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The panelists for Bump In The Night: Writing Horror That Works, were David E. Allen, Eric Red, Tobe Hooper, and Les Bohem. Here are excerpts from the panel.

What makes a good horror movie?

Bohem: Establish for your audience early on that you have no limits… generally by showing them something awful.

Hooper: You have to give the audience the creeps… you have to disturb them.

Red: Scenes you remember, of great visceral horror. The star is usually the bad guy, which makes it franchise-driven.

Allen: [One of his faves is] John Carpenter’s The Thing.

What’s the last real good horror film you saw?

Bohem: The Tenant by Roman Polanski. This is a hard genre to write because it ultimately depends on the director’s realization of it.

Red: When an ordinary, everyday incident turns out nasty… suspension of disbelief, and the film takes itself seriously.

Red: The Exorcist was the last grabber. It was absolutely believable, done with procedural reality.

Allen: Cabin Fever and Deathwatch by Michael Bassett.

Red: You don’t want the audience to trust you. You have to really sucker-punch the audience.

When to show and not to? Are the scariest moments those you don’t see?

Hooper: The less you see the better.

Allen: We purposefully didn’t put a lot of lighting on the werewolves in Dog Soldiers… the less-is-more theory.

Red: Horror movies always have been a subversive medium… a B-movie basis. Ground rules for a horror film are very important. Your audience needs to know. Great horror films go to extremes and you can always pull it back… [When writing] always try to go too far… [I] cannot stand horror films that spoof their subject or have their tongue in their cheek… best example of horror with humor was An American Werewolf In London.

After the panel, hybridmagazine.com staffer Roxanne Bogucka spoke with Eric Red and with Les Bohem.

Eric Red

RB: I was wondering if you could tell me a little bit about horror versus dread. What I’m thinking about here are movies that aren’t intended as horror movies, things like a really old movie from the ’70s called Deep End. I don’t know if you ever saw it—

ER: By the Polish one.

RB: Right, right. With Jane Asher. And in watching it you’re just like, Oh my god, what’s going to happen? So could you talk about horror versus dread?

ER: Well horror films are often based on shock sequences or gore sequences or moments of visceral horror. Dread, films of dread or you might even say suspense are often about apprehension. About the threat or the fear of something about to happen. Horror films are more about what happens.

RB: You said that you think that a horror film needs to take itself seriously. But it sounds to me, from what you’re saying, like it’d be a little easier to take yourself seriously in a dread film than a horror film. Am I misinterpreting?

ER: Uh, yeah. But I think when you’re doing a horror picture you need to treat the situation and the characters seriously. I’ve tried to, in dealing with subject matter like werewolves or vampirism, to approach those characters as if they really existed. When I did Bad Moon, which was a werewolf film, I thought that the idea of being a werewolf was very similar to schizophrenia. Or alcoholism. And given the character, Michael Pare’s character, we approached it as it was somebody with advancing schizophrenia. And when I did Body Parts, which is about a man who loses his arm in a car wreck and has an arm grafted on that belongs to a killer, we treated it seriously, as if, we didn’t, so that the audience would not know whether it was the result of the accident that this character was suffering violent personality changes or it was the arm of the killer. But in all cases we treated it seriously.

RB: Now you spoke particularly against something that has too much comedy or has its tongue in its cheek, but what do you think about horror movies of, I guess I would say, a Gothic vein. Something like Whatever Happened To Baby Jane or Die, Die My Darling, where it’s scary but they’re not really taking themselves seriously because these women are so over the top.

ER: I think they took Whatever Happened To Baby Jane seriously, but it was, I think what you’re talking about is melodrama. You know, very very heavy melodrama, but they still approach those characters realistically, but they played it up.

RB: And you feel—

ER: Yeah, I think those films were great. I don’t think either of those pictures are a spoof.

RB: Thank you very much.

Les Bohem

RB: You spoke in your earlier panel about things like the ground rules for what you’re doing, and then you talked here about the mythology. That the audience knows the mythology. What’s easier and more fun for you to write? Where people know this mythology and you have to work in that framework, or where you’re making it all up?

LB: Ooh that’s good. Well you know if it’s a really good one—I mean aliens are a good mythology, so are vampires—I love that because I love those particular myths. You know if, sure it’s fun to make everything up, but it’s better to have a starting point like that. Having done a little bit of that, I really like that. Aliens, you get to change the rules a little bit, so I made up some of my own.

RB: Thank you.


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