How to Make Your Horror Movie Actually Scary

person trapped behind glass
Photo by Pedro Figueras from Pexels

Tis the season – for horror movies! If you’re like us, you’re spending October watching (and re-watching) all the best horror films. The Witch is giving me nightmares! But how do the best writers and directors make their horror movies actually scary? Here are some horror movie tips!

Show, Don’t Tell

The old writing adage “show, don’t tell” is good advice in any genre – but it’s especially important in horror. Don’t just tell us about a demon or ghost in dialogue or a news report – SHOW us (or at least hint at it with visual images).

At the same time, you don’t have to show us everything right away. Little clues and hints that eventually build up to something bigger are very effective in creating a sense of unease and anticipation. Let the viewer stew in their own dread as you slowly turn a corner or go down the basement stairs.

Character is Everything

Creepy music and bloody visuals can help create feelings of horror – but your film’s characters are the real key to making viewers scared. If your protagonist is truly terrified, then we will feel those emotions along with them as we experience the movie from their perspective.

“The most effective horror movies are the ones that manage to turn horror into a personal experience,” says Screened.

Watch the video for more horror movie tips about how Hereditary, The Witch and The Babadook all create a scary viewer experience.

Make Deliberate Cuts in Editing

Horror directors deliberately cut back and forth between two different areas (or a character and their enemy) to create suspense, surprise, confusion and fear.

In some horror films, we often know what’s going to happen before the character does, and this dramatic irony intensifies our feeling of dread.

In other horror movies, fast cuts mean we don’t know what we’re seeing – and this confusion can be just as scary. Get some horror movie tips from how this works in Psycho and other films:

Costumes and Makeup

When you’re making an indie movie on the cheap, it’s easy to write off professional costumes and makeup as too expensive. But if you want to create a demon or creature that’s actually scary, it may be worth investing in a skilled makeup artist. If your viewers are distracted by cheesy amateur makeup, they definitely won’t be scared.

If you really can’t afford a makeup artist, then you may want to opt for a creature with a mask or a scary antagonist who’s just a regular old human. You might also consider investing in ONE very professional-looking monster instead of an army of amateur ones.

Lighting

Many horror films take place at night, which is inherently scary. Learning how to light your scenes for nighttime will help them look both professional and terrifying!

LED lights offer a variety of colors and moods; you can also focus on shadows and the absence of light. Check out BH Photo’s video for more:

You might also consider subverting expectations by filming your horror movie during the day. Finding ways to make a bright, sunny day absolutely terrifying sounds like a fun challenge to us!

What are your best horror movie tips? Share them on our Instagram!

Lessons and Tips