The Allure of Horror + How I Plan To Terrify

Psychologist Dr. Glenn D.Walters identifies primary factors of the horror film allure.

Tension – created through mystery, suspense, gore, terror or shock… all of these being straightforward elements of horror film making.

As I am not focusing on a stereotypical horror monster that can create terror and gore, I am going to have to rely on suspense and mystery when it comes to creating my own short horror film. This is going to be done by taking inspiration from films such as ‘The Strangers’ (which can be seen here) and using elements that I have learnt from the movie such as jump scares and creating the illusion of something happening when nothing exciting is actually happening.

Relevance – Dr Walters argues that for a horror video to be seen it has to be relevant to potential viewers.

Relevance can take the form of universal relevance , capturing the universal fear of death and the unknown.

It can also take the form of cultural relevance, for example dealing with societal issues.

Personal relevance takes the form of audience being able to identify with the protagonist.

Relevance is key to my horror film as it is what is going to help my audience relate and really connect with the piece of video. The more enthralled and engaged my audience are, the more likely they are to become scared. I am planning on connecting universal relevance  and personal relevance to my horror video as I believe they are the most effective forms of relevance.

I will create universal relevance by capturing the unknown through the figure that is haunting my protagonist. It will make them ask questions  such as “who is that?” and “are they going to hurt someone?”. It has been proven that ‘fear of the unknown’ is what drives audience the most when it  comes to watching horror movies. In an article by SCREENCRAFT (which can be seen here), the writer talks about how “it’s what you don’t see that will scare you the most”. They use Jaws as a key example. Through the  use of the iconic music score that represents the movement of the shark, fear was created throughout the audience without them physically seeing the monster.


Filmmaker IQ. 2014. FilmMakerIQ. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 2nd April 2016].

Ken Miyamoto. 2015. ScreenCraft. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 4th April 2016].



Researching Scare Elements – The Strangers

To get a better understanding of how effective elements of scary movies are (e.g. jump scares, atmospheric music) I have researched into some of the highly recommended scary scenes that have been aired throughout the years in cinema and TV.

The Strangers (2008)

The Strangers is a horror movie which plays into the mental vulnerability of an audience. It focuses on a couple who visit a house out in the woods, who are then terrorised by three masked maniacs. The Strangers is considered so effective by many critics as it plays with the fear that people are in your home, watching you and ready to scare you.

As stated in my treatment, I am using my own house as a location for my piece of video that aims to bring fear into audiences because your own home is somewhere you would consider as ‘safe’. By choosing to use my own home I will be able to create fear into my audience straight away as I am using the scenario that most people dread – somebody being in your house while you’re at home. The Strangers has done the exact same thing by using a cabin that is known to the characters and a cabin that they have visited many times before. By placing these masked figures inside the house it gets rid of all boundaries, making the film unpredictable as anything could happen.

The scene I have inserted below is considered to be one of the most tense and vulnerable scenes throughout the movie, so this is the one that I have chosen to analyse.

This scene is a perfect example of how suspense and fear is created without anything dramatic happening. It also relates perfectly to my previously analysed article,” So you want to make a horror film?”, as it includes many of the basic elements that have been proven to work within horror movies.

Small aspects of the scene, such as at 1:58 when a loud thud creates a basic jump scare is a simple but effective way of creating anticipation and fear within the audience. Nothing is seen but the scenarios that are associated with the jump scare is what makes the audience fearful. It has been proven that audiences are affected more by what they can’t see than what they can.


“So you want to make a horror film?…”

Now that I have a complete project treatment and a clear outline on where I want to go with my project, I have started to research further into articles and pieces of video that can relate to my new project ideas.

As I am attempting to create a short horror piece that creates fear within my audience (even though the story is not an actual horror story !), I found this article by Film Maker Magazine very helpful and relevant. I have never created a horror video before which without the right research and practice could become a massive hindrance; however this article plainly explains what it is that people find so fascinating with horror and the easiest ways to create successful pieces of fearful video. Even thought my story line isn’t one that is filled with monsters, ghosts and gore and instead is just a simple story of a female being chased by her dissertation deadline, the same concept of horror movie formats apply to my piece of video if I want to be able to create this fear within my audience which is the overall goal of my project.

In the article it states that “technique, execution and timing are crucial” if I want to make a simple horror video that manages to actually scare audiences. They also state that a good horror film builds on atmosphere and is not just ” a steady stream of jump scares”.  Being able to build an atmosphere is what can either make or break how successful you are at scaring an audience.

“A good horror film has an underlying atmosphere, a moody visual undertone that creates a sense of dread, wonder and mystique and leaves us with snapshots of unforgettable imagery” – A.D.Calvo, FilmMaker Magazine

“…it’s more about haunting foreplay than bang, bang, and you’re dead.” – A.D.Calvo, FilmMaker Magazine

A.D.Calvo (the writer of the article) explains that suspense is key to creating atmosphere. People are generally more scared of what they can’t see rather than being confronted with something they can see as they are able to make sense of what they can see and can become immune to the fear that is being offered. Calvo says that suspense “should be a natural byproduct of your narrative” and not be forced into the story line. This is key to me as it has told me that my story line / story board needs to include naturally suspenseful situations such as someone moving in the background in a dark corridor, rather than try and force it on situations which wouldn’t be considered full of suspense e.g. boiling a kettle.

“Darkness and dramatic shadow are often used to elicit suspense, like when we hear something and can’t see what it is, or catch a glimpse of something moving in the background but can’t quite make it out.”

“The sense of blindness increases tension. It’s creepy to hear something and not know where it’s coming from.”

The post talks about the different jump scares which are involved within horror movies. Jump scares are crucial as they can add to the suspense; however, they need to be carried out well and with good timing otherwise they can add up too “a series of annoying bangs”.

Basic Jump Scare – we suddenly see something creepy and punctuate it with sound design (an orchestral swell or a percussive hit).

Faux Scare (a.k.a., Cat Scare, Cabinet Scare) – when something is making a sound and it turns out to be just a cat—one that jumps out, hissing, at the protagonist (or at camera).  “We breathe a sigh of relief in that moment, but then, oftentimes, we’re hit again, BANG!!, the Double Scare – BUT this time, it’s the boogeyman.”

Reveal Scares (e.g., Door Scare, Mirror Scare)- the protagonist swings open a door, obscuring the background, then they close the door, revealing the monster standing right behind them, like a magic trick.“That one gets me every time. And it also works great with mirrors. I mentioned this type of scare above, under Suspense, but without the overt use of sound design, it plays out differently, adding more suspense rather than triggering a jump.”

All of these revelations from the article are all ones that have been able to help me with the kind of approach I am going to take with my own horror video. It is an article that gives me the DO’s and the DONT’S for creating my horror video while also telling me what vital parts of horror need to be included to make my video successful. The different jump scare explanations will be important to me as jump scares are what make a horror video so they are crucial to my own production, which I have a better understanding of now that I have read this article by FilmMaker magazine.

A.D.Davo. 2013. So you want to make a horror film? On jumpscares and other frights. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 13 April 2016].


Project Treatment

As I have revamped my project idea, I have had to write a whole new treatment.

Title – The Power of Editing

Synopsis of my project – The aim behind my project is too create two short films that will be focused around two different story lines. These story lines will aim to create two different emotions within an audience however around themes and ideas that would not be considered as emotional. My main aim is to focus on what kind of impact editing has and how different kinds of editing can create different kinds of emotion within an audience. So even though the story line and footage is important I will be focusing mostly on the editing of my videos and how effective it can be.

The two storylines I want to create short video stories around are:

  1. Horror

The idea behind my horror piece of video is to have my main protagonist being chased and taunted by their biggest fear…their dissertation deadline.By using an antagonist that wouldn’t be considered scary I will be able to analyse how much of an impact video elements such a lighting, sound / music and camera shots have on my audience. For example, does the use of darker lighting create a more scary scenario than a fully lit room?

2. Sadness

Unlike generic sad films that focus on sad situations to create an emotional story, e.g. cancer, child abuse and homelessness, I will be attempting to create an emotional piece of video that focuses on a completely irrelevant situation that isn’t considered sad. This situation is going to be something as simple as my protagonist dropping their food or dropping a glass of milk, linking to the phrase “crying over spilled milk”. In this piece of video I want to focus on how music and camera shots effect the emotional status of my audience. I will not allow them to see what has caused the sadness until the very end when it becomes clear that my protagonist is upset at something so trivial.

Duration of production – My project will take six weeks to come together, not including research. Three weeks will be dedicated to my Fear video and three weeks will be dedicated to my Sadness video. This means that I will have 1 and a half weeks to source and film footage and 1 and a half weeks to edit the footage, a plan that will apply to both of my videos.

Key Personnel – For each of my two pieces of video I will be using different characters.

For my short film that will be focused around creating fear within my audience. I want to use a young female adult who fits the generic horror film cliche of ‘damsel in distress’. This character is crucial as I am wanting to create fear within my audience and by using a character who could be considered as vulnerable it opens my audience up to more emotional manipulation that will create a variety of emotions.

For my short film that will be focused around sadness I am planning on using a male protagonist. The reason I am deciding to use a male protagonist is because I believe that I will be pushed harder to create an sad piece of video. This is because the stereotypical view of men is that they are not meant to cry, “boys don’t cry”, so by using a male I will be having to work harder with editing and camera shots and the choices I make will be much more crucial to the story line. This will offer a challenge to me which will hopefully pay off in the end.

Locations – For both of my videos I will be using simple locations that can be personalised to fit the character/ story descriptions.

For my scary piece of video I will be using several different rooms within my own house (see location shots here).  I am using a house as it leaves room for the most manipulation of emotions. Your own house is a location where you are meant to feel safe, so by placing my protagonist in her own home it kicks into the audiences fear and makes them feel uncomfortable as a home is somewhere where you are meant to feel safe, not somewhere you are terrorised.  An article by Film Maker Magazine (see article here and my analysis of it here ) states that “we get a kind of high” from experiencing “terror in a safe place” which is what fuels the adrenaline and fear within people.

For my sad piece of video I will be using a variety of locations that people may visit on an everyday basis, e.g. their own bedroom, a field as they walk to work, a bus stop. These locations will be used because I want this story to feel as realistic as possible so that my audience can relate to the story which will build more emotion within them.

Equipment –  the equipment I will be using is a simple JVC100 HD Camera with microphone and a standard tripod. I believe this camera is the most diverse to use and will allow me to carry out my ideas without too much fussing as I will be working with limited time due to my protagonists having other commitments. A tripod is a necessity to stop the camera from being shaky which will lead to unusable footage; however, in my scary video I will be free holding the camera at times to give an uneasy and confusing atmosphere which will play with the audiences emotions.