Want to know the secrets behind the horror? Maybe you've got this big idea for a terrifying movie or game? Let's venture a little further into this dark yet compelling world - if you're not too afraid...
This is how to make your own nightmare. Here are five crucial tips on how to create a terrifying and unforgettable horror movie (or game)!
Make them realistic so that people can get attached to them. When one (or more) of them gets killed off, your audience will be shocked, and it will create hatred towards your enemy that's causing fear and devastation in its wake. This also engages with your audience because you want them to feel a certain way about characters: you want them to hate the enemy, and be rooting for the main character. By putting a lot of effort into your characters you make the audience see them as real people and want more. You need to know your characters inside out if you want them to be affected somehow by the world they're in. Will they have to face personal fears? What are their weaknesses? Is one of your characters a little cowardly, or out for themselves? This means that in the face of danger they will run off without saving anyone else, and could cause problems for other characters involved. What would really scare and test your characters? Take Stephen King's IT for example - the characters in this movie find Pennywise the clown terrifying because he can morph into their fears. The people in your story need to be realistic so that means having strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes and so on. How will their strengths help them in their situation? Good solid characters will make your story a thousand times better.
Also, give your characters a back story - including the enemy. Why is the enemy or monster killing people? Do they have a reason? What type of monster are they? Do they have to be destroyed a certain way? Why do they have to be killed a certain way? Are they a zombie that's emerged from a world-wide epidemic? And what are the stories of your other characters? Why are they in this world, or fighting a monster? For example in the game The Evil Within, the main character (Sebastian) is a detective, trying to stop Ruvik from inside the latter's head. We also know of the events leading up to what takes place in the game - Sebastian's wife Myra is missing, and their daughter Lily died in a house fire. This is a good example of a back story; Sebastian has a purpose.
Some would argue that Sebastian is a cliche detective, being an alcoholic with a tragic back story - but I like him.
Just remember, to make something truly horrifying, have no mercy. Don't be afraid to be cruel, and scare the hell out of them!
2). Creating your monster
So you know to give the enemy a back story and establish the rules, e.g. the zombies in The Walking Dead are killed by chopping their heads off, or the Titans in Attack on Titan are killed by slicing out the nape of their neck - but you also need to make sure they are intimidating, ruthless, and not easily defeated. They are going to be the creature or person that makes your movie or game scary and create obstacles for your protagonist. Make sure your monster is consistent - for example if the zombies in The Walking Dead couldn't be killed by chopping their heads off anymore then this would be weird and make no sense. Whatever the rules are after you have established boundaries, stick to them.
Why is your antagonist scary? How do they mess with you? What makes them intimidating? Or make you want to run for your life? Why are they insane? Do they mess with your head? Make your heart thud? You need to take all these things into account if you want to create an antagonist so vicious that it'll give your viewers nightmares!
You don't have to have jumpscares, but they can help to make your movie or game even more scary. If you want to shock viewers and make them jump, then a good jumpscare or two could do the trick.
To turn something into horror, you need to create tension and this uncomfortable feeling of not knowing what to expect and being on edge all the time - but not being able to divert your gaze. Viewers are afraid, but they want to find out more. Tension and making viewers feel on edge is vital. Otherwise people won't think it's a great movie or fun game because it wasn't scary.
Fool your audience into thinking something is going to happen to create tension. This can be created by the use of music, or by having no sound. You'll make your audience question the silence; why's it so quiet? Is something going to happen? Lure them into a false sense of security - then you'll get them! The game Five Nights at Freddy's does this well, especially the fourth game. On the first night it's usually quiet, and you're on edge waiting for a jumpscare - then the animatronics arrive unexpectedly, zooming in at a rapid pace which makes the gamers feel like they are going to be eaten alive! And there is a loud sound that comes out of no where too. Now THAT is how you do a jumpscare! Sounds such as creaky doors and floorboards can also aid in creating tension and causing your viewer to want to hide behind the sofa. People are frightened because they are shocked, so this is what you need to keep in mind. Take them by surprise and make sure to be unpredictable.
But again, you don't have to have jumpscares. Some people think jumpscares are cheap, and maybe it would be better for you to stick to creating a creepy, tense sort of vibe. The decision is entirely up to you.
4). Use your 5 Senses
Using your five senses will help to make your world more realistic. We all have five senses - or maybe one of your characters has an impairment - how will this affect them in the story?
The Conjuring captures the senses well. It's a very dark film where creepy looking faces jump out at times impossible to predict, which also creates brilliant jumpscares. The scene where the ghost claps their hands in "hide and clap" is very spooky because two pale hands emerge out of no where in the darkness, and the claps are loud and they echo. It's simple, but works! And was enhanced by use of senses. It was as if someone was clapping right next to our ears...
This is how you can use your five senses:
Smell - Imagine you're in a dark sewers. It's going to smell so bad that one of your characters may say something about it. If you're somewhere that's dingy and rotting then there are going to be foul smells. Maybe one of your characters comes across dead bodies? Normally in horror smells will not be pleasant. It's a dark and disgusting world so remember - very smelly and dirty! This can be shown in a movie or game by speech perhaps? "It smells down here!" "What's that smell?..." "I can smell something. Like - dead bodies..."
Taste - Maybe your character's mouth is dry because they are nervous, or they're attacked and they can taste blood? Taste is another sense that can't really be shown in films or games and is better for books, but you can show what's in your character's mouth - e.g. blood pouring from their mouth and choking them. This will make good imagery because if something is in someone's mouth or falling out of their mouth, then it will be odd and disturbing and inkeeping with the horror theme.
Touch - Your characters will obviously feel things: grabbing other people, holding weapons, feel of the ground when they fall over, or the pain of a wound. What predicaments do your characters find themselves in? Maybe they have to swim to safety for example, and are freezing in the icy waters, or they can feel the heat from flames when they're trying to escape a house fire. There is plenty to be felt, and not just outside but inside themselves too.
Sight and Sound - these are the most important, because obviously a film or game is a visual and audible experience. You'll need loud sounds accompanied by disturbing, dark aesthetics for the climax of your movie. As mentioned before, a combination of music and silence can create tension - or creepy laughter, footsteps or screams. Visually it is going to be dark and have figures appear out of no where in an aggressive, menacing manor ready to kill in the most painful way imaginable.
Your senses are important to create a spooky atmosphere - especially sight and sound.
What's happening in your film? It will give your movie or game a certain look and feel and set needed boundaries in your world. Zombie apocalypse? Then your world is going to be desolate and grey and will be a survival of the fittest type movie/ game. And if it's a zombie apocalypse, then it would be weird if a vampire popped out of nowhere, wouldn't it?
How will you be in danger? Why is this world or monster, etc. the way it is? For example in the Saw movies, Jigsaw sets up cruel lessons for his hostages. This means desolate rooms with possible weapons, a way for the hostage to receive their "challenge". This storyline means that characters need to have done something bad and somehow don't appreciate life, or at least in Jigsaw's eyes, to be a victim in these sick and vicious games. In Saw, because it is based in real life and not in a fictional world with zombies or a morphing clown, there can be no magic spell to stop everything that's happening, or Jigsaw can't be invincible. Your storyline will set a lot of things in place, just like your characters' traits will, and it will make your idea bigger and better.
So remember - it's all about being consistent, having good characters, plot and a terrifying beast that's causing a lot of trouble and devastation - and don't be afraid to give your audience nightmares!
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