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HORROR GENRE RESEACH. What is Horror ?. The aim of a Horror film is to build tension, horrify and/or disgust the viewer. The associated feelings and atmosphere are created using lighting, colour, music, camera angles and other techniques.

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what is horror
What is Horror ?

The aim of a Horror film is to build tension, horrify and/or disgust the viewer. The associated feelings and atmosphere are created using lighting, colour, music, camera angles and other techniques.

Peoples fear of the unknown is often preyed upon as is the use of common ordinary locations. For example the idea of being terrorised in your own home is a typical nightmare people have.

There are several subgenres such as slasher, psychological (apparations, possession, etc), zombie and apocalyptic horrors. They each have specific features, for example in slashers the murder weapon is some sort of blade (i.e. a kitchen knife).


Horror can take place almost anywhere. There are some common settings such as a home or isolated areas are regularly used. However they do sometimes take place in exotic locations, such as in the Shining.

Places such as homes, schools are used as people feel safe in them. To be hunted or tormented in a place you should feel safe further enhances the fear.

The settings are often isolated creating the classic ‘no where to hide’ atmosphere. As well as this if there is no one for miles around no one can help. The phrase ‘In space no one can hear you scream’ was used for the film Aliens.

lighting and colour
Lighting and Colour

In horror lighting and colour are used effectively. Colours often used are grey, black and red. These colours can connote things like blood, danger, evil and death. The colours can also be saturated, meaning they are less bright and vivid. This helps to create a gloomy and eerie atmosphere.

Low Key lighting is also often used. This creates shadows and darkness which can be manipulated to make a scene more scary.

narrative of a horror film
Narrative of a Horror Film
  • Within the plot of a horror there are many twists to keep tension high. However many follow a fairly similar plot structure
  • At first there is equilibrium – everything is normal.
  • The equilibrium is disrupted – this can take the form of a murder, kidnapping, prison escape or some other form.
  • Next the disruption is realised – this is when the body is found or someone has realised a person is missing.
  • There are several failed attempts by the hero to capture the villain in which he somehow escapes against impossible odds, enhancing his supernatural status.
  • Finally the villain is captured or killed by the hero and equilibrium is restored.
  • There are sometimes major variations, especially in apocalyptic horrors where the survivors are often over run by the virus, zombies, etc.

Villain – can be supernatural (ghosts, demons, possession, etc), psychopathic, insane, zombie, etc. Often previously shunned by society in someway. Initially they appear to be unstoppable and illusive.

Hero – the character who will save the day. They can take almost any form – cop, ordinary citizen, priest, etc.

Victims – characters who are captured or killed by the villain. In horrors they are often promiscuous women or ‘college jocks’, the loud, cocky and confident characters.

Final Girl – the final girl is a phenomena of character found exclusively in horror films. She normally has a unisex name such as Laurie or Billy. She is usually seen as virginal or unavailable. She also normally has some sort of history or shared past with the villain. Finally she is often seen to become more masculine by picking up a weapon to defend herself from the villain.


Sound is absolutely vital in horror films. Without it the films would barely be scary if at all. Sound is used to build atmosphere and create tension. High pitched cold sounding chords are often used to create anxiety, almost to the point of discomfort. Sound is also used to make you jump more in a scene. As you hear the music build to a crescendo you know something is going to happen but you never know exactly when the music is going to climax. Despite knowing something is about to happen this probably makes you jump even more as you cannot predict it exactly.

camera editing
Camera / Editing

Camera shots are used very effectively in horrors to build tension and show the characters fear. Extreme close ups of eyes are often used to portray extreme fear at what the character is seeing. POV shots are also used. If the shot is shaky or jerking around quickly you can feel the characters fear and discomfort. This is especially effective if the victim thinks something is watching them but cannot see it. Editing is also used to good effect. The techniques are often more sharp with lots of cutting rather than slower pans of fading. Quick flashes of particular images are often used in psychological horrors to show how the apparition can randomly appear at anytime.


There is a specific target audience which horror films should, and do, aim to please. Most horror films have at least a 15 rating and some have an 18. However horrors do not really appeal to many people who are aged above 50-60. People who want to watch horror like the adrenaline they get from being scared and it is generally younger people (teenagers and young adults) who fit this category. There are also a cult following for some horror films, such as Night of the Living Dead. It is important that horrors also aim to please this target audience as they can often spread news, good or bad, of the film through the internet and by word of mouth.

horror history
Horror History

Horror originally came from old folk tales and gothic novels. The early horror films came from novels such as Dracula and Frankenstein, and the films were silent. The first ever horror film was only 2 minutes long, called ‘The Devil’s Castle’. It was created by a French director called George Melies. Other horrors which were soon to follow were the Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera and Jekyll and Hyde.

costume and makeup
Costume and Makeup

Horror films often rely on costume and makeup to create fear. The villain often wears dark clothing which symbolises danger and death. Masks are sometimes used by the villain. This is done mainly to create anonymity which preys on the viewers fear of the unknown. It can also be done to add to the character, for example Leatherface wears a human skin ‘mask’ which shows how insane and psychopathic he is. Makeup can be a replacement for masks. For example Freddie Krueger’s hideous disfiguring scars are more scary and threatening than any mask.

initial ideas
Initial Ideas

By doing all of this research I have gained more ideas for our Opening Sequence. I quite like the idea of a psychological horror where the villain has no physical restraints and can torment the victims at any time, even in their dreams. I also think it is important to find suitable music for our scene as I have realised just how important it is in horror films. Finally the research has given me new ideas for locations and camera shots (such as a CCTV style shot) which we can use very effectively.