Writing The Horror Movie

By Sara Bailey

  • Genre : Other
  • Publisher :
  • ISBN : 9781441196187
  • Year : 2013
  • Language: English


Writing the Horror Movie Writing the Horror Movie Marc Blake and Sara Bailey Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc 1385 Broadway New York NY 10018 USA 50 Bedford Square London WC1B 3DP UK www bloomsbury com First published 2013 Marc Blake and Sara Bailey 2013 All rights reserved No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means electronic or mechanical including photocopying recording or any information storage or retrieval system without prior permission in writing from the publishers No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organization acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by Bloomsbury Academic or the authors Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Blake Marc Writing the horror movie by Marc Blake and Sara Bailey pages cm Includes bibliographical references and index ISBN 978-1-4411-9618-7 pbk alk paper 1 Horror films--Authorship 2 Motion picture plays--Technique I Bailey Sara II Title PN1995 9 H6B59 2013 808 2 3--dc23 2013006001 ISBN 978-1-4411-9506-7 Typeset by Fakenham Prepress Solutions Fakenham Norfolk NR21 8NN The truth is that the screenplay is a bastard form of literature It is not a play nor book nor movie and not just simply a blueprint for a film All movies regardless of genre depend on the screenplay However it is the director who makes the movie by realizing the printed words of the script on film I have seen mediocre screenplays made into very good films And I have seen excellent screenplays made into bad movies by incompetent directors Again it s important for people to understand that the screenplay s essential role in film making is the same regardless of the genre of the film Jon Landis 20121 The authors of the book would like to thank the following for their help and input Lee Cook for his tireless research and pestering of the famous and busy Michelle Kisbee for her work on the filmography Stephen Cleary whose lectures on genre were inspirational Kim Newman Axelle Carolyn and Alan Jones for their analysis perception and excellent writing on the subject of horror in all its forms Martha Bailey and Tom Bellhouse Christopher Smith Steven Goldmann Victor Miller Jane Goldman Stephen Woolley Jason Ford Terry Bird and all our other interviewees Marc would like to thank the attendees of his horror classes at City University London including Paul Bland Eric McNulty Russell Garwood Josh Upstart Dorinda Montgomery Simon Timblick and the evil twins Samantha and Vicky Marc and Sara would like to thank all their students past and present at Southampton Solent University for their continued support and enthusiasm Personal communication 1 Contents Introduction Welcome to the Nightmare ix 1 Why Do We Like To Be Scared 2 Horror Movie History 1 11 3 Subgenres 21 4 Staging the Horror Five Tropes 5 Creating the Nemesis 6 The First Act Unease and Dread Character and Milieu 7 The Second Act Modulating Fear Terror and Horror 8 The Third Act Tragic and Redemptive Endings 9 Prequels Sequels and Franchises 107 10 Adaptation From Page to Screen 119 41 57 97 11 Cross-Genre 131 12 World Markets 139 13 Low Budget Horror 161 14 Forming the Idea Writing Exercises 181 Appendix 1 Horror Film Festivals Around the World 189 Appendix 2 Interviews with Writers Directors and a Producer 193 75 85 viii Contents Appendix 3 Our Top 20 221 Filmography 223 Bibliography 243 Index 245 Introduction Welcome to the Nightmare The horror movie is currently experiencing a third golden age following the Universal Studios Monster era of the 1930s and the movie brat auteurs of the 1970s Today s technological advances are allowing scary movies to be produced as a cottage industry and to be distributed worldwide This genre has traditionally been seen as a way in to the movie business and it is a truism that it is a great medium for budding directors and writer-director hyphenates Horror has a track record of appealing to producers however the writer is most likely to get his work seen if it follows genre conventions It is to this end that this book is dedicated In order for the writer to sell his script he must know his craft and understand the demands of the genre Our intention is to give a thorough grounding in the history tropes subgenres and in particular the pace and rhythm of horror as well as its underlying meanings and subtexts so that the writer will be armed and ready to face those legions of undead producers who are after his succulent brainzzz Chapter 1 Why Do We Like To Be Scared The first thing any writer needs to understand is know your audience What is the attraction of horror Why do we like to be scared These questions have been addressed by myriad writers philosophers and academics The writer of horror movies requires an understanding of the theories behind the nature of horror For the academic the definition of horror is fear of some uncertain threat to existential nature and disgust over its potential aftermath 2 The writer in the case of author Stephen King sees horror as something that serves as a barometer of those things which trouble the thoughts of a whole society 3 For Aristotle horror in drama gave an audience the opportunity to purge itself of negative emotions through catharsis Horror in essence is the fear of the unknown Taking each concept in turn let us examine them in more detail Fear and disgust I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader audience But if I find I cannot terrify him her I will try to horrify and if I find I cannot horrify I ll go for the gross-out I m not proud STEPHEN KING 1981 p 37 R Tamborini and J B Weaver Frightening entertainment A historical perspective of fictional horror In J B Weaver and R Tamborini eds Horror films Current research on audience preferences and reactions Mahwah NJ Lawrence Erlbaum 1996 p 2 3 King 1981 p 31 2 2 Writing the Horror Movie It is easy to bring to mind half a dozen movies that raise issues of fear and disgust the Saw franchise Wan 2004 10 Texas Chainsaw Massacre Hooper 1974 Hostel Roth 2005 The Human Centipede Six 2009 Martyrs Laugier 2008 to name but a few These films contain graphic scenes of violence physical suffering and elements of Grand Guignol a term for gore-laden horror derived from the Elizabethan Jacobean theatre genre In 1894 Le Th tre du Grand-Guignol was established by Oscar Metenier as a venue for naturalist performances The building was originally a church with gothic structures placed about the walls of the building exuding a feeling of eeriness from the moment audiences arrived They endured the terror of the shows because they wanted to be filled with strong feelings Many attended these shows to obtain feelings of arousal beneath the balcony were boxes originally built for nuns to watch church services which were available for theatregoers to rent during performances as they would often become aroused by the action happening on stage It has been said that audience members were so boisterous that actors would break character and yell out Keep it down in there There were also audience members who could not handle the brutality of the action on stage Frequently the special effects were too realistic and audience members would faint and or vomit during performances Such is the appeal of disgust to an audience The first popular example of this type of entertainment in cinema was Herschel Gordon Lewis s Blood Feast 1963 where in a pale echo of Frankenstein Whale 1931 a scientist is engaged in collecting body parts Rather than re-creating human life this one needs body parts from women to conjure up a deceased Egyptian goddess The film contains scenes of torture dismemberment decapitation and cannibalization and is considered to be the first real gross-out material of its time Two decades later a spate of video nasties was denied theatrical release and in the UK went out only on VHS Censorship slipped away towards the end of the twentieth century heralding a broader attitude to the cultural climate Having said that Hostel Roth 2005 was considered to be torture porn by critic David Edelstein and the term has been applied retrospectively to the Saw series beginning in 2004 The House of 1000 Corpses Zombie 2003 Wolf Creek Mclean 2005 Ichi the Killer Miike 2001 and Baise moi Virginie Despentes Coralie 2000 as well as many more These movies show extreme torture sequences headless torsos sledgehammer blows etc and yet many are mainstream Hollywood product with a wide release Indeed the torture porn or Gorno subgenre has been hugely profitable The Saw franchise has grossed over 100 million worldwide to date Hostel which cost less than 5 million to make has grossed 80 million Much of the attraction of these films is aided by the development of filming techniques advances in CGI prosthetics special effects and high production values all of which add to the gross-out effect felt by the viewer Why Do We Like To Be Scared 3 Theoretician Julia Kristeva wrote on the phenomenon of disgust and horror in her essay on the abject a concept that exists between the concept of an object and the concept of the subject The abject is seen as other as something that as members of society we reject Kristeva likens this rejection to the repulsion we feel when confronted by body fluids such as blood or semen and waste products like urine and faeces things that were once a part of us but are no longer We are at once repelled by and attracted to these internal external elements It is a fascination with the corporeal which we will explore in greater detail in Chapter 3 Werewolves and body horror At its simplest the abject is the scab on your knee which as a child you were repulsed by but could not resist picking In mainstream entertainment there has been a growing fascination with the interior spaces of the body as seen in TV franchises such as CSI The body has become in part a transgressive intertext as well as a multimedia space We have had exhibitions by artists such as Marc Quinn who exhibited 4 5 litres of his frozen blood in the Saatchi Gallery 1992 placed in a mould to represent his own head and Gunther Von Hagens notorious Body Worlds a sensational exhibition of authentic human bodies willed by donors through the Institute for Plastination s Body Donor Program and preserved using a process called plastination they show the inner workings of the body and the striking whole-body specimens show the human body in real-life poses as never seen before 4 How far can horror go Censorship and taboo It is worth considering the influence of censorship on the writer and his work Creating a screenplay and or movie which is so extreme that it attracts opprobrium may be good publicity but if this is merely down to gratuitous sex violence or bad taste then instead of horror it is pure sensationalism and that is a different thing In order to understand censorship we should first look at its history and how tolerances have shifted over time The Hays Code 5 named after Hollywood s http www bodyworlds com en prelude html The German horror film Anatomy Ruzowitzky 2000 has people being killed and plastinated by a secret sect the Anti Hypocratic Order 5 While the Hays Code was voluntary and self-regulating it was put in place to avoid government intervention and rationalize a system that was becoming too unwieldy Prior to this individual states had their own censorship policies By 1921 legislators in 37 states had introduced almost 100 movie censorship bills 4 4 Writing the Horror Movie chief censor of the time Will H Hays was formed in the belief that audiences needed moral protection Father Daniel A Lord and Martin Quigley a lay Catholic created a code of standards in 1929 which they then presented to Hays their particular concern being the effect of films on children Several studios met with Lord and Quigley and after some revisions they agreed to the stipulations of the Code One of the main factors in adopting the Code was to avoid government intervention police yourself before others do it for you The Code was divided into two parts the first a general set of principles which mostly concerned morality The second was a set of particular applications involving a list of elements that could not be shown on screen such as the mixing of race Nowadays in most countries to stipulate this would not only be unacceptable to audiences it would be against the law Further dictates of the Code were that sexual relations outside of marriage could not be portrayed as attractive a reason why the opening scene of Psycho Hitchcock 1960 was taboo-busting Crane and Loomis were unmarried Criminal action had to be seen to engender punishment and neither crime nor criminals could be portrayed to elicit sympathy from the audience It is hard to imagine something like Silence of the Lambs Demme 1990 being passed under this regime In 1966 Jack Valenti became president of the Motion Picture Association of America MPAA and decided that the Hays Code was out of date A new system had to be introduced On November 1 1968 the voluntary MPAA film rating system took effect with three organizations serving as its monitoring and guiding groups the MPAA the National Association of Theater Owners NATO and the International Film Importers Distributors of America IFIDA The original movie ratings were G General Audiences Suggested for general audiences all ages M Mature Audiences Suggested for Mature Audiences Parental discretion advised R Restricted People under 16 not admitted unless accompanied by parent or adult guardian X Adults Only People under 18 not admitted changed to under 17 later that year The content classification system was originally to have three ratings with the intention of allowing parents to take their children to any film they choose However the National Association of Theater Owners urged the creation of an Adults Only category fearful of possible legal problems in local jurisdictions The X rating was not an MPAA trademark any producer not submitting a movie for MPAA rating could self-apply the X rating or any other symbol or description that was not an MPAA trademark Why Do We Like To Be Scared 5 With the introduction of a rating system the US was a latecomer as far as film classification was concerned In the United Kingdom the BBFC British Board of Film Classification had relaxed its views in the early 1960s and it was as early as 1932 that an H for Horror certificate was placed to alert parents to horrorthemed material Though this was removed in favour of the universal X rating in 1951 it was again altered to 18 in 1982 Today the highest ratings are 18 and R18 restricted to those aged 18 and older and only available at licensed cinemas and sex shops the latter not requiring a licence to sell R18 films There are many myths about how the BBFC rates movies one of which apparently involves using a protractor although this has been repudiated Broadly speaking you will not see real male erections below an 18 certificate But at 18 it s OK says David Cooke Director of the Board Probably the nearest we get these days to getting out the protractor is on language 6 The Board has reluctantly concluded there is no substitute for counting the swear words in a film It doesn t mean that s the only thing we look at particularly with the f-word and the c-word we ll look at whether they re comically mitigated or aggressively aggravated for instance But if you don t count you discover there s no stable boundary So the rule of thumb is four fucks maximum at 12A ibid The board is aware of the changes in what an audience will and will not tolerate When you look at some of the films from the Video Nasty era like House on the Edge of the Park Ruggero Deodato 1980 which has lingering shots of women being mutilated that just wouldn t be made today It s always been rated but with cuts There s a really unpleasant sequence where a teenage girl is forced to strip and her breasts are cut with a razor blade It s really highly sexualized People think you should be free to make up your own mind about what you watch provided it s not illegal or harmful That means we do pass some very strong material at 18 But we re not just doing it because we re inventing it that s in line with that particular public finding ibid The Exorcist Friedkin 1974 was considered so shocking to moviegoers that many were subject to nausea convulsions fainting and shocking displays of anger one viewer in San Francisco attacked the movie screen attempting to kill the demon Paramedics were called to screenings and it wasn t long before picket lines appeared at theatres The film was banned on video for 14 years in the UK The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Hooper 1974 is known for its extreme acts of violence but actually shows little blood and no close-up of fatal blows making it much tamer than its successors in the genre Despite this it was banned in Australia Brazil Finland France West Germany Chile Iceland Ireland Norway Singapore Sweden and the UK France banned the film twice claiming it would incite violence It was not issued uncut in the UK for 25 years http www guardian co uk film 2012 jul 26 sex-violence-swearing-film-100-years-bbfc 6 6 Writing the Horror Movie The Last House on the Left Craven 1972 was Craven s feature debut His portrayal of two teenage girls kidnapped by escaped convicts who then rape and torture them proved too real for moviegoers Craven defended the film by saying it was a reaction on my part to the violence around us specifically the Vietnam War and yet the movie was censored in many countries including the UK where it was banned for 17 years and subject to censorship until 2008 More recently the BBFC has only allowed a certificate to The Human Centipede 2 after 32 cuts had been made including the graphic sight of a man masturbating with sandpaper around his penis In 2010 A Serbian Film Spasojevi 2010 was pulled from International Horror film festival FrightFest not because it was deemed too horrific but because its organizers had planned to show the picture in its original uncut version and were overruled by the local council in Westminster London FrightFest has decided not to show A Serbian Film in a heavily cut version because as a festival with a global integrity we think a film of this nature should be shown in its entirety as per the director s intention said event co-director Alan Jones Subsequently Raindance Film Festival picked up the film at Cannes in May and then held the UK premiere finding a way around the ban by billing the screening as a private event The Sun a UK tabloid newspaper described the film as sick and vile following the festival s 2010 press launch In March 2011 A Serbian Film won the Special Jury Prize in the 31st edition of Fantasporto Portugal s biggest film festival in Porto The answer to the question How far can I go depends on you What it is that you want for your movie If you are putting in elements of horror that are nothing to do with plot narrative and story arc then you are no longer in control of the story The social barometer Stephen King suggests that horror acts as a barometer for issues that bother us as a society For the writer of horror it is useful to consider the concept and to study past movies for evidence of this Carrie De Palma 1976 is a prime example In the early 1970s the fear of the feminine was a real issue as second-wave feminism rolled across the USA The film begins with an almost pornographic view of pubescent high school girls in a communal shower It is accompanied by cheesy music which becomes dark and intense as the story unfolds to show teenage bullying and Carrie s first period The horror for Carrie really begins as she steps over the threshold into Why Do We Like To Be Scared 7 womanhood and her powers increase to demonic levels This could be read as a societal concern about the growing power of women particularly young women as they learn to express themselves and their own powers of intellect and expression More recently The Mist Darabont 2007 picks up on fear of alien invasion a theme that has often fascinated moviemakers and also scientific investigation into new methods of warfare It is a throwback to the old monster movies of the 1950s wherein the scientists were up to no good up at the plant The story then twists to its darker heart the rise of Fundamentalism in this case Christian It is all wrapped up in the fear of the outsider the invisible entity bearing down upon us This is not new It was explored in Shakespeare s The Tempest and in the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet Wilcox 1956 in which Doctor Morbius Pigeon and his beautiful daughter Altaira are the only survivors on planet Altair formerly inhabited only by scientists A rescue mission finds them in thrall to a mysterious invisible beast the Krell which roams the planet In The Mist rather than concentrate on what might or might not have been going on at the military base the vague Project Arrowhead we are invited to concentrate our attention on events in the supermarket Mrs Carmody is a religious zealot who feeds off the fear of the others She begins as a figure of pity and contempt in effect the local bag lady but as events worsen Mrs Carmody lures in those who dismissed her and soon the crowd are caught up in her hysteria Her monstrous ideology is a direct reflection of the monster outside manifesting itself as awful abjections tentacles moth-like primordial creatures stinging flying things that burst open to reveal hundreds more replications King is addressing contemporary fears head-on fundamentalism in both religion and science Catharsis Catharsis is the opportunity for the audience to purge itself of negative emotions in a safe environment Within the confines of the viewing area a cinema or a living room the audience feels a sense of relief once the film is over There have been suggestions that catharsis can result in audiences finding what they see on the screen exciting and that exposure to these images will increase subsequent acts of aggression an alarming idea for the screenwriter However there is strong evidence7 that suggests it has the opposite effect that horror acts as B J Bushman and R G Geen Role of cognitive-emotional mediators and individual differences in the effects of media violence on aggression Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 58 1990 7 8 Writing the Horror Movie a safety valve rather than an incitement to justified aggression This theory is known as Excitation Transfer8 by which the audience experiences an intensification of positive effect in response to plot and resolution i e where the evil is overcome by the hero heroine It would also appear that it is not reliant on a happy ending but simply on a satisfactory resolution in effect that it follows the plot points expected of the genre We will see how this works in greater detail in Chapter 4 Of all genres Horror is perhaps one of the most strict when it comes to obeying the rules A film such as The Orphanage Bayona 2007 takes us through each stage towards catharsis There is a sense of unease as Laura arrives at the orphanage The house looms above her and we wonder if she has seen something There is a growing sense of dread as we see the child with the sack over his head as doors slam and children are heard in the empty house Then there is the disappearance of Sim n the horror of losing your child and the growing fear that he might be gone forever brings us to the most horrific element of all his death not only that but at Laura s unwitting hand At the end Laura commits suicide and so is reunited with Sim n Though not a happy ending it brings a sense of resolution This is catharsis The Orphanage deals with the loss of a child and a sense of guilt and is similar in tone to The Awakening Murphy 2011 which has a more ambiguous ending Here a nanny Maud has poisoned herself and ghost hunter Florence so as that they might be together with Tom a dead child Florence however tells Tom she doesn t want to die now but that she will always be with him he is her deceased sibling The child helps Florence by obtaining the medicine that will make her regurgitate and thus purge herself of the poison The final scene shows us Florence leaving the school ignored and unseen by senior staff members This is perhaps either because she is a mere woman it was set in 1921 or because she has indeed become a ghost a fact suggested by her white coat It is left to the audience to draw its conclusions but emotional catharsis has been achieved in Florence s new and full awareness Previously she had been in denial of the truth a trope we see recurring in characters such as Eleanor Lance in The Haunting Wise 1963 and Dr Malcolm Crowe in The Sixth Sense Shyamalan 1999 There is a huge risk in leaving your resolution undecided and you need to be confident in your skills as a writer to attempt it In some ways loose ends make for better movies in this genre but if you go for this you must still aim for closure in your catharsis Glenn D Walters Understanding the Popular Appeal of Horror Cinema An Integrated-interactive Model Journal of Media Psychology 9 2 2004 8 Why Do We Like To Be Scared 9 The psychological Both Freud and Jung have presented theories on the catharsis of drama For Freud horror was the manifestation of recurring thoughts and feelings that had been repressed by the ego but that seem vaguely familiar to the individual 9 For Jung however horror gained popularity from its connections and relationships with important archetypes particularly with shadow archetypes such as shadow mother or father or both as in Mum Dad Shell 2008 Here Mum and Dad live under the flight path of London s Heathrow Airport Their adopted kidnapped children Birdie and Elbie work at the airport in menial jobs When Lena a young Polish cleaner is befriended by Birdie she is drawn into the family s world of torture murder and perversity Treated like one of the family Lena is designated as Mummy s Girl which is when the horror begins Her only options are to join in the madness or die Here the traditional role of loving parents has been subverted into darker shadow archetypes Dad is given Lena by Mum for Christmas whether for sexual or cannibalistic gratification we are unsure The family as with the cannibal Hillbilly s in Tobe Hooper s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre Hooper 1976 play on the accepted language of familial relationships but as an inverse nightmare parody This shadow archetype is also seen in Kubrick s The Shining Stanley Kubrick 1980 with great effect Not only does Kubrick use the father figure as shadow father but also as shadow king the Overlook Hotel symbolizing his castle Kubrick uses mirrors and doubling further distorting the image of the father figure Jack is often talking to himself in the mirror and the huge wall-sized mirrors of the ballroom reflect the stages of his growing dementia His son Danny too demonstrates an understanding of the world as being inverted with his constant referrals to redrum For these kinds of movie to work the audience needs to suspend its disbelief For the horror fan this suspension has to be rooted in an understanding of what is real and the perception of a supernatural force or gross abnormality Whether it is the supernatural idea of a house being haunted the King of Darkness rising from the dead or that a child could be possessed by the Devil we have to believe for 90 minutes that these things are just possible in order to enjoy the experience Even films that are not supernatural still require the same suspension Jaws Spielberg 1975 asks us to believe that a shark with a brain the size of a walnut can outwit a Chief of Police a highly educated marine biologist and a seasoned shark hunter It is this dependence on suspension of disbelief that has driven the medium from the beginning It is the screenwriter s Walters 2004 9

Author Sara Bailey Isbn 9781441196187 File size 1 3 MB Year 2013 Pages 272 Language English File format PDF Category Other Tales of horror have always been with us from Biblical times to the Gothic novel to successful modern day authors and screenwriters Though the genre is often maligned it is huge in popularity and its resilience is undeniable Marc Blake and Sara Bailey offer a detailed analysis of the horror genre including its subgenres tropes and the specific requirements of the hor