Written by Johnny Papan
Horror isn’t a genre often associated with prestige. In fact, only 6 freaky films have ever been nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, the most recent being Jordan Peele’s directorial debut: Get Out. Despite this, as was the case with Peele, horror films have proven to be a launching pad for many of the world’s most renowned filmmakers. James Cameron, Peter Jackson, Sam Raimi, Stephen Spielberg, and even Frances Ford Coppola have all honed their craft making horror films in their early career.
There are a multitude of reasons why this genre is a great place to develop your career as a film director. From the freedom to experiment, to lower financial risk, to a dedicated fanbase and beyond, here are our top 5 reasons why new directors should begin their career in horror.
1. Horror Has A Dedicated Fanbase
Horror fans are a dedicated subculture. It is is one of the few genres where even if a movie looks bad, people will still watch it. In fact, some horror films are so bad, they’re good, and develop cult-followings. Films like Leprechaun, TerrorVision, and the ever-so-famous Troll 2 are perfect examples.
The takeaway from this is with horror movies, you as a filmmaker don’t need to worry about trying to be perfect. The pressure is off when making scary movies, which leaves more room to have fun, and that’s where the magic happens. Besides, even if your movie sucks, people still might love it.
2. Horror Films Can Be Inexpensive to Make
Money is the ultimate factor in whether or not a movie will be made. The advantage to horror is you can make really great films for extremely cheap if you are crafty. Films like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and the original Last House On the Left were all made for less than $100,000. In the movie world, that’s a dime on a dollar. This is achievable because each film utilizes limited, easy to access locations, and small cast and crew.
Director Oren Peli, who made his directorial debut with Paranormal Activity, shot the film in his own house on a miniscule $15,000 budget. He used creativity to make the film feel “real,” a similar tactic used in The Blair Witch Project. The movie was filmed on an inexpensive home video camera, and he did not hire a camera crew. The film’s focus on characters, story, and brooding, emotional horror were what made it such a success.
3. Great Horror Films Can Become Successful Franchises
Peli’s Paranormal Activity turned $15,000 into a nearly 900 million dollar franchise. Saw was James Wan’s directorial debut, and that spawned 7 sequels. Think of all the Halloweens, Friday the 13ths, and Nightmare on Elm Streets that are out in the world. Sometimes, with horror, one great film can set you for life.
This is because the horror genre often allows for repetition, even if it was not initially intended. The monster can come back from the dead, a new family can move into the haunted house, the work of a villain can be carried on by a successor. We all know Hollywood loves remakes and sequels. So if you write a horror movie that is a financial success, nothing will stop a producer from finding a way to make another one happen.
4. Fear is Universal
Most people who enjoy Steve Carrell’s antics in the U.S. version of The Office, probably don’t share the same feelings about Ricky Gervais in the original U.K. series. That’s because, though the concept is the same, the style of comedy is vastly different. The U.K. version touches the comedy palette of the U.K., and the American adaptation switches things up to the tastes of people in North America.
Although comedy tastes can vary by region, horror is universally understood. Scary is scary, no matter where you are from. This is why it is so easy for horror-films to gain worldwide success. Everyone has, more or less, some kind of sensitivity to fear. Plus, horror isn’t about words. It’s about imagery, and brooding build up. This is why Japanese films like Ju-On can be enjoyed by North Americans, and the film could so seamlessly be remade in America as The Grudge.
5. Horror Hones Your Chops
Building tension, using music, special effects, these are all things that are highly utilized in the horror genre. Getting to use these in a low-pressure, often fun environment, allows you the freedom to get crafty and creative. You have to figure out how to do things like make blood splatter, dismember limbs, fake a butcher-knife jamming into a body. You can experiment with the idea of not showing something overtly brutal on camera, as a crafty way to save finances. This can also be a way to better shock the audience, leaving things up to their imagination.
It’s also a great way to learn how to work with actors. Tropes of horror are often tension building to fear and panic if you are the victim, or sinister, erratic, psychopathic behaviours if you’re a villain. You can experiment with actor emotion, really trying to get them to dive into their character and get the performance you need.
In conclusion, horror has proven time and time again as one of the best ways to get your foot forward as a director in the film industry. You can experiment, learn, develop your style and more in a low-pressure, fan-dedicated genre. If you’re lucky, one simple idea can get you a lifetime of work. Or, royalty checks.