10 Super Scary Steps To Writing A Horror Screenplay

A  horror movie has certain rules. If you break too many the audience will be disappointed according to Henrik Holmberg. Here is a template that any horror screenwriter can use.


Start with a bang. Step right into a suspense scene. “Scream” opens with a terrifying sequence with Drew Barrymore on the phone with a killer.


Introduce your hero. Give him a flaw. Before you can put your hero in jeopardy we must care for him. We must want our hero to succeed. So make him human. In “Signs” Mel Gibson plays a priest who has lost his faith after his wife died.


A variant of The Flaw. The hero has a fear. Maybe a fear of heights, or claustrophobia. In “Jaws” Roy Scheider has a fear of water. At the end he has to conquer his fear by going out onto the ocean to kill the shark.


Have your hero at an isolated location where he can’t escape the horror. Like the hotel in “The Shining”.


Tease the audience. Make them jump at scenes that appear scary — but turn out to be completely normal. (Like the cat jumping out of the closet) Give them some more foreplay before bringing in the real monster.


A couple of times during the middle of the script show how evil the monster can be — as it attacks its victims.


The hero investigates and finds out the truth behind the horror.


The final confrontation. The hero has to face both his fear and the monster. The hero uses his brain, rather than muscles, to outsmart the monster. At the end of “The Village” the blind girl tricks the monster to fall into the hole in the ground.


Everything’s back to the way it was from the beginning — but the hero has changed for the better or for the worse. At the end of “Signs” Mel Gibson puts on his clerical collar again — he got his faith back.


We see evidence that the monster may return somewhere..somehow..in the future. Almost all “Friday The 13th”-movies end with Jason showing signs of returning for another sequel.
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6 Comments Add yours

  1. David says:

    Your credibility on story is suspect when you twice make a positive example of “Signs,” a terrible movie. The aliens (hiding in a cornfield) are killed by water?!

    1. it is an ensemble series (soap), but the main action centres around Lord Grantham because without him the show wouldn’t exist.

  2. Taylor says:

    I heard jumpscares are a cheap thing to add to horror.

    1. Sometimes they can be if used too often. Think about dread of impending
      danger and anticipation of events. Jumps can be used to shock and distract the audience.

  3. Malcolm says:

    Horror protagonists often work differently than those of other genres, often not having big flaws they need to overcome. Laurie Strode in Halloween is the most virtuous of her social group (though she smokes pot, this is not treated as a flaw). That movie is about inevitability and fate with a villain that is senseless, random violence personified so there is no need for a traditional arc. She does become a survivor, but she doesn’t start lacking a trait she gains later.
    Similarly, Ripley in Alien has no clear flaw. She is unexpectedly cold and logical, but if her early cold logic would have been listened to and Kane left outside the ship, there would have been no more deaths. That is a very symbolic movie, and the Xenomorph itself represents numerous sexual fears, but Ripley does not have a specific fear of sexuality she needs to overcome.

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