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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.