For this section of the questionnaire I produced, I wanted to know the demographics of my audience. Knowing their age and gender of them would be helpful for the production process because I would know what kind of dialogue I want my characters to say if any, and also how I will market my film when the production is finished.
With the phobia section, I wanted to know what got my potential audience scared. I found this useful because they weren’t that scared of a lot of the phobias I put on the questionnaire, with 3.24 out of 5 being the highest score on Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders. For my production, however, using spiders wouldn’t be in my best interests as it would require extensive animal rights paperwork and it would also cost me money which I don’t have much of for the production. As well as that I would need an animal handler on set which would cost even more. A phobia that I am considering using in my short film called Scopophobia, is the fear of being stalked, this is a fear that is used in many slasher and supernatural films. As well as the phobia questions, I asked if the potential audience was afraid of horror films. The majority which was 10 out of 17 said yes. The other 7 are the people that I want to change the opinion of when they watch my film.
I wanted to know what people liked or disliked about horror films, so I asked. I gathered from my responses that they were more suspenseful than other kinds of films. This helped because I want my film to have a strong element of suspense and for the audience to wonder what is going to happen next. However, another response was that they are just there to get a scare out of you and the story is not very “gripping”. I want to change the opinion of this responder by having a fine balance between storytelling and horror in my film. Another question I asked did they find them scary, to which the majority put “No” which was 12. I want people to watch my film and at least feel a bit afraid or on edge. So this helps with how I am going to write my film to have a good amount of horror that viewers might not see coming.
Camera Shots & Techniques in Horror Films
The camera plays a huge role in adding an ominous atmosphere and building suspense in a horror film. It is vital to use this to create a sense of fear in the audience but to also give time for the audience to unwind and feel relieved until they are launched back into being afraid again.
One way the camera can create tension is by not showing the audience what a character is seeing that is making them so scared. This works by playing into the audience’s fear of the unknown, by not seeing the thing creating the suspense and terrifying atmosphere they are not looking forward to when they finally get to see it for themselves. However, this can additionally work counter-intuitively as when they finally do see it, they could be disappointed, or it is less scary than they were expecting it to be. The opposite to this is seeing the threat for an extended period to build tension as the audience could be unsure of what’s going to happen to the characters, or what the villain could do. This is especially true for zoom shots when the camera is slowly going towards the threat, either by zooming or being physically moved forward.
A certain shot you can use in horror films is the Dutch angle shot, which is where the camera is tilted so the shot doesn’t look natural. It can make the audience feel disorientated and panicked. These shots usually stand out in a scene as most shots are level and aren’t at a slanted angle, so when filmmakers use these angles, they are often getting a point across or showing distress in their characters. These work well when they are used infrequently because of this fact. The way that these shots can make a scene either more memorable or ridiculed if they are used too often in a fully serious way compared to if you were watching a parody film or a comedy.
Different camera movement is in addition very important when it comes to making a horror film. A lot of the horror films you will watch will often use a tracking shot in different ways. It could be tracking the antagonist marching towards his victims or it could be a shot of our victim walking, not knowing they are being watched from the killer’s perspective. Friday The 13th (1980) uses this technique truly to its advantage. In this film, we see many shots of the killer looking at the camp counselors they intend on killing. These are often in wooded areas or through windows and that is why they work so well. As the killer is in a position where they are harder to be seen, it is more believable too why our characters don’t notice them much earlier in the film. Black Christmas (1974) also took advantage of these looking through the window or from the attic door point of view shots, but these do not go as noticed as the film is incredibly underrated and unseen by a lot of people.
One-shot that is seen in almost every single horror film that you can feasibly watch would be the establishing shot. This shot sets up the setting for your film or just the scene but shows the audience where they are going to be spending their time. This shot can show a creepy mansion or a dark secluded forest that isolates the characters from the rest of society. These work well to get the audience in the right feel for the film, if the film wants to start them off relaxed it can show them a familiar area that is relatable for them, this could be a house or a restaurant for example. But if the film wants to chuck them in the deep end so to speak, it can start in an area that the audience will find unsettling or somewhere that makes them anxious. These shots can also show us something about the character that either lives there or frequently visits as part of their equilibrium routine. One good example of this is in the film Friday the 13th: Part 2 (1981). Deputy Winslow (Jack Marks) comes across Jason’s shack in the middle of the woods. In a POV-wide shot, we see the shack; it is run down and decrepit and does not look like a normal person would reside in it. This shows us Jason’s character, he is a man child that has not been a functioning part of society for his whole life. When he was a kid, he was deformed and ignored by the camp counselors; this was before he ‘drowned’, and his mother chose to get revenge. He has built a shack out of salvaged materials purely out of human instinct and the need for shelter from the elements, he is almost a primal man that has been living in the wilderness on his own.
Light, J. (2021) How the Camera Builds Perfect Tension in the Horror Genre. [online] NoFilmSchool. Available at: https://nofilmschool.com/cinematography-camera-horror [Accessed 21 April 2022]
Nashville Film Institute (N/A). Dutch Angle Shot: Everything You Need to Know. [online] NFI. Available at: https://www.nfi.edu/dutch-angle-shot/ [Accessed 21 April 2022]
Kroll, N. (2015) Cinematography Tips for Horror Filmmakers. [online] PremiumBeat. Available at: https://www.premiumbeat.com/blog/cinematography-tips-for-horror-filmmakers/ [Accessed 21 April 2022]
Masterclass Staff (2021) How Tracking Shots Work: 5 Examples of Tracking Shots in Film. [online] Masterclass. Available at: https://www.masterclass.com/articles/how-tracking-shots-work-in-film [Accessed 21 April 2022]
Maio, A (2019) What is an Establishing Shot? Creative Examples that Set the Tone. [online] Studio Binder. Available at: https://www.studiobinder.com/blog/what-is-an-establishing-shot-definition-examples/ [Accessed 21 April 2022]
How Candyman (1992) Merges Slasher & Supernatural
The film Candyman, directed by Bernard Rose and starring Tony Todd and Virginia Madsen, is a horror slasher film set in the 1980s. The plot revolves around Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) a college student doing a case study on the urban legend Candyman, he is summoned only by calling his name five times into a mirror. The film is known as a slasher film but has elements of the supernatural as the villain is summoned and he is a kind of ghost.
A slasher convention of the film is the weapon the villain uses in the film. Typically, the weapon in a slasher film is a sharp object and maybe sometimes a blunt object. In this film, the villain has a sharp hook for a hand in place from where his hand was hacked off by his slave masters. In these types of films, the weapon is often memorable no matter how basic it is, because an iconic character is wielding it. Take for example Halloween (1978), the killer in this slow-burn slasher film Michael Myers kills his victims primarily using a standard kitchen knife you can find anywhere. Even though previous films have used kitchen knives to kill characters, it’s more known to this character. The outfit and mask for Michael help make the weapon more iconic to him as his mask is very memorable and is known around the world as the Michael Myers mask. Candyman’s hook has been memorable in films but is also not completely unique to this character like any other weapons used in slasher films. I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) had a hook hand-wielding killer in the film, although this may have taken inspiration from the success of the film Candyman as it was released five years after.
On the other hand, a common convention for supernatural horror films is to have a spirit or a ghost. In the film, Candyman is a vengeful spirit as he is summoned to take the lives of the people that summoned him. Spirits have been in supernatural horror films since the 1890s and are the main convention that you will see in a supernatural film. For example, in the film Photographing a Ghost (1898), the characters are attempting to get a photograph of a ghost. This film is one of the first few horror films along with Le Manoir du Diable (1896). This shows that spirits are in fact a common sight to see in supernatural horror films, dating back to the first few horror films made. At the end of the film, Helen becomes an urban legend, herself being summoned by her husband saying her name five times in the mirror. Helen was this film’s final girl, which is a convention of these slasher films, but unlike most slashers, the final girl dies in this film.
Furthermore, another slasher convention in the film is the multiple victims that die in the film. In total six people are killed in the film, which is a slightly low(ish) number for older slasher films. It is only one more victim than Halloween which is not the first slasher film but is the film that made them more popular. Usually, in a slasher film there will be a kill count higher than six, but keep in mind that Candyman is a supernatural slasher film. Supernatural films usually have a low kill count, which are two things that make them quite different from each other. Candyman keeps this fairly balanced by having a number that is relatively in between this number. This convention can vary between different slasher films as Scream (1996) had a total kill count of seven which is a meta slasher film that parodies common tropes and cliches in typical slasher films.
Candyman merges these elements well in my opinion as both different conventions from two different sub-genres in horror, which I think makes for an interesting film to watch. The balance between slasher and supernatural does fall more towards a standard slasher flick in the sequels of the film but the original remains to be a good blend between the two.
Solomon J. (2020) A Brief History Of Early Horror [online]. A Brief History of Early Horror. Available at: https://viterbi-web.usc.edu/~jdsolomo/itp104/assignment_06/home (Accessed 28 April 2022).
Taylor, H. (2021) The 13 Key Elements of a Slasher Movie with 10 Slasher Movie Examples [online] Industrial Scripts. Available at: https://industrialscripts.com/slasher-movie/ (Accessed 20 April 2022)
Sound Design in Horror Films
Sound design is a key part of what makes a horror film scary. Imagine if those haunted mansions just sounded like a regular old house. It is the creaky doors, wind rushing through the empty hallways, and an echo of a distant sound that really adds to the scary factor. It is also the non-diegetic sound such as the score or soundtrack and other sound effects added in post-production that makes a horror film feel just that bit more terrifying (depending on who you are), watching it.
The non-diegetic sound in the film can really either add or take away from a scene in a horror film. For example, the film Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to the original which was released in 1978 and has a phenomenal score especially when the character Allyson Nelson (Andi Matichak) sees her friend Oscar Berlucchi (Drew Scheid) impaled on a fence post. A very piercing and haunting track plays called “The Shape Hunts Allyson” which was made by the original film’s director and music creator John Carpenter as well as Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. This track is incredibly fitting for this scene as it is the first time Allyson sees Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) in person after hearing stories from her grandmother Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) over the years. She took these stories as just paranoid ramblings from an old woman so didn’t believe that Michael was much of a threat as she was told he is. The music really puts forward the shock and horror of seeing someone the character did not one hundred percent believe in and has just impaled one of their friends on a high fence post. When making the music, a violin bow slid across an electric guitar for the main guitar part of the song creating a very dark and evil-sounding sound. This is paired with a very high-key synthesizer which creates a typical Halloween song sound. However, a bad example of non-diegetic sound would be in Scream 3 (2000), there is a scene where Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) is fighting for his life with Ghostface (Brian Avery). In the scene, he is hit in the head with a table, and it makes a very cartoon-sounding ‘thwonk’ sound against his head. This does almost ruin the immersion of the scene as it is a very strange-sounding noise and is out of place in the film. On the other hand, though, this film is the most comedic out of all the five Scream films in the franchise so maybe it was intentional. But this is not a very good excuse because there is a difference between comedy and taking the audience out of their immersion in the film.
When it comes to diegetic sounds, which are sounds that would be heard by the characters in the film like a car going past or a doorbell. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) uses ambient farmhouse noises and aggressive chainsaw revving exceptionally well. The chainsaw can be heard by the characters causing them to panic and ultimately making them petrified. As well as that, this creates fear in the audience as hearing a chainsaw in the woods at night or in a field might not be the best life experience. All the dialogue in the film was recorded on set, on location with no ADR needed. This gives it that raw sound that sounds like it belongs on a gritty, dark film like this. The film also has a homemade look to it with lots of grain, helping it to establish itself from mainstream horror at the time which has a cleaner more professional look to it.
Guest Author (2020). Sound Design Brings Horror Movies to Life. [online]. Morbidly Beautiful. Available at: https://morbidlybeautiful.com/sound-design-horror-movies/ [Accessed 25 April 2022]
Coney, B (2018). How John Carpenter made (and remade) his game-changing Halloween score. [online]. Dazed. Available at: https://www.dazeddigital.com/music/article/41938/1/john-carpenter-halloween-soundtrack-sequel-interview [Accessed 25 April 2022]
Pereira, K (2018). Wayne Bell: The man behind the sounds of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. [online]. Designing Sound. Available at: https://designingsound.org/2018/10/25/wayne-bell-the-man-behind-the-sounds-of-the-texas-chain-saw-massacre/ [Accessed 25 April 2022]
How Does the Slasher Sub-Genre Utilise Human Fear & Phobias?
Slasher films have played a huge role in many horror works over the years since the first film that was credited as a slasher film called Black Christmas which was released in 1974. Although ‘Psycho’ which came out in 1960 had a lot of elements of what would become typical conventions of slasher films, it did not have all of them which eliminated it from becoming the first. This film has a total runtime of one hour and thirty-eight minutes, making it a feature film. This film may not be the scariest in the world, but it is a good starting point to show how filmmakers portrayed human fears in their films. In this dissertation, I will be going over how terror and phobias have been used over the years in films as well as why these work in creating a profound sense of fear and despair in the audience.
I would like to start by going over the common conventions that you will find to be quite common in the slasher genre of film. This starts with the concept of the final girl which is what you will see in almost every slasher film you will watch. Jason Hellerman (2020) from NoFilmSchool says “A final girl is a heroine left at the end of a horror movie. She is the one who defeats the bad guy, or escapes, and is left standing (usually) at the very end.” I very much agree with this statement as explains to you what a final girl is in these films. Furthermore, there is also such thing as a final guy, but this is not really a term used as it is so rarely seen people have not officially coined the term. This final girl is usually put through a lot of mental and physical trauma in the film often leading to PTSD, anxiety, stab wounds, burns and/or broken bones, etc. Carol J. Clover (1992) states in her book Men, Women and Chain Saws, “She is abject terror personified”. As she is the one facing her fears and screaming at the horrors she is witnessing. The final girl acts as a kind of trojan horse for the viewer, as well as the Mise En Scene and camera techniques fear can be instilled in the audience through the final girl character.
Being stalked or someone suffering from scopophobia which is the fear of being stared at is another common theme that you will find in a slasher film. After watching Black Christmas, I noticed a lot of filmmaking techniques that are used in a lot of slasher films that came out after it. For example, the long POV tracking shot. One film that is very notable for using this is Halloween (1978) directed by John Carpenter. The film opens with a long tracking shot of a young Michael Myers stalking his teenage sister from outside their house and killing her with a knife that he retrieves from the kitchen. Although Black Christmas did use this it had a much bigger impact in Halloween and put that kind of shot on the map in a way. It works very well to set the tone of the film, as the shot is tension-building and slow-paced; Halloween is slow, but it makes up for that by creating a powerful sense of dread in the audience by having long shots of Michael Myers looming in the distance stalking our final girl, Laurie Strode. These kinds of shots work very well by having him get closer and closer till he strikes further into the film. Furthermore, it improves the quality of the film as we get time to know our characters and build a connection to them. So, in the end, we are rooting for these characters to survive the ordeals of what they are going through, which makes it all the better if they do and live on into the questionable sequels that slasher films make over the years after the original. The Halloween timeline does have multiple different trajectories so to keep it simple I will stick with Halloween 1&2 for now. It is revealed in the second film that Laurie Strode is Michael Myers’ sister, and it is not known why Michael Myers kills but it is his family that is targeted. So, we know Laurie is getting stalked and attacked, but now we know it is her brother it creates the question as to why he is doing this to people whom he should be close with, making it all the scarier when there is no clear motive. On the other hand, whichever confusing timeline of the films, you believe to be the true version there can be a fault in this statement, Rachel Roth (2020) from CBR.com says “Michael Myers is just a cold-blooded killer with no motive”. This is true if you follow the new timeline of the films which goes from the first to the 2018 direct sequel and the 2021 sequel to that film. Meaning what exactly makes Michael Myers scary can be subjective to what the audience thinks and believes.
Continuing from this, A Nightmare on Elm Street which was released in 1984 is where fear can really shine in horror. As this villain, Freddy Krueger can infiltrate the character’s dreams leaving them with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. This toys with the human fear of dreams called Oneirophobia and the fear of falling asleep known as Somniphobia. People’s fears can be exploited in the dream world that Freddy resides in, as he can use his supernatural abilities to morph himself into different entities and summon things that can torment the characters. PsychTimes.com says “Someone suffering from oneirophobia may find themselves avoiding that which they fear. They may take this to the extreme by ensuring that they cannot be exposed to dreams in any way.” This can be seen in the film when Nancy Thompson who is the final girl and Glen Lantz try to stay awake to avoid having an encounter with Freddy Krueger. Although Glen does end up falling asleep and facing the consequences, desperately trying to stay awake is a symptom of Oneirophobia. As well as that, in the third film titled A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors she takes a drug called Hypnocil which is a drug that is used to stop the person from experiencing dreams. This again shows the fear that the character is going through and the lengths they will go to, to avoid having a dream. The reason this fear can work so well in a horror film is that it is relatable to the audience as sleeping is a natural part of life and you are required to do it at some point regardless of how hard you try and stay awake. Furthermore, everyone has had a nightmare in their life that may have been a negative experience for them Eric Suni (2021) from SleepFoundation.org says “Upon waking up from a nightmare, it’s normal to be acutely aware of what happened in the dream, and many people find themselves feeling upset or anxious.” This shows that the impact of these dreams affects your actual life and not just your brain when you are sleeping, as someone could go to the lengths of forcing themselves to stay awake in real life if they suffer from this phobia. As well as that, someone with this phobia could also be suffering other more serious mental side effects from heavy lack of sleep including depression and anxiety. In general, nightmares can also be happening to an individual due to stress and traumatic events happening in their life. Nightmares can also occur due to not having enough sleep so the characters in the film are being negatively affected by their lack of sleep and paying the price for falling asleep, leaving them trapped in a loop of having these nightmares no matter what they do to prevent themselves from having them.
In conclusion, the horror genre takes a lot of inspiration from real-life occurrences and phenomena to create a sense of fear and dread in the audience. This is done by taking something that the audience may fear and forcing the characters in a film to endure it while you can only watch. As the audience you can find yourselves immersed in these films so the fear the characters are experiencing can be felt by you, linking back to how the final girl is in a way a trojan horse of fear for the viewer as you often experience these films in the final girl’s perspective. Personally, the genre does an incredibly good job at this for the general viewer, although on the other hand if you have seen these films a lot you are kind of desensitized to the kind of things that you see in the films as it becomes normal in a way.
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Film I Have Watched During Research –
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) – dir. Tobe Hooper
Black Christmas (1974) – dir. Bob Clark
Candyman (1992) – dir. Bernard Rose
Candyman: Farewell To The Flesh (1995) – dir. Bill Condon
Halloween (1978) – dir. John Carpenter
Halloween II (1981) – dir. Rick Rosenthal
Halloween (2018) – dir. David Gordon Green
Friday The 13th (1980) – dir. Sean S. Cunningham
Friday The 13th: Part 2 (1981) – dir. Steve Miner
Friday The 13th: Part III (1982) – dir. Steve Miner
A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) – dir. Wes Craven
Le Manoir du Diable (1896) – dir. Georges Méliès
Scream (1996) – dir. Wes Craven
Scream 2 (1997) – dir. Wes Craven
Scream 3 (2000) – dir. Wes Craven