The Scary State Of The Horror Film Market


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.

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4 Comments Add yours

  1. Richard says:

    Most contemporary horror movies miss what I consider to be a basic principle of the genre; less is more and what you don’t see is far scarier than what you do. So many horror movie are over-the-top, ultra-violent and, frankly, numb any hope you may have had of experiencing fear.

    I’ve always loved ghost stories and the bulk of screenplays I’ve written have been within this sub-genre.

    Great article. Thanks. πŸ™‚

    1. JG Sarantinos says:

      That is why Paranormal Activity resonates so well at the box office. Lots of space. Then again, the SAW films to equally well because we see what we probably shouldn’t. Splatter/ Gore films are more the domain of special effects/ makeup artists than story tellers.

  2. Bobby Shue says:

    Some of my favorit horror flix run in the middle of suspence and horror, though “Halloween” from 1978 is a good example because though it does fall in the “horror” catagory there is the suspence of not knowing why the killer has come back to stalk Jamie Lee Curtis…though, in “Halloween 2” it is established why. I think there is something far more scary (than some of the horror movies today) where back in most 70’s horror film there was such a build up with the killer before (the Killer) went for the kill. Another movie I really enjoy that follows this line (of what I am talking about) is Tom Hank’s first feature “He Knows you’re alone.” It is a bit cheezy but the build up before the kill is far scarier than the last 15min of the film.

    1. The suspense is the thriller element and the gore is the horror element.

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