The Dreaded Coverage (or How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Feedback)

Today’s topic is about one of the most dreaded things a write can encounter: professional feedback, otherwise known as coverage. How to use and deal with feedback is one of the most important skills for a writer. As a screenwriter, that goes double.

WHAT IS COVERAGE?

Coverage is obtained when a writer submits his or her screenplay to an industry professional for written feedback. The professional does not undertake to produce the script, but instead provides a written report listing its strengths and weaknesses.

The difference between professional coverage and feedback from other people, such as the writers in your writers’ group (you do have a writer’s group, right?) is that you pay for the former. But the principles about how to deal with feedback are the same whether you pay or not.

HOW TO GET COVERAGE

There are many ways to get coverage. Websites and screenwriting gurus abound offering consultancy services ranging from around $50 upwards. The sky is the limit. I have seen consultants ask for thousands of dollars. The pros and cons of these services may depend on where you are as a writer, and I won’t go into whether they are worth the fee here.

You can also approach your peers – other writers. I would not suggest using friends and family unless they are also writers.  Your mother will always say your latest torture horror opus is “lovely, dear”. Likewise, friends may not wish to offend you. Those who are not writers may simply lack the skills needed to analyse a script or to tell you whether it is marketable or not. So always go with someone with experience of writing, editing or script reading.

Now let’s dig a little deeper into what coverage means to a writer:

 

Signs of when it's time to move on. (via Bluecat)

Signs that it’s time to move on.

STANDARD COVERAGE FORMAT FOR SCREENPLAYS

In the film industry, coverage consists of 2-3 pages of synopsis, followed by (usually) 2-3 pages of actual analysis, sometimes followed by a score card. The “meat” of coverage is the 2-3 page analysis. The score card illustrates at a glance the strengths and weaknesses of your work according to that script reader.

What is the purpose of the synopsis, you ask? I submitted my script to get an analysis, not to have my own story told back to me! I’ve been swindled!

Well, it’s tempting to consider the fist 2-3 pages as filler and ignore it. But another way to look at it is to consider that your story may not have translated itself into someone else’s head the way you imagined it in your own.

Writing is the art and craft of transferring thoughts from your own head into someone else’s. It is a kind of telepathy. Whether the other person “gets” your scene or not, or has a different impression of what just happened in your story, can be a sign that you were not successful in getting them to imagine everything as you did.

 

HOW TO DEAL WITH COVERAGE

Whenever a writer receives feedback, whether verbal or written, the initial reaction may well be to clench your teeth, dig your nails into the arms of your chair, then launch into a tirade about “idiots not getting it” or accusing the reader of skipping important parts that explained everything.

But remember, as a writer your job is to communicate. Just as the customer is king in the restaurant industry, in the writing world the reader is king. If the reader doesn’t get  what you want them to get, you have only yourself to blame.

Another reaction is panic. Panic at the amount of work that needs doing. Despair at the insurmountable cliff one faces. Did you spend enough time on your script to begin with? Most writers write around ten drafts of a script and at least two drafts of a novel before even showing it to anyone.  Now another rewrite looms. How will you ever get the work done?

Trust me, it’s something everyone dreads.

The way I deal with this is as follows:

Read the feedback all the way through, from start to finish.

Do nothing.

Let it percolate. Don’t be temped to dash off a hasty e-mail cursing the reader for his or her stupidity. If you’re in a writer’s group or face-to-face situation, take the comments with good grace and make a note of them. You will be glad you did. Giving feedback is an art in itself (that’s for another time). Some people are better at it than others. The other person may only wish to help as much as possible. They may think that by being ultra-critical they are only strengthening the material.

Let the dust settle.

After about a week of nursing your feelings by overindulging on cappuccino or another beverage of your choice go back to the feedback. Read it again.

Now that your feelings are out of the way, doesn’t it make more sense? You may even be inspired as you read and gain ideas about how to improve the script. How did you miss that plot point? And of course that character wouldn’t do that!

Maybe the reader knows something after all.

Read it again.

This time, break it down into the things that don’t work. Also make a note of the things the reader liked. Don’t change these. These are your story’s strengths.

I always copy the feedback into another document, then edit it down so that I just have the reader’s criticisms  bullet-pointed in a list.

Still looks like an awful lot of wok, doesn’t it?

Here’s a secret tip.

Do the easy stuff first!

Did you use the wrong word somewhere? Commit a typo? Attribute dialogue to the wrong character. Go and change that sucker now. Each time you do, remove that point from your document.

Feels good, right?

You’re making progress!

NOW FOR THE REAL WORK

At this point, go back over your shortened document. Now separate the points out into things like “STORY”, “CHARACTER”,  and “DIALOGUE”.

I now go through the script one time for each of these things. Take another pass for story problems, then another for character and dialogue etc. I recommend Paul Chitlik’s excellent book “Rewrite” for a structured approach. If you already did this, now’s the time to do it again.

By taking a structured, methodical approach to addressing feedback, you can make the process of rewriting much less painful.

If you find yourself unwilling to throw out a cherished scene or piece of dialogue, simply save another version of your novel or screenplay file. You can always go back to it. And you may find that without the psychological crutch of having it there you’ll find a much better way to write that scene or show that character’s journey.

Feedback is painful. It’s painful because we writers like to believe that what’s on the page is a little bit of our soul. And rejection hurts. But that’s not how it is. Rare is the script that cannot be improved, even Oscar-winning screenplays. Henry James, the great American novelist, used to return to his stories and tinker with them ad infinitum.

By taking time to let your wounded pride recover, you can approach feedback with a clear head. By breaking it down into small tasks, you can make rewriting seem less daunting. If you do these things, receiving feedback may become less like a chore.

As always, if you think I’ve missed anything, or disagree with me, let me know. I welcome the feedback!

Happy (re)writing!

 

POSTSCRIPT:

There will come a time when you cannot rewrite any more. Recognising this is just as important as knowing the script needs improvement. When you reach this stage, don’t delay. Get it out there! Form a marketing plan and execute it. Don’t let someone else beat you to the punch. This has happened to me several times. There’s nothing worse than seeing someone sell your idea to a studio when your script is sitting on a shelf waiting to be marketed!

 

 

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This is pretty exciting news. My vampire novel PROJECT NINE is now available as an e-book on Amazon!

But this isn’t your usual horror story. It contains science-fiction, mad scientists, government conspiracies and, although it has its fair share of spinetingling romance,  you won’t find any sparkly vampires here!

PROJECT NINE  is the story of a young man named Luke who lives in a small Iowa town and who dreams of an escape from his own mortality. He finds it when he meets Lynne, a beautiful drifter who offers him eternal life. But the price is an insatiable addiction to human blood.

FrontCover2

What Luke does not know is that Lynne has escaped from The Tower, a secret government installation hidden in the cornfields of  the American Midwest. Within its walls, a clandestine experiment has gone terribly wrong. Aimed at breeding a new generation of super-soldiers, the Project has instead created genetically engineered creatures who live in darkness and feed on the blood of others.

Now, pursued across the country by an obsessive detective, Lynne and her fellow test subjects roam America’s backwoods in their quest for victims.

And Luke has joined them.

But theirs is no romantic existence: it is a world of spiralling violence where Luke must kill each night to survive. He is about to find out that his new life is very different to what he imagined…

WHAT’S IT LIKE?

PROJECT NINE is equal parts Stephen King, Anne Rice, Michael Crichton, Phillip K Dick, and Mary Shelley.

These vampires are psychologically realistic, damaged people. And the science behind their creation is so believable that, according to several sources, it’s even technically possible!

I’ll be telling you more about the characters, human and otherwise, in later posts.

WHERE CAN I BUY IT?

You can buy PROJECT NINE on Amazon as an e-book here.

Or in the UK you can get it here.

If you don’t have a Kindle, don’t worry, you can simply download Amazon’s own free e-reader for PC or smartphone when you buy. It’s so easy, even I did it!

You can also read a free sample before you download it. So why are you still here? Just click on one of the links above to get reading!

 

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December 26, 2015 · 9:55 pm

My top 20 horror novels of the past 70 years!

As it’s almost Christmas, here is a list of my own favourite horror books. These are books that either inspired, terrified me, or made my jaw drop at the sheer beauty of the writing. These are all personal choices, so feel free to disagree. But without further ado, here is the list, in no particular order…

 

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The Rats James Herbert

British writer James Herbert was strangely underrated during his lifetime, which is a shame, as he is one of the most frightening horror writers of the 20th century. “The Rats” burst on to the scene in the 1970s, and it still packs a punch today. The huge list of characters, the violence, and the incredible imagery make this a must-read!

Cabal Clive Barker

In the 1980s Clive Barker appeared as a breath of fresh air with his promise to show what other writers only hinted at. Not satisfying with having the monster carry off the maiden, Barker wanted to reveal what happened afterwards. Cabal is his most solid novel, a tale of a man who believes he is a psychopath and takes refuge in a hidden underground city of monsters. The result is a Grand Guignol of the surreal and unnerving. Filmed as the uneven but imaginative “Nightbreed” with David Cronenberg as the bad(der) guy!

 

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The Stand Stephen King

My first Stephen King entry is the author’s dark take on the apocalypse. It begins with a whimper and ends with a bang.  Filmed twice with varying success, this is some of King’s finest writing. So depressingly realistic that at first I had to give up on it and came back when I was in a lighter mood!

IT Stephen King

The second Stephen King entry on my list is, I think, undeservedly ignored, thanks to a forgettable TV movie. But make no mistake, the novel is King at the peak of his powers. The characters are rich but archetypal, the town of Derry both nostalgic and terrible. And the monster, ah, the monster..!

 

The Doll Who Ate His Mother, Ramsey Campbell

 

A peculiarly British atmosphere pervades this book, set in the poor end of Liverpool. There is a particularly nasty antagonist, but what makes it so memorable is Campbell’s description of urban neglect. Wherever the characters go you feel the empty eyes of forgotten tenements glaring at them. A unique little tale.

bradbury

The October County Ray Bradbury

Few can deny that Ray Bradbury is the American master of the short story. But did you know that this anthology contains an early possible prototype of the Addams Family? These American Gothic fables contain such memorable tales as “The Jar” and “The Emissary”. Packed with gorgeous prose, this is both horror and literary… and funny to boot!

Domain James Herbert

The last entry in the “Rats” series sees survivors of a nuclear holocaust eking out an existence in London’s rubble. Until they find an army of mutated rats waiting for them! Superlative suspense fiction. Every chapter ends on a cliff-hanger. Surely a Hollywood blockbuster waiting to be made!

The Vampire Tapestry Suzy McKee Charnas

A unique take on the vampire genre sees Suzy Charnas’s ancient and wily vampire take on the challenges of the modern world. Never has a vampire been presented in such a detailed psychological light.

The Books of Blood Clive Barker

Yes, all of them! It’s hard to imagine how revolutionary Barker’s fiction was when it first surfaced. These short stories run the gamut from the epic (In the Hills, The Cities) to the eerie (Skins of the Fathers), the surreal  (The Body Politic), the funny (The Yatttring and Jack) and the downright weird (Son of Celluloid). Some have become movie fodder, such as the unforgettably bizarre video nasty “Rawhead Rex”. Others are allegedly in the pipeline. But nothing can prepare you for Barker’s very personal vision of a contemporary world that’s as dark and corrupted as Dante’s inferno!

Interview with The Vampire Anne Rice

The book that launched a publishing legend. I still remember getting lost in the luxuriant Gothic prose. Anne Rice creates a vivid fantasy fever dream that is both like and unlike the movie version. A true masterpiece of fiction.

triffid

Day of the Triffids John Wyndham

British writer John Wyndham’s most well-known book is an example of the “cosy catastrophe”. But that’s why I like it! It’s interesting to see stiff upper lips drop as British society falls apart under attack from some walking plants with the aid of a meteor shower!

Kiss Kiss Roald Dahl

Not just the writer of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dahl’s short stories were laced with an acerbic wit and grisly imagination. A bit like fairy tales for adults, with added poisoning, brain surgery and insect/baby hybrids!

Ghost Story Peter Straub

Possibly THE great American ghost story. Peter Straub writes far too little horror these days. But this fantastic novel – described by Stephen King as “a tiger tank of a book” – contains virtually every twist on the ghost tale that you can imagine. Oozes atmosphere and quiet menace!

legend

I Am Legend Richard Matheson

With episodes of “The Twilight Zone” and numerous TV movies such as the unforgettable “Duel” and “The Night Stalker”, Richard Matheson inspired a generation of writers.  This is his probably his most famous work – filmed as the languid Vincent Price chiller “The Last Man On Earth”,  the action-packed and very Seventies “The Omega Man” with Charlton Heston, and lately as the CGI-heavy Will Smith popcorn flick, this tale of a man alone in a  world of vampires  has still never been done right. Which is a shame. It’s a fine novel.

The Haunting Shirley Jackson

One of the great ghost stories ever written, it’s amazing how the writer delivers so many effective scares without ever resorting to gore or shocks. Shirley Jackson’s story is a snowball rolling downhill, gathering chills as it goes. Also one very good and one very bad movie.

Teatro Grottesco Thomas Ligotti

Ligotti is one of the writers of the “new weird” – modern authors in the cosmic horror tradition of HP Lovecraft. This collection showcases his unique prose style – a style of flatness and repetition – that lends his words a peculiarly terrifying banality. “The Red Tower” was a particularly fine story. Have fun unpacking the symbolism!

Hour of the Oxrun Dead Charles L Grant

Overlooked by many, Charlie Grant’s Oxrun Station stories all take place in the same sleepy Connecticut town – that just happens to attract all manner of evil! Perhaps it was because these are classic supernatural stories that came out just as writers like King were modernizing old horror tropes. But these are creepy tales, laced with luscious prose. The old TOR versions had the best covers – each one a gorgeous Halloween-themed scene. Ideal for a creepy night in!

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Last Call of Mourning Charles L Grant

My favourite Charlie Grant story keeps you guessing all the way through. The plot sounds simple enough – the heroine returns to Oxrun Station to find her family ‘changed’. They don’t bleed, keep out of the sunlight, and have strange nocturnal habits. But the truth is something you’ll never guess. A masterful book that drips atmosphere and charm.

The Beautiful Thing That Awaits Us All Laird Barron

Barron has erupted onto the horror scene in recent years. This volume represents many of his Lovecraft-meets-Raymond-Chandler style of stories. But that is to do him an injustice. True, “Hand of Glory” is an effective pulp/horror mashup. But other stories show a genuine ability to expose our innermost fears. His eye-catching imagery cannot be easily forgotten.

The Vampire Lestat Anne Rice

Anne Rice second entry in my list is, I think, the most rich of her vampire stories. While I loved the epic scale and sheer ambition of “The Witching Hour”, “The Vampire Lestat” beats it because of the wonderful ironies the author employs. Here we learn who Lestat is, where he came from, his complicated (to say the least) relationship with his mother and his first meeting with Armand. We also learn more about Rice’s vampire mythology. This is both epic and deeply personal. Lestat feels like a living, breathing person. In all of horror, I can’t recall a more well-rounded, charismatic character!

Afterword

What’s missing from this list? Plenty. This is not my “Top 20”. Nor is it meant to be any kind of definitive list. These are just books I’ve loved. Pure examples of the horror genre that are original stories. I’ve not included anything by any “classic” author such as HP Lovecraft, Mary Shelley or Edgar Allen Poe, because everybody knows all about them anyway. Hopefully you feel the same or similar about some of these titles, or if not, I hope you seek them out and find them to your liking!

Enjoy!

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Today I have a pretty cool announcement to make.  The anthology REVOLUTIONS, which I edited along with Graeme Shimmin and Craig Pay (with honourable mentions to Luke Shelbourne and the rest of the Manchester Speculative Fiction Group), is now live to buy on Amazon! The anthology is an eclectic mix of science fiction, fantasy and horror, set in Manchester, England. Although perhaps it’s not quite the Manchester you know if you live there…

Revolutions. Available to buy now!

Revolutions. Available to buy now!

This is pretty exciting stuff for me. It’s my first time as an editor. It’s also a chance for me to be able to give back to the Manchester Spec Fic group, a bunch of writers who welcomed me with open arms several years ago. Since then, I’ve obtained invaluable feedback every meeting as they endured my stories (some good, some not so good) and made some great friends in the process.  So my thanks to Craig Pay for keeping the wheel on all this time and for being the very soul of diplomacy!

The idea came to me when I picked up a copy of an anthology in my local library that was brought out by a writers group in the West Midlands. I figured if they could do it, heck, we could do it better! And now I think we have.  But even that wasn’t enough for yours truly. We wanted our anthology to stand out, so we hit upon the idea of setting all the stories in Manchester England, a town that’s often unfairly ignored compared to, say, London, Monaco or any other of those exotic locales! So within these pages you will find various versions of Manchester, whether the present city, a Manchester  of tomorrow, or a Manchester that might never exist at all!

The anthology features stories by myself and other group members as well as Graeme Shimmin, author of the alternate-history spy thriller A Kill In The Morning, and Sarah Jasmon, author of the novel The Summer of Secrets. Both books are available to buy on Amazon. I have to say, Revolutions is a pretty good mix – it includes updated fairy tales, post apocalyptic fiction in a middle-class suburb, some very unique aliens, a musical war between Mancunians and Liverpudlians, and much much more.

So what are you waiting for? Get over to Amazon and grab yourself a copy!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Revolutions-Anthology-Speculative-Fiction-Manchester/dp/1518701353/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449850806&sr=8-1&keywords=revolutions+manchester+speculative+fiction

 

 

 

 

 

 

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December 11, 2015 · 4:34 pm

Revolutions Anthology

 

msf

Publication looms for the superlative Manchester Speculative Fiction Group anthology “Revolutions”, as the proof copies are being checked for last minute spelling and punctuation as we speak!

This promises to be an awesome collection of stories, folks. The Manchester Speculative Fiction group has been going for some years now, but this is our first anthology. It showcases not only work by group members, but by many talented writers across the world. The only criterion was that all the stories had to be set in Manchester, England. Whether this is the Manchester we all know and love (it’s currently pouring with rain as I’m typing), or a future, past or alternative Manchester was left to the writers. So expect the unexpected!

This is an exciting time for myself and the other editors. More details will follow nearer the launch date.  I just couldn’t wait to share these pics with you all!

Until next time…

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Do you like Anthologies of Urban Fantasy Stories?

Okay, shameless plug time.

Not exactly hot off the presses but still relatively recent is TWISTED BOULEVARD, an anthology of surprising Urban Fantasy fiction by Elektrik Milk Bath Press (don’t ask).

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There are all manner of goodies inside, including a story by yours truly! BLOOD OF AN ENGLISHMAN is about an anything-but-typical day in London after something has gone terribly wrong with the universe! If you like Urban Fantasy, this could well be the anthology for you!

You can get yours here at Amazon.com

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0982855486?keywords=twisted%20boulevard&qid=1444768811&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

or here at Amazon.co.uk

http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0982855486?keywords=twisted%20boulevard&qid=1444768871&ref_=sr_1_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Any reviews of this under-read collection of short stories would be most welcome. Pretty please with a cherry on top???

 

 

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The Many Different Types of Horror Movie Scare!

What techniques do horror movie makers use to make a film scary? The answer is, many. Serious critics often vilify horror movies as cheap, vile “video nasties”.  But in reality, a horror movie is a complex machine. Some of the best ones operate on many levels. So today we’re going to examine just what makes a horror film scary.

I’m not talking about monsters or violence. Instead, I’m talking about the methods writers and directors use to make us jump out of our skins or hide behind the sofa (don’t tell me you’ve never done that) in our favourite scary films!

This is by no mean an exhaustive list of the types of scares to be found in horror movies. But here are the ones I’ve noticed a lot.

 

Cat Scares and Hidden Attacks abound in

Cat Scares and Hidden Attacks abound in “Alien”!

The Jump Scare

The laziest kind of scare. The hero or heroine is walking around the creepy old house when BOO! It’s the monster! Usually it leaps straight at the camera so we experience for the shock ourselves. This is the kind of scare that easily gets on your nerves. For a classic example, see the “head in the boat” scene in JAWS. Check out many modern movie trailers for more inept examples.

 

The Lewton Bus

Also known as the “Cat Scare” or “Faux Scare”.

Ever noticed how sometimes the hero or heroine will be walking through the dark old house/deserted spaceship looking for the monster, when suddenly BOO! out jumps the monster. Oh wait, it’s not the monster after all. It’s only the cat. Or maybe it’s the boyfriend that puts his hand on the heroine’s shoulder. You’ve just been played for a sucker.

The origin of this term is legendary film producer Val Lewton, who used this to great effect in the classic original THE CAT PEOPLE (1942). If you’ve never seen it, get yourself a copy. It’s been ripped off hundreds if not thousands of times since.

“Nested” Cat Scare

A modern twist on the Cat Scare is that right after the innocuous event the real monster DOES appear! This would be more interesting except that it’s also been done a thousand times. For a more interesting variety, check out AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Our hero has a terrifying dream involving a monster with a knife. He wakes up to find… his nurse leaning over him. She goes to the window, opens the curtains and…BOO! The monster jumps out from behind the curtains and stabs her in the chest. Our hero screams. Then he wakes up again. The nurse is there and she goes to the window. She draws the curtains again and… nothing happens. A very unsettling scene.

 

 Mirror Scares / Reveal Scare

How many times have you seen the hero or heroine go to the bathroom, open the mirrored bathroom cabinet (it always has a mirror, doesn’t it?), close it again and… BOO! There’s the refection of the monster right behind them in the mirror! Modern variants include refrigerator doors with monsters inexplicably appearing behind them. Once again, this has become a massive cliché. Still pretty scary, though.

 

Loud noises

A relative of the jump scare.  But instead of seeing something, we hear it. For a recent example check out the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY movies. Although here the scare is used quite effectively, as the loud noises build up over each night, making the audience dread each sundown more and more. And, of course, they are very inexpensive to create!

 

Hidden attack

Typically, this very effective scare hits us from another direction from that in which we were looking. Not to be confused with the Cat Scare, which is supposed to get us on the edge of our seat before the attack happens. This scare comes out of nowhere. It’s a bolt from the blue.

Done well, this is one of the best scares. A classic example is the infamous chestburster scene from ALIEN where the creature explodes out of John Hurt’s chest. But other examples can be found. John Carpenter’s underrated THE FOG contains several of these. There’s also a great one in EXORCIST III. The camera sits at the end of a long hall in a hospital. A nurse sits at the desk, doing paperwork. Other people come and go. The nurse goes to check the rooms. She walks up the corridor. Behind her, very subtly, the other people leave one by one. She locks the last door, turns to go into the room opposite and BOO! What is that behind her? The monster explodes out of the locked doorway with a very nasty set of surgical scissors in hand. You’ve just been caught out by the Hidden Attack!

 

Suspense

This technique has been described as what happens when the audience knows as much as the character on screen. We’ve all seen those films where the hero or heroine (more probably) approaches the door, knowing there’s a killer/monster on the other side. They open the door slowly and …. BOO!

Nowadays this is pretty clichéd. Modern viewers tend not to buy this setup. There’s no way anyone with half a mind would go towards the location of a dangerous lunatic or hungry monster. So filmmakers try to find increasingly bizarre ways of getting the character to go towards the fear instead of away from it. Personally, if I never saw a character go toward the monster again, I wouldn’t mind. Sometimes it’s best just to accept that certain things are no longer scary.

Hide and Seek

According to Alfred Hitchcock, one of the greatest ways to create suspense is to employ what’s called Dramatic Irony. This is where the audience is aware of a menace that’s creeping up on the unsuspecting hero or heroine. Classic examples of this scare include the original HALLOWEEN (1978). This has pretty much been done to death (no pun intended) by the Slasher genre. By now the audience has become so familiar with it, it’s almost like an in-joke for the crowd. See the SCREAM movies for pastiches on this technique.

 

Mystery POV

A cousin of “Hide and Seek” is the Mystery POV, also known as the Dark Intruder POV. Here, the camera becomes the eyes of the killer/monster. We see it approach the unsuspecting victim. Classic examples include JAWS, when we see the unsuspecting swimmers paddling in the sea from below. Suddenly the camera rushes up to those dangling legs and… CRUNCH!

It’s a strange technique in that it sometimes arouses sympathy with the killer! Italian cinema has often used this technique to jarring effect. The Giallo films of Dario Argento, such as DEEP RED, often show us the killer preparing to commit (and committing) increasingly bizarre murders. It’s a sort of comment on how, just as audiences like to be scared, they might also be enjoying the thrill of seeing the murders onscreen. Creepy.

Endurance horror

This is an interesting technique. Films such as the original THE EVIL DEAD (1981) were marketed as “endurance horrors”. The basic idea is that you throw so much at the audience that they can’t take any more. Eventually, the slightest thing sends them over the edge and leaves them a quivering bundle of nerves. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974) is a great example of this. By the time we get to the crazy “feast” scene at the end of the movie, the heroine (and the audience) are emotional wrecks!

Birds Film

Claustrophobia and suspense in Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”!

 

Repulsion

Another lazy technique. This just means making the audience want to gag. In the hands of a master, like body-horror maestro David Cronenberg (THE FLY, SHIVERS) it’s truly terrifying and will stay with you for life. In the hands of anyone else, it’s just yucky. Bad examples abound, I’m just not going to go there.

 

Surreal Scare

My favourite kind of scare. This happens when you see something that looks so startlingly out of the ordinary that it’s frightening. It’s a “Thing that should not be”. Classic examples include David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD… or practically anything by David Lynch.

My favourite example is the famous vampire boy from the TV movie SALEM’S LOT (1979). Here, a boy awakens one night to find another recently deceased boy floating outside his window, scratching to be let inside. He foolishly opens the window. The dead boy floats in. He’s pale, rotting maybe. He has yellow eyes, long teeth and he’s very, very hungry. An extremely scary scene indeed.

Fear of the Unknown 

Horror writer HP Lovecraft once said that the greatest fear of mankind is the fear of the unknown. Some horror movies play on our sense of dread at not knowing what lurks within the darkness. The Found Footage horror genre uses this one a lot (primarily because it involves not seeing anything and is therefore cheap). At crucial points all the lights will go out. Cue screams, banging and general terror. Examples include THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT, which proves that sometimes it’s what you don’t see that’s more frightening.

Phobias

A close relative of the “Repulsion” technique, except that this involves repeatedly showing us images of something we find scary. Often this involves animals. Sharks, spiders, snakes, parasites, wolves, diseases, all these things are pretty scary. Or it could be a fear of flying, falling, the ocean, dismemberment, disfigurement or other types of grisly death. Examples include SNAKES ON A PLANE. However, you can forget the rather unscary ARACHNOPHOBIA.

Claustrophobia is another sub-type of this scare. The original DAWN OF THE DEAD (1978) uses this to excellent effect. The heroes are all trapped in a shopping mall with hundreds of zombies. The undead might be slow, but there are so many that escape is impossible. The classic shot from that film occurs when a character thinks himself safe in an elevator, only to be swamped by zombies when the door opens. This type of scare lingers long after the film ends.

 

Loss Of Identity

What’s more scary than dying? Losing your soul, of course. Horror movies recognize this. Many classic genre tropes like werewolves, vampires and zombies prey upon out fear of losing our sense of self, that thing which makes us who we are. The undead are not our real loved ones; they are unthinking, hungry shells out for our blood! Smart movies play with this type of scare. One of the best is THE INVASION OF THE BODYSNATCHERS (1956). We crawl with terror as people slowly lose their identity and are replaced with the hive-minded, unfeeling pod people. And when you are the only real human being left… well, that’s a truly frightening prospect!

The Chase

Chase sequences abound in horror movies. It’s a close cousin of the “suspense” scare. Both we and the character know there’s something right behind them, trying to catch up. THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE employs the classic example of this as the chainsaw-wielding Leatherface pursues the hapless heroine through the woods.

 

Atmosphere

This is less common nowadays and has become a cliché. In the early days of horror cinema it consisted of an old dark house, scary inhabitants, flickering lanterns, lightning storms, etc. etc. The old Universal horror movies of FRANKENSTEIN (1931) and THE WOLF MAN (1941)  contain many examples. However, something of this still survives in so-called J—Horror, which subverts this type of scare.  Here, ghosts pop up in banal places, like modern Tokyo, Internet chat rooms, or tenement buildings. See the Japanese originals of THE GRUDGE, PULSE, and DARK WATER for examples.

So there you are, my main types of horror movie scares. Doubtless I’ve omitted a few, so feel free to correct me. Now go out there and scare the pants off people!

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