In the spirit of spooky October, let’s explore the ever-popular Horror genre. Horror films focus on scaring their audiences by stirring up feelings of unsettlement. They display your deepest darkest fears and worst nightmares, or sometimes leaving it up to the imagination, to get a visceral reaction from the audience.
Take a glimpse at the 20 Most Profitable Movies of All Time (Based on ROI) list and you will find most on the list are horror films, with Paranormal Activity at #1. This list alone tells us that fans of horror movies are addicted to watching films for a fright, regardless of the quality of the footage.
Let’s explore some elements that make a good horror movie. We are privileged to know Toronto-based horror filmmaker, Ryan Andrews, and asked for his insight on this topic. Post City was proud to provide post-sound production on some of his films including Save Yourself (2015), My Old Man (2014), and Sick (2012).
Imagination vs Jump Scares?
“A good horror film will allow your imagination to play a role in the storytelling” as described by Post City's Pino Halili, the dialogue and music editor for Save Yourself and My Old Man. Most viewers, typically watch horror movies in the dark, one reason could be since horror films are usually set in the dark therefore watching it lights off is optimal. Another reason has to do with our psychology, since being afraid of the dark is considered a universal fear since early childhood because of what the darkness may hide.
Andrews believes "what makes a good horror in my mind is drama. By that I mean, you can always make people jump by having someone pop out of the shadows and you can always show more gore to gross people out. But those are cheap thrills. And there will always be something bloodier that comes along."
A film we worked on with Director Ryan Andrews, Save Yourself, is the exception to the darkness element of horror, since the horror takes place mostly in daylight. He explains, “don’t get me wrong, I love to see some good gore and tension created in the shadows but that never lasts. It’s when you get lost in the story and care about the characters that you can relate and put yourself in their situation. That’s good horror.”
Nowadays it seems like your audience will know all the cliches in a horror movie, or as Ryan Andrews points out “you always hear people say nothing really scares them, or they don’t get scared in movies and that is because there is always the safety of being in a movie theatre. They don’t get scared cause they know their safe no matter what. You need to make them care about the characters enough to invest in their situation.”
What Post-Production elements gives us that good scare?
Camera movement alone can be a simple way to create unnerving moments without adding any extra VFX. But as an editor, being able to control what your viewer sees is also a powerful tool. Shifting perspective away from the subject to something out of frame, holding shots to build suspense, these are a combination of film techniques and editing.
When asked about what important elements helps to make a good scary moment in horror movies specifically in post-production, Andrews explained it the best:
"Every element of the filmmaking process adds to the overall success of the film. But for horror, I think what you hear is sometimes the most important element. You don’t always see what’s under the mask and you don’t always see the kill take place on-screen. But you don’t have to, because sometimes what you don’t see is scarier and that is because the sonic elements of a horror film help the audience visualize the worst-case scenario that their mind can come up with.
The score and the sound design really is what turns the dial of a horror film up to 10. Working closely with Post City when we did our film “Save Yourself” it was a lot of the sound elements that elevated so many moments throughout the film. Even when you don’t see what’s happening, the slightest, subtlest noise helps you visualize it.
The sonic elements also help tell a story, which when making indie films and you don’t always have the budget to do everything you want, helps you tell more. I did a short film with Post City called “My Old Man” and during the opening, the various sound fx that played with the music, helped people visualize where a character was and what she was doing to lead her to the point of the opening scene.
The things I learned from creating films with Post City have made me a stronger director and writer. And when I am just in the writing stage, knowing what sound elements we can use, helps me weave a stronger story."
POST CITY Picture & Sound is a full-service film, television and commercial post-production company located in the heart of Toronto's Film District with IMAX™, Dolby™, and THX™ certification for Theatrical, Broadcast, and Digital releases. We are the leading boutique facility offering professional post-production services. Contact us for a screening and sound demonstration in our state of the art facility.