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Horror movies are often considered an easy genre for filmmakers to make their start. They're often cheap to make, allow for plenty creativity and showcase technical skills, but in order to make a good horror movie is a much trickier task. With Halloween already here, let us look at some of the key ingredients for a successful horror movie.
All genres of fiction needs good characters for us to care about them and act as our window to a story. But a trap that many horror movies, particularly the slasher sub-genre, where characters act like idiots, douches or both and some directors, writers and producers think audiences want to see people get gruesome deaths. But the best horror movies, even slashers have characters will want to see survive their ordeal. Laurie Storde in the original Halloween was made out to be a nice, likeable girl, where the re-make's version was a vile individual where you would want to grab the machete yourself.
Again great movies need great villains and the best horror movies have some of the most memorable villains. On the top of my head I can think of Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and Jack Torrance. Often these villains have a physical presence or a larger than life performance. With some of the best slasher villains is there is some mysterious behind them. Let us look at Halloween and the remake; what is better, a young child that suddenly snaps and turns into a killer or the remake trying humane him by making him the product of a dysfunctional home.
Atmosphere and Direction
A good horror film often has a good atmosphere to it, drawing the audiences into the world that is created. Good Japanese and Continental European horror movies are skilled at doing this, with movies like The Ring and The Orphanage being very much about the set-up, while a movie like Let the Right One In and its American remake which was a very much about its story and character development as well as the gore. Another classic example is the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, where the former head of the British Board of Film Classification, James Ferman, wanted to make cuts because of the terror and atmosphere, but could not because there was so little actual gore in the flick.
Themes and ideas can go a long way to enhance a movie's longevity, give it substance a movie and be more then a bloodbath. Sometimes the theme could be simple, like a parent wanting to protect their child, to more larger concepts such as subjects like society or religion. The first Saw movie was a success because of its simple premise which expanded into a psychological thriller which asked moral questions.
Movie fans and fanboys often decry that movies lack originality; but it can easily argued that many movies are formulaic such as the slasher movies of old. Some horror movies have made a massive impact for being very original, whether in style or approach. Often great horror movies are seen to be revolutionary, e.g. Psycho, The Exorcist, The Blair Witch Project, Saw and Paranormal Activity. Even a movie like the remake of Maniac was praised by some for its first person filming style. Movies like Scream and Tucker and Dale vs. Evil are commendable for deconstructing the clichés of horror genre, providing both gore and laughs.
Social or Political Commentary
Social or political commentary is not necessary to make a great horror movie, but it serve as a nice extra. This is certainly the case with George A. Romero's Living Dead where he has tackled Civil Rights in Night of the Living Dead, consumerism in Dawn of the Dead and Land of the Dead was very much a criticism of the divide between rich and poor.