as well as the internal horror (fears) of your characters. Write from a place of authentic story rather than sensationalism.
Killing is so pre-eminent in many horror films because it explores our awareness of our imminent death and our attempts to cheat it or control it in some way. Horror films are running out conventional ways to kill characters and audiences rely on increasingly shocking and elaborate ways to kill, as evidenced in the “Saw” films.
All horror films must have a threat to the main character, whether real or perceived. Traditionally, horror lends itself to young audiences and characters. Mix yours up beyond adult parental or detective roles. Apart from torture porn, many contemporary horror films have been neutered to appease the self-appointed lobby groups trying to protect impressionable audiences.
The seventies were indeed the golden age for prolific horror films. The really pushed the envelope in terms of sheer primal terror. Films were truly a director’s medium then.
The eighties enjoyed the rise of producer driven films, while the nineties, they were driven by studio mandates. Today, they are driven by parent corporations which own studios and often lack any appreciation of cinema.
Until studios squeeze every last penny from franchise horror films, original horror is relegated to the low budget domain.