6 Subjective Rules for Successful Horror


4. If your movie involves murder, give the antagonists motivation other than “they are crazy.”

Why are they crazy? Why is the insanity manifesting itself in murder? If it’s supernatural, how? Why target the main characters? These are questions that all should be answered. Great horror movies answer a majority of the questions, but can leave the other questions blurry. “The Shining” for instance, answers the nature of the insanity for murder, but leaves the supernatural question fuzzy. If all the questions are fuzzy though, there is probably an issue.

The only thing scarier than a murderer is a logical, rational murderer.



5. Horror can exist without a strict antagonist.

Our own mind’s can be just as terrifying as a masked killer or ghosts. Take “Jacob’s Ladder,” where the protagonist is effectively haunted, but there is a very well done explanation for the strange visions at the end.

We live in a world where our brain interprets our senses through electrical signals. There’s a blind spot in the middle of our vision our brain can ignore to make sight appear uninhibited. The human mind is a fragile thing, and can be its own worst enemy.

And finally, my greatest pet peeve.



6. The antagonists should not be omnipotent.

“The Strangers” scared the hell out of me for the first 40 minutes. The killers are creepy, stealthy, and have a defined agenda. Then about midway through, the killers can instantly find someone crawling through the forest. They are invincible. They lead the protagonists in to traps that they cannot possibly have set up, or predict actions that cannot be anticipated. Antagonists should be fallible. They should be able to be beaten or at the very least escaped from. If not, you’re just watching an inevitability play itself out.


So! These are just my rules. My perspective. I don’t like slasher movies, but other people love them, so take my rules with the knowledge that they’re not perfect for everyone. They just illustrate what I view as mistakes that pull myself out of what could be an amazing premise.

One addendum to my list, cell phones. Give us another reason they don’t work other than , “Oh, woods.” I’ve been in the woods, I’ve been miles from human contact. There are ways to at least get reception for a simple call in the middle of nowhere. You might not get data reception, but at least give us a throwaway line later about ghosts or something.

Think I’m wrong? Have any rules of your own? Put them in the comments! I love to hear from other horror film nerds!

2 thoughts on “6 Subjective Rules for Successful Horror”

  1. I tend to not mind the rules overly much as long as things don’t take me out of the story. I do have pet peeves however. When the human antagonist of a otherwise mundane horror movie is essentially supernatural in some way that takes me out of it (see your complaint with the strangers). Another is when things happen that don’t make sense in the context of the movie… Take Vanishing on 7th street. I enjoyed the movie for the concept they were trying for. But they kept trying to shoehorn in the Croatoan mystery and aside from the initial mention of it by a character, it made no sense to have the word show up anywhere else in the movie.

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