It’s been 35 years since Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street was first released, revitalizing the horror genre and inspiring a wave of sequels and slasher stories in its wake.
So, what was Craven’s process for bringing new and interesting stories to the horror genre? What devices were used to manufacture fear, and what set his stories apart from the standard slasher film? We’re looking back on our time with the legendary horror writer/director at our annual Writers Conference for his advice on mastering the genre.
Here are five tips for navigating the horror genre from horror legend and past AFF panelist Wes Craven:
- IDENTIFY THE PURPOSE OF YOUR STORY
I think good horror films cause people to think, cause them to experience what suffering is really like, and also help ordinary people that go into them to go through something which they feel is their absolute worst fear and come out the other side alive…it shows a suggestion of a character or sort of character that can experience the most fearful things and come out alive, and that’s an important character for kids to get their hands on.
- FIND FEAR IN THE FAMILIAR
I try to set my films in very ordinary places because the horrors that I’ve experienced, the scariest thing I can remember as a kid…is nightmares and knowing I have to go to sleep and that parents couldn’t come with me. Just a place in a kid’s bed—there’s nothing exotic about that location except where you go from there is wild and unpredictable. So, it seems to me that you want to start your audience in a place that’s familiar and find the fear there and deal with that.
- DON’T RELY SOLELY ON GORE
When you think about “Well, how do you scare people? How much more gory do you have to be?” I don’t think most good horror film directors think that’s usually the case. It’s entering that zone of insanity, and sometimes you don’t have to show any blood.
- USE SUSPENSE AS A STORYTELLING TOOL
I think if you shock early, you can back away from that graphicness to explore other things and carry the suspense throughout most of the rest of the film so that it becomes about something else other than this graphic slaughter, or whatever it is.
- DEFY THE LIMITS OF THE GENRE
I just brought all of the mentality of wanting to make great art films and said, “Okay, I am making a horror film, but let’s put as much into it as I can.” I think that’s how the best horror films are made. They’re made by people that have backgrounds in art and are very well-schooled and think a lot more deeply than most of the culture gives us credit for doing, and that’s why the films have lasted for 20-some years. They’re still out there playing—it’s no accident.
For more on the horror genre, listen to our On Story Episode Horror Writing with Chase Palmer, Tobe Hooper & Wes Craven at onstory.tv/radio.
Want to hear these tips firsthand? Get a jumpstart on 2020 and grab your Badge at our early bird prices! For more information on how to attend, click here.