It’s Halloween! I’ve been thinking about what to post on such an auspicious occasion: a dissection of Alfred’s Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, a breakdown of horror-film structure generally, or a shout-out to all the frickin’ awesome costume designers without whom every horror movie ever shot would look like an episode of Alf.
And I’ve settled on this: FEAR.
How does a writer create FEAR in a script, and why are some thrillers SO CHEESY while others scare the living crap out of us?
Suspense is certainly important. To create suspense, a writer will generally build in a FORESHADOWING SCENE early-on in their screenplay in which the MAIN BAD GUY does something horrible, or the HERO experiences a tragic event. If this scene can do both—perfect. Foreshadowing scenes can also be more subtle than this (and often are in thrillers versus horror movies), but they must still suggest the STAKES of what your hero will come up against later in the film. Then, once the foundation has been laid, the writer’s job is to tease the premise of this foreshadowing scene throughout the movie, and slowly build to a CLIMAX ten pages into Act III in which the character’s WORST FEARS nearly come true. This climax should directly recall the foreshadowing scene, but also subvert expectations and take the nightmare ONE STEP FURTHER.
But, come on now—it can’t really be that easy, can it? We’ve all seen movies that stick closely to this formula—but still SUCK. I wanna make my audience SQUIRM in their chairs and SHOUT OUT in stone-cold FRIGHT, for chrissakes…