Thursday, 3 October 2019

Does Your Script Have The Scare Factor?


It is the month of Halloween and you know what that means. 

You probably guessed I’m going to talk about horror movies/TV shows, and you’re right. But I’ve decided to do something a little different this time. 

I wanted you guys to be as much a part of this article as I am. So here’s what I did: I created polls on both Facebook and Instagram with the following question:

What is your favorite horror movie subgenre? 

The two available options were “Psychological” or “Slasher”. Which one do you think got more votes? 

If you guessed “psychological”, congratulations. But still, there were quite a few votes for slashers. I then asked voters to please elaborate on their choice. By voters I mean all kinds of horror watchers—the horror lovers, the horror not-so-lovers, the blasé...everyone, even the haters. I wanted to know what keeps them at the edge of their seat when watching horror films, and I got it. 

The answers were varied for both subgenres:

SLASHERS


“They’re funny as f*ck!”

“I love the gore and over-exaggeration.”

“ I think I like that it's easier to put myself in the character's shoes, and although there are some unrealistic aspects to a lot of slashers (like how the killer gets killed at the end but comes back to life every time there's a sequel)... there is also very relatable fear. The fear of being chased....the fear of being murdered....finding that your friends have all been killed and knowing you're the next target.”

PSYCHOLOGICAL


“There’s a slow reveal. We never know exactly what’s going to happen.”

“Well-built suspense that goes beyond the cliché scare, with a good story, of course.”

“I decided to vote for psychological, particularly due to the awesome writing the majority of them films contain such as in The Sixth Sense in which a psychologist analyses a kid who communicates with ghosts.”


Before we move on, just a disclaimer: this isn’t a competition. I’m not trying to measure which subgenre is better because...oh yeah, there’s no such thing. 

I know our readers write all types of horrors, so the idea is to give you a good resource and lots of inspiration for your next story. 

You see, we need horror in all its variety. 

Psychological horrors send us into a maze of discomfort and doubt, and still play tricks with our false know-it-all claims by turning the story around in a way we’re left sitting there, staggered. 

Slashers have that typical horror movie tension we crave, and questions we can’t help but ask: Who’s the killer? Where’s the killer? Who’s going to die next? 


They can be just as disturbing, especially to those who can’t stand the sight of bloody, sharp weapons and a crooked mask. And don’t you even try to outsmart the jump scares. 

They’ll get you first. 

Despite the comparisons, both subgenres can have plot twists, jump scares, and give us nightmares for weeks. Both can be brilliant if they’re well-written. 

So, without further ado, let’s jump right into two recent examples that’ll get you pumped to write your next horror feature or pilot. 

MIDSOMMAR


I’d describe this movie as a picturesque, multicoloured nightmare. 

That photography, though! 

The beauty of the film contrasts sharply with all the horrific events in an ancestral commune that’s welcoming, cheerful, ornate, yet doused in mystery and blood. 

Just wait for it. Well, I couldn’t expect anything less than deeply disturbing coming from Ari Aster’s genius. 

Several elements kept my eyes peeled while watching that horrifying masterpiece. 

Firstly, I wanted to know how the horror would escalate from such a bubbly and inviting environment filled with hospitable natives. 

After a while, I noticed that the excessive cordiality and painful ear-to-ear smiling were already making me uncomfortable. This “incognito element” (how will this seemingly inoffensive story develop into full-blown horror?) is sure to pique one’s interest until things start to get weird. 

This was barely an introduction. 

After careful consideration and after gathering various opinions from fellow Midsommar fans, I wrote up with a list of what exactly made us think: “this sh*t’s about to scare the hell out of us.”


The creepy chanting

Any type of shrill chanting, especially in a language you don’t understand and particularly in horror movies is bound to send shivers down any spine.

The gruesome deaths

Oftentimes, when death/murder scenes are too horrific, you usually see smash cuts or concealing, e.g. a killer’s face being splattered with blood as he violently stabs a victim. Or, you could get unrealistic gore à la Kill Bill (no offense, that’s exactly why we love it). 

Like in many other horrors, Midsommar gives you that accident vibe: deaths are so horrible and realistic, you just can’t look away. 


By realistic, I mean explicit dismemberment, skin-tearing, mallet-to-skull bizarreness that’s meant to carve the worst images deep into your brain. 

Now, how do you write such brutal scenes without them sounding trashy? How can you make them visceral and real? A scene can only be as good as its writing. The script, the script, and the script, remember? 

Well, the answer is in details. 

Good, concise, and comprehensive description will paint an image in your reader’s mind through mirror neurons, which activate when something you read or see is powerful enough to mess with your feelings. 


Stillness


Let’s face it: when it’s pitch dark and there’s someone standing still somewhere doing nothing, it’s hard to think of a prompt reaction. Should you run? Should you call them out? Should you freeze? 

Whatever the option, you never know what could happen if you do it. 

What would you do if you saw a half-naked dude dressed in a dead guy’s skin just...standing there and staring at you? 

Yeah, I don’t know either. And that’s scary as hell. 


This topic reminded me of Hereditary, when a possessed Annie is barely visible in the dead silent darkness of her son’s room. 

She’s immobile and shadowed as she lurks from up one of the walls. 

No soundtrack, no jumps. Just stillness. 

In my opinion, that was the scariest scene of the entire movie. Once you spot her there, it’s too late to unsee it. 


 Deformity is natural and varies in degrees—in fact, there’s been a discussion on the wrongful portraying of disability as a scary factor in horror, particularly in Midsommar. 

In the film, deformity was custom-made to give an audience the creeps, and let me tell you, it did the job quite well. That’s the case with the character Ruben, whose features are grotesquely warped and out of proportion but also remain relevant to the story - he has been inbred  from incest, with the belief that he is an oracle of sorts.

Sharp contrast


A few years back, when I first watched the trailer for We Need to Talk about Kevin, I couldn’t stop thinking about Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” playing on the background. Such a merry tune, yet such an unsettling story. 

Notice how most horror movie palettes consist of colder, darker tones--these colors are meant to acclimate the audience for what’s to come. You don’t often link horror to colorful, sunlit, and frilly, as is the case with Midsommar. The color grading gives us this paradisiac landscape to marvel at, only to turn our expectations around at the first splatter of bright red blood. 

Here’s another example: the assorted flowers in the film serve as ornaments for the women’s hair, as well as the dinner tables. But they’re also used to decorate corpses. 

It’s the exact same imagery that makes clowns one of the most common phobias: they’re supposed to make children smile. Once you realize even the happiest and kindest looking people are capable of gruesome murder, you become wary and scared. 

The cultural element


The Swedish inhabitants from the Harga commune have a rather alarming passage rite: whenever a member turns 72, he or she must leap from a cliff while everyone else present has to witness it. For guests, the scene is absurd; for those in the commune, it’s completely natural. 

When it comes to culture, there’s not much you can do but bear with it for as long as you’re there (even if the beliefs are sickening), or peace out. Trouble is, you shouldn’t leave the commune if you wish to make it out alive. 

Okay. Let’s take a breather and move on to...

AMERICAN HORROR STORY – 1984


From the very first episode of the ninth AHS season, we already get familiar vibes: a teen group flees to camp in the woods to escape their current life situation, unaware of the terror that awaits them. They hear a terrifying story about past murders that took place in the exact room they’re sleeping in, shrug it off, and go about their lives as if there wasn’t a serial killer best known as “Mr. Jingles” just outside trying to get everyone killed. 

Isn’t that the essence of a good old slasher? True fans know it, and they love it. It never gets old, especially when the twists get smarter and smarter with time. While discussing the first episodes with fellow AHS fans, some of them thought they were just cliché...and they’re right, ‘cause that’s exactly the point. 

The best part about this specific season is that it rang so many bells! Particular scenes reminded me of I Know What You Did Last Summer, Scream...it brought back memories from movies I definitely want to see again. 

Well, it’s all fun and games until it starts to get creepy. Here are some of the elements that make AHS (and slasher horrors) nightmarish:

Building tension


We might have an idea of who the killer is, but we’re most likely mistaken. We never know who’s going to die next, or how they’re going to die. Although slasher deaths might be gory and shocking, the escalating tension is what keeps our heart thumping.

Backstory


A killer doesn’t “just kill”. 

It might be fun while it lasts, but at what point did they start viewing murder as an activity? Have they escaped a mental asylum? Has someone taught them to do it? Do they go after a specific clique, and why? 

Such inhuman actions require a background that “justifies” them, so to speak. 

Serial killer souvenirs


Edmund Kemper (Mindhunter) collected his victim’s heads. Ted Bundy (Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile) also kept his victims’ decomposing bodies. Mr. Jingles cuts off their victims’ ears and makes a necklace out of them. 

These grisly rituals make you wonder what on earth goes on inside such a monstrous mind, and makes you pray you’re not next. 

Sheer fear


It’s hard going to sleep knowing someone could be at your door at that exact moment. With or without a mask, it’s not improbable—don’t you watch True Crime Daily? Yeah, the fact that ghastly murders do happen for various reasons everywhere should be enough to give you goosebumps.

As a final example, one scene from The Strangers is a perfect representation of this fear. When inquired about their reason to murder an innocent woman and her boyfriend, one of three masked killers simply replies: “because you were home”. If that’s not a reason to send someone out of the house immediately, I don’t know what is. 


Of course, there are countless other horror films and episodes you can use to try this effective little exercise of, well, dismembering them and listing the elements that make them so horrific. It works well to anyone who thinks their story lacks credibility or eeriness. The more you watch and learn, the better you’ll get at it.

Laila Resende is a 20-year-old freelance copywriter and a Feature Writer and Social Media Assistant at Into The Script. Her insatiable passion for movies and blogging is perfect for her role as Feature Writer & Social Media Assistant at Into The Script. 

Laila shares all of Into The Script's news on her Instagram page (@lailarsnde) and Facebook.

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