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HOW TO MAKE A HORROR MOVIE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE

how to make a horror movie

 

According to cognitive neuroscientist and Science Focus writer Dr Christian Jarrett, horror films tap into our primal fears and provide a safe way for us to rehearse mentally how we would cope with age-old dangers”.

He explains that sensation-seekers may enjoy this mental process because some humans may find pleasure in the feelings of relief that follow after intense fear”. 

Sure, that probably is true (he is an expert, after all), but a horror movie still has to be of a certain quality to pass the enjoyability test.

The story must be either thought-provoking or action-packed; the characters have to be endearing, interesting, entertaining and relatable; the setting has to be a little spooky; the dramatic music has to strike fear into the hearts of the viewer. 

Looking to make a horror movie? Well, welcome to Audio Network – the place where you can read all about the components that make up a horror movie and also explore our comprehensive selection of ready-to-licence horror production music tracks

What Is a Horror Movie?

Horror is a film genre that purposefully aims to induce fear in its viewers.

The film genre has its genesis in gothic literature in which authors such as Horace Walpole, Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker would evoke feelings of the sublime and the uncanny to tell their macabre tales.

Often, these tales would reflect the struggles and social issues of their epoch.

Today, contemporary filmmakers use the horror genre as a tool to concurrently entertain and create conversation around pressing topics such as racial inequality and the importance of the #MeToo movement - e.g. 'Get Out' (2017) and 'The Invisible Man' (2020).

how to make a horror movie

A Guide to Making Horror Films

From the story to the music, allow us to walk you through the five key components you need to make a horror movie:

  • Story
  • Characters
  • Costumes & Makeup
  • Setting
  • Music

Story

All films tell a story, and horror movies tell the darkest ones of them all.

As were sure to know, some horror movies are based on true accounts whilst others are plucked from the imagination of the screenwriter and the director. 

If youre looking to make a horror movie based on a true story, youll first want to figure out which part of the story youre going to focus on and how you may want to exaggerate the events of the story for the sake of the audiences entertainment.

One of the finest examples of a non-fiction horror movie is James Wans 'The Conjuring' released in 2013. 

If you're looking to film a fictional horror movie, it may be a good idea to start by creating an antagonist.

Once youve fleshed your antagonist out, you should find it pretty easy to build a story around them. Think about how the entire Halloween franchise revolves around the simple-yet-sinister character of Micheal Myers. 

Furthermore, once youve established the premise of your story, its paramount you work on its narrative flow.

A simple way to ensure the story has structure is to check it has a powerful beginning, middle and end; having said that, you mustnt shy away from breaking the rules of story-making to suit your vision.  

Characters

Now that youve got a story on your hands, its time to populate it with characters. 

If youre producing a non-fiction horror film, youll want to decide which true-life characters are unessential to the plot and therefore need to be cut from the screenplay.

Conversely, you may want to consider adding characters that you feel are missing from the plot (e.g. perhaps your story is lacking a character that provides comic relief). 

If your horror movie is completely fictitious, youll need to invent characters that will interfere with the antagonists plans who also risk falling victim to their villainy.

Additionally, you may want to add characters to your tale who support the antagonists menacing schemes. 

Whilst developing characters, you may want to start thinking about the actors youd like to cast. Some actors take the filmmakers idea of a character to the next level.

Think about how Lupita Nyongo made the role of Red in Jordan Peeles 'Us' (2019) her own; theres no way Jordan Peele could have foreseen such a performance. 

Costumes & Makeup

The term horror movieevokes memories of watching Freddy Krueger prance about in his striped jumper, Micheal Myers kill civilians in his iconic mask and jumpsuit and Pennywise clowning around with a full face of makeup.

Thus, its essential a filmmaker carefully considers the appearance of their characters as it may be the factor that entices audiences to re-watch your horror in years to come. 

Plus, youll do well to remember that horror film characters are some of the most popular inspirations for Halloween costumes. (We mean, who wouldnt want their character to boomerang back into relevance every October?)

Setting

Not only do filmmakers need to decide where their story plays out, but they also need to choose a physical space to film their scenes.

Sometimes, this location may be one and the same – for instance, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street' (2007) was set and filmed in London – but sometimes filmmakers may need to film in a different location for reasons of convenience, or because the setting is fictitious (e.g. Amity Island from 'Jaws' (1975).

When choosing a location, make sure you bear in mind the lighting, the weather and the diegetic sound of the space.

Its as simple as this: the better the location, the less youll have to manipulate your film in post-production. 

Music

No horror movie is complete without some spine-tingling music – think John Williams 'Jaws Theme, John Carpenters Halloween Theme and Bernard Herrmanns 'Psycho Theme.

See what all of the themes have in common? Theyre suspenseful, dramatic and unforgettable.

Here at Audio Network, weve got over 200,000 tracks that are patiently waiting to be adopted by you for your next project.

To help you explore our expansive catalogue with ease, weve divided our music into several playlists. Head on over to our horror playlist to sample songs such as Kelly and Pittocks Defcon and Alex KovacsGrim.

We hope you enjoyed this article! If you did, be sure to check out our blog for more insightful articles, the latest news, inspiration for your next project and industry expertise.

Need Music for Your Project?

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FAQ's About Making Horror Movies

Want more? Allow us to answer the most popular questions when it comes to making horror movies. 

1. What elements make a horror movie?

The elements that make a horror movie are story, characters, costume and makeup, setting and music.

Effectively combine and harmonise all of these elements together, and youll have a horror movie on your hands. 

What makes up a good horror movie you ask? Perhaps a better question is, what makes a good horror movie?. Simply put, a good horror movie scares its viewers.

A horror may choose to frighten audiences with suspense, blood and gore or jump scares, or it may be a psychological horror that chooses to mess with the viewers mind. With so many ways to elicit fear, its no surprise that everyones interpretation of a good horror movie’ is slightly different. 

2. How do you make a low-budget horror movie?

Its entirely possible to make a low-budget horror movie, the filmmaker simply has to make sure theyre realistic about the film they can create.

By focusing on a small group of relatable characters in a simple setting – say a suburban neighbourhood or a hospital – the filmmaker can keep costs down and the story entertaining. 

Another great way to cut costs is for the filmmaker to employ Audio Networks catalogue of production music tracks instead of spending thousands of pounds producing their own soundtrack. Just check out our Music For Horror Movies article.

3. How much money does it take to make a horror movie?

Like all movies, a horror movie can be as cheap or as expensive as a filmmaker likes.

For example, John CarpenterHalloween’ (1978) cost just $325,000 whilst Marc ForsterWorld War Z’ (2013) cost an eye-watering $190,000,000. So, we guess the real answer is how long is a piece of string?


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