Posted by Peter Goldfinger

5 Rules For Writing Horror

So you’ve finally caught on that the easiest script to get made is horror. It’s global, it’s cheap and it’s the most made genre with independent investors. So what do you need to know?


1) Low Budget If You Are Not Established

There are so many genius horror movies that take place in a house or a hotel or in the woods. Why? Because you only need one location. Monsters are tricky, but ghosts that you never really have to see (Paranormal Activity) are cheap. The cheaper your budget, the more likely an independent financier will take a chance on it. For a good primer on how much drama you can squeeze out of three actors and a hotel room, I recommend the genius, The Disappearance of Alice Creed.


2) What is Your Subgenre?

Is it a relentless, silent boogeyman (Halloween, The Strangers)? Is it a monster (Piranha, The Babadook)? Is it a whodunit (Scream, Sorority Row ß go rent this right now)? Is it a horror/comedy (Happy Death Day, Evil Dead)? Do not cross subgenres. Mike Meyers doesn’t crack wise. Too often people try to have it all. The primary edict of my teaching is “Be Your Own Expert.” If you watch horror movies similar to the one you want to write, it will keep you on point.


3) Opening Kill

Open your movie with a badass kill. Especially if you are a new writer. Give your reader something to keep them reading. My writing partner, Josh Stolberg, and I start almost every pitch with an opening good kill just to get them in the mood. Be imaginative. Find kill ideas wherever you go. Josh and I have been together for 20 years and almost everywhere we go one of us will say to the other something along the lines of, “Okay, see that waterslide? Here’s how I’d kill you in it...” One of our greatest honors was winning Bloody Disgusting’s “Kill of the Week” for the Death by Wine Bottle kill in Sorority Row (you haven’t rented it yet?). Oscars? Who needs ‘em...


4) Zombies Are Dead

This genre is incredibly played out. We’ve had zombie humor (Zombieland) and zombie love stories (Warm Bodies). What could there possibly be left to make? Yes, it’s true that people love them some zombies, but if you are going to do it, you need to have an incredibly original take.


5) We Must Care About the Characters!

People think that horror movies are just about killing a bunch of characters, but those kills won’t land unless we care about the characters. When we see Rose Armitage killed at the end of Get Out (if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re never going to!), we hate her with just the right amount of passion. Why? She completely destroyed our lead character’s life. She’s deceived him but worse than that, she’s deceived us! Die, Rose die! The Zucker Brothers tell a great story from the screening of their farce comedy, Airplane. At the end, the audience started cheering when the plane landed safely. They said they learned a lesson that day: No matter how ridiculous your movie is, people are still rooting for the characters’ well-being.


5 Rules For Writing Horror
About Pete Goldfinger
Pete Goldfinger is a working feature and television writer in Hollywood who written several feature films for Lionsgate and Summit such as Jigsaw, which grossed over $100MM, Sorority Row, Piranha 3D, and has written and sold television shows to all major networks such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Medinah.

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