As you guys know, I'm a horror buff. Halloween is a fun time for me because the cable channels play scary movies non-stop.
Even though there's a glut of horrors to choose from, most of them fall into the derivative category of prurient gore. You know the story by heart. Six sexed up teenagers get stranded in a (blank), where a (blank) kills all of them but the female virgin, who escapes, mind-effed for life. These kind are so boring they make me want to hurt myself. Although if you get stuck watching one of these with a group, you can make it a little more fun by all writing down what order the characters will perish in. Bonus points for how.
The horror movies we remember usually fit Wes Craven's definition of thriller-horror (Horror is fear of damage to the body, thriller is fear of damage to the soul). That's Se7en, Rosemary's Baby, The Sixth Sense, The Wicker Man, The Shining, Halloween (he's not just an anonymous slasher, he's her retarded brother whose eyes were literally forced to see through), The Excorcist, etc. You know, the ones people talk about and remember.
So it's hard to find a GOOD horror movie by that definition. One that's more than gore with no psychological scares.
If you're looking to be scared I've found some obscure, well-made films I can recommend that you may not have seen. They're all available on Netflix.
Ginger Snaps (the whole trilogy)
Hellraiser VII: Deader
Tremors IV: The Legend Begins
Nip/Tuck Season 2
The Mothman Prophecies
Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula
And the oldies you may not have seen:
The Wicker Man
Stir of Echoes
The Watcher in the Woods
The Lost Boys
Personally I'll be watching Slither and The Woods this weekend.
And from this month's Creative Screenwriting:
All facts considered, horror is essentially defined by what scares a given society at a specific time, a fact made all the more relevant by the influx of international nightmares on American cinema screens. Writer Stephen Susco puts the cultural difference into perspective as he considers the eponymous force from his script for The Grudge. "This is so much bigger than the characters. It is such human hubris to think they can stop it." The key theme of inevitability pervades Japanese supernatural horror. As Susco succinctly puts it: "In Asian horror, you're just fucked."
In constructing a modern horror tale, "The most important idea is character empathy," explains Susco. "A lot of scary movies go wrong by not making the horror personal." Tracy Letts, who adapted his stage play Bug into a feature film for Exorcist director William Friedkin, agrees. "Characters that, on some level, the audience can identify with have a lot to do with a successful story." Susco notes that any number of slasher films present characters the audience couldn't care less about, while "the horror films people point to as the best are the ones where you can really empathize with, and relate to, the character."
Like what you just read? Read Jason Davis' full piece on Writing the Horror Film in the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting Magazine, on sale now!