My understanding of the horror genre
"Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but deliver us from evil."
The Lord's Prayer provides an apt theme for the horror genre. But there will be no deliverance from evil for the heroes of these tales; they have already been judged, and it is time to be punished for their sins. There are many ways, and a whole slew of monsters, with which the horror screenwriter can choose to punish their protagonists. The modern horror movie may be about frightening audiences, but they are the evolution of age-old cautionary tales. They remind us that there are consequences for committing sins. As someone who both loves and is afraid of the horror genre, I like to know why I want to scare people just as much as how.
As a screenwriter I am interested in writing horror stories with human or animal monsters and so I find inspiration in movies like Scream, Psycho, Rogue, and The Shallows because I love stories about survival; and a dark comedy horror like Lake Placid suits my tastes even better. My understanding of horror movies comes from screenwriting guru Blake Snyder who labels it the "Monster in the House" genre. The monsters come to punish the heroes for a sin they have committed. For teens, sex is often the sin (Scream). For adults, it might be putting career before family (The Ring) or adultery (Fatal Attraction). For a town or city, this might be corporate greed over ethics (Jaws, Congo, Godzilla). The rules of the horror story need this transgression to create the loophole through which 'Evil' can enter. And though these films may seem unrelated they all possess similar patterns and characters.
Blake Snyder posits there are three components to a horror movie: (1) a powerful monster that is evil at its core, (2) an enclosed space the characters cannot escape, and (3) the hero must be guilty of some transgression that has opened the door and allowed the monster to enter. There is usually a character that shows up with clues about the monster, having survived and come away scarred. Blake Snyder calls this the ‘half man.’ The ‘half man’ pops up to reveal the myth of the monster.
The monster must be truly evil. There is something a little more than normal that powers these monsters. They should not be defeated by splashing water on them, Mr. Shyamalan.
The story must take place in an environment where the characters cannot easily run away from the monster. Yes, it is scary to come across a snake in the bush, but to come across a snake on a motherfucking plane?
Finally, it is 'sin' that makes all horror movies work. It is one thing to be stalked by a mental woman, but to be stalked by a mental woman because you ended an affair with her makes for a more compelling story.