Horror Stigmata: The Red Headed Stepchild of Cinema

As a screenwriter — who no doubt scours Inktips and Craigslist for gigs — what do you see the most requests for? I mean, besides Limited Location Thriller films? Or Faith Based and Found Footage tales?

Inevitably, it’s Horror that wins the game of numbers. Not to mention money — sometimes. Which isn’t at all surprising: Horror’s a genre that’s historically raked in ticket sales.

And low budget Horror often scores huge success. Consider this, if you will (feel free to throw in your best Rod Serling imitation while you read out loud):

  • Paranormal Activity (to many producers, Blumhouse is a God!)
  • Friday the 13th
  • Halloween
  • Insidious
  • Saw
  • And many, many more…

Horror’s an arena where franchises often hit the spiky mace out of the park. And yet, paradoxically, don’t need a mega-million dollar budget to “get ‘er done.”

But in most cinematic corners, Horror’s never admired. It’s the dramas that earn awards: Life of Pi. The King’s Speech. Cast Away. All of which are deserved. But still…

Horror has bottomless potential. Like a dank, musty pit of Hell — with a treasure chest buried alive in the shadows: somewhere you can’t quite make out….)

Like the Rodney Dangerfield of genres, scary movies rarely get respect. But it’s far past time Horror had its day.

No, I’m not talking Slashers or Torture Porn — though such sub-genres have their place.

It’s intelligent horror that’s breath-taking to behold. Stories that deal with eternal questions… with an arterial dash of gore and bed-wetting panic thrown in. In other words — classic, flawless film.

Think about the Horror Movies that have burrowed like parasites into your mind: John Carpenter’s The Thing and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There’s two masterpieces there. Both deal with isolation and paranoia; eternal human themes.

Then there’s Jacob’s Ladder; a little known gem that questions the ability of the human mind to grasp reality. And The Changeling — a poignant psalm to the grieving process, after the tragic loss of a child. There’s also the original Alien and American Werewolf in London, melding Claustrophobia and Humor into tales that stand the test of time.

If you’re a knowledgeable Horror connoisseur, such examples go on and on.

That’s the lesson Hollywood continually misses: no film is “good” when you color by the numbers or blindly follow a formula (Blake Snyder — I’m lookin’ right at you, Son.)

Don’t get me wrong — jump scares and FX are fun. But true Horror has true Soul. And a torn out, dripping heart.

Ultimately, it’s the marriage of intelligent insight and intense emotion that hits any story home on a grand scale.

That’s why Horror — when done right — is High Art. Far from anti-intellectual, Horror has the potential to keep audiences thinking long after the credits roll — forever impacting and scarring their vulnerable minds.

No matter the genre, the key in screenwriting is taking ideas to their logical extremes. Tragedy. Joy. Love. And Abject Terror, as well.

Call me a heathen if you want. But the Horror Genre has immense potential — the natural capacity to blend philosophical exploration with searing emotion: resulting in awe, wonder and fright.

Put these ingredients together, and you’ve created a witches’ brew of cinematic excellence. Just make sure to think outside that torture chamber box — and get the balancing act on your Scythe… just right.