Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How to make a good Slasher film

It has come to my attention (And the attention of every person who has ever seen more than one slasher film) that a lot of horror films suck. I love a good slasher film. I don't know why but something about them appeal to me (No not just the kills or anything like that despite what some may think. Of course, I do like a creative kill just like every slasher fan.) But only a few people have a knack for making good ones. And a few of them (like the great Hitchcock) are dead and gone. so, for all of you budding horror directors out there, I am presenting you a list of just what makes a slasher film good.

#1. Try not to have just one target audience. You know, the reason that Hitchcock is considered (rightly so) the greatest horror master of all time is that his films aren't shooting for just one audience. Everyone can enjoy, or at least appreciate, how amazingly good films like Psycho and The Birds are. Films like that are over 50 years old and we still adore them. However, when a horror director makes a film for just 14-20 year old horror fans, his film will be forgotten incredibly quickly. Once his target audience grows up, they will forget it themselves and then where is the film? I looked up the top grossing slasher films of all time and the highest grossing one that wasn't a franchise film was a film called Shocker.

 Have you ever heard of it? It's a 1989 slasher film by Wes Craven. It has a mere 8% approval rating on the tomatometer. BoxOfficeMojo.com says that most slasher films don't even have box office records. Also, in the 1981 film called Student Bodies (An Airplane!esque film) the opening title says: "This motion picture is based off an actual incident. Last year 26 horror films were made. None of them lost money." Can you list them? Well, here's 21 of them that I found:

  • Anthropophagus
  • The Boogeyman
  • Christmas Evil
  • Don’t Answer the Phone
  • Don’t Go in the House
  • Fade to Black
  • Friday the 13th
  • Funeral Home
  • Ghost Dance
  • He Knows You’re Alone
  • Maniac
  • New Year’s Evil
  • Night of the Demon
  • Nightmares (aka, Stage Fright)
  • Phobia
  • Prom Night
  • Schizoid
  • Silent Scream
  • Terror on Tour
  • Terror Train
  • To All a Good Night

Be honest here, how many of them have you heard of? According to Student Bodies, none of them lost money. Considering they were made during the golden age of the Slasher Film, I believe it.

 Do you see what I'm getting at here? If you have a small target audience, your film will not last as long. You have films like Psycho which has lasted for 51 years now and Scream which is still an excellent film 15 years later. They don't have just one target audience.

#2. Relatable cast.  Your whole cast doesn't necessarily have to be relatable. I mean, there  has to be a few people that you enjoy seeing them killed in creative ways. But a good slasher film has someone that you can relate to that you really care if they live or die. I'll give you a few examples of this

Nancy Thompson

Sidney Prescott

Randy Meeks

Laurie Strode

Jess Bradford

It generally matters to the audience if these people die or not. If Sidney Prescott was killed off 5 minutes into the second film people wouldn't be too happy about it. If you're emotionally invested in a character, you care if Freddy slashes them in the face with is glove.

Not too many slashers do that. Let's look at some recent slasher characters.

Laurie Strode-Halloween remake

Some of the cast from I Know What You Did Last Summer

some of the cast of the Nightmare on Elm Street remake

The cast of the Sorority Row remake.

and Ken and Barbie.

You may laugh at the Ken and Barbie bit, but if you look at the pictures above you will see both of them in the pictures. Slasher directors these days pick characters based on attractiveness rather than their ability to act and if the characters aren't attractive it's because it is part of the storyline and they are either killed off very fast or are the killers an underneath a mask the whole movie. Eye candy characters are never really interesting to watch. I'm not saying all characters in slashers should be ugly, but they should at least look like someone you would meet on the street. Here are two pictures of a high school and college classroom (the target audience for a slasher)

High School


Did you spot Ken and Barbie in these pictures? Neither did I. In fact, if you are in school right now when you go to your next class look around and see if you can find Ken and Barbie. Good slasher characters are characters that you could meet somewhere and you would like to hang around with. The characters of most slashers are shallow people who only care about themselves even the survivors only show hints of selflessness most of the time. As such, you don't care if the killer kills them or not.

#3 NO KIDS!!!! There is nothing that kills a slasher film like kids. There is no point to them other than to scream as the killer approaches only to be saved by the last minute by some older person. They are incapable of doing anything to help themselves. I know that the filmmakers are putting them in there for suspense, but think about it, no slasher director has the balls to violently kill a 5 year old kid in one of his films. It's not good business. There is no suspense when the killer is after a kid because you know the kid isn't going to die. A good slasher film should have you worried about which character will survive. And you certainly shouldn't make them a main character. There are a few exceptions of course, Regan McNeil from The Exorcist was only 12 but she spent most of the movie possessed by demons so it's okay. Also, Danny from The Shining and Newt from Aliens are okay because they collectively have more brains than every slasher character in 50 slasher films. But here are some examples of kids in slasher films:

Andy Barclay in Child's Play 1 and 2

Ronald Tyler in Child's Play 3

Diana Gordon in Saw

I could go on here, but I think you get the idea. Thankfully, relatively few slashers make this mistake.

#4. Intelligent characters. This kinda goes back to relatable characters, but the best characters are the ones who at least try to outsmart the killers. I won't go into too much detail here, but if oyu want more info I did two blogs on the subject:


http://lordnasebyblog.blogspot.com/2011/01/slasher-film-rules.html This one details the rules that it seems that all slasher characters follow

#5. Make it original. Wikipedia says this about Slasher plots:
Slasher films can be split into two distinct sub-types: one type in which the killer's identity is known from the outset and he is shown overtly (albeit sometimes in a mask), and one in which the killer's identity is not known and which employ a whodunnit angle, often with a twist at the end.
There is substantial critical debate as to how to define the slasher sub-genre and what films are and are not slashers. For instance, Vera Dika rather strictly defines the sub-genre in her book Games of Terror only including films made between 1978 and 1984 where as Carol Clover in her book Men,Women, and Chainsaws has a looser definition, including films like Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its sequels. In Peter Hutchings book The Horror Film he considers the films following the success of Halloween critically different than films prior (such as Texas Chainsaw Massacre).
Dika attempts to define the sub-genre by its often formulaic plot structure. She theorizes that the slasher films loosely adhere the following formula:
Past event
  1. The young community is guilty of a wrongful action.
  2. The killer sees an injury, fault or death.
  3. The killer experiences a loss.
  4. The killer kills the guilty members of the young community
Present events
  1. An event commemorates the past action.
  2. The killer's destructive force is reactivated.
  3. The killer reidentifies the guilty parties.
  4. A member of the old community trys to warn the young community (optional).
  5. The young community takes no heed.
  6. The killer stalks members of the young community.
  7. A member of some type of force like a detective etc., attempts to hunt down the killer.
  8. The killer kills members of the young community.
  9. The hero/heroine sees the extent of the murders.
  10. The hero/heroine sees the killer.
  11. The hero/heroine does battle with the killer.
  12. The hero/heroine kills or subdues the killer.
  13. The hero/heroine survives.
  14. But the hero/heroine is not free.

I can't tell you how many slashers I have seen that follow this formula because I don't have the time to list all the slashers that I have seen. It's tiring to see this formula for every film. I know there's some saying about how there's only seven stories in the world or something like that, but at least try to add something new to the story. Films like A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream, Black Christmas, and Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon take the tired storyline and add an excellent new twist to it. I don't mention Psycho because it started the whole thing. I don't add Halloween because everything that it is famous for doing it ripped off of Black Christmas. When making A Nightmare on Elm Street, Wes Craven took experiences from his own childhood, real events in history, AND he ignored a lot of the norms for a slasher film. A Nightmare on Elm Street wasn't set in the woods or in a haunted house, it was set in an average suburban area, the kind that you could find in any town in the U.S. The result was Freddy. Freddy is a movie monster that I rank above Dracula and Frankenstein in terms of pure genius (Frankenstein and Dracula are based off of books). The thing that sets Freddy apart from Jason or Michael is that Jason and Michael get their kills because their victims are too stupid to get away. Freddy gets his kills because there isn't really a way to get away from him. He gets you where you are the most vulnerable. Scream was a self-analytical satire of the nearly dead genre. Leslie Vernon was the same, but the character of Leslie Vernon was unlike any other killer in any slasher film and it added documentary styles to the film. Black Christmas left a lot of the film up to your imagination.

#6. Quality over Quantity. This is a problem that most films have these days. Film is quick cash for too many directors instead of art. Even visually pleasing films like Avatar are only made to put more money than 50 of us could ever make in a lifetime in the director's pocket. I may be naive, but I don't think Hitchcock made films because he knew they would make millions for him. Craven didn't make A Nightmare on Elm Street to get tons of money. If he did, he would have thrown something together to get some quick cash. It was the golden age of the slasher anything he put out there would have made money. If you make a quality film then people are going to want to see it over and over again and even buy it. Your film will last a lot longer. Even if you fail you learn from it and keep going to make more art. Even if you fail then, history may just look kindly on you. Case and point: The Night of the Hunter and Peeping Tom. They ruined the careers of the directors but are now seen as classics. They were making art not money.

So, that's my rant. I doubt that it will be passed along to big shot Hollywood (or even up-and-coming) directors and studio executives. But, I can hope right? I hope you enjoyed it. BTW, in case you haven't seen my other horror blog:



  1. wow man this is awesome!! im a huge slasher fan im 17 and 1 day I hope to create a great slasher movie that will be the beginning of new genres of slashers you are very helpful =)

  2. Thank you very much! I'm glad you enjoyed it! If you do go on to make great slashers, best of luck to you! Lord knows we need more good ones.

  3. Wow, good article. I'm currently working on a script for my slasher film and found this information pretty informative. Thanks!

  4. You wrote in the lead for this article "Last year 26 horror movies were made. I think you meant "that year (1981) 26 horror movies were made." Friday the 13th was 1980 I think. Great blog!

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