Tips to Make Your Horror Film Terrify Audiences

Creating an effective horror movie means taking a lot of creative risks. To make something truly scary, it’s important to avoid the same overused tropes and cliches that kill the thrill. It takes great skill to leave your audience on the edge of their seats as they gasp for breath, or give themselves nightmares when they sleep. With that being said, here are some tips to help you create an effect sure to traumatize viewers for years-to-come.

What is the Horror Film Genre

The horror film genre is made up of films that use jump scares, tension and gore to scare audiences, who then experience an adrenaline rush. The goal for the audience is to get scared and try not to fall asleep. Horror films are often set in a world that is comprised of everyday objects, dislocating them from their familiar surroundings. This setting helps create suspense as viewers find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings that they don’t understand.

Create a Compelling Villain

One of the most important things in a horror movie is the villain. The villain must be the scariest, most gruesome monster possible, but it also has to be realistic to some extent. Building a terrifying villain means making a character that people can relate with and understand, despite their violent actions. If your audience can relate to your villain, they may find themselves doing horrifying things they never thought they would do in order to survive.

A great way to create an effective villain is to have a backstory. Having a backstory that explains how they were able to achieve their goals will create sympathy for the villain and make them seem more real than they already are.

Make sure characters have faults or flaws before creating them as villains. This allows the audience to relate to the characters and understand that they are regular people doing their best.

Make Sure Characters Are Relatable

The more relatable a character is will provide a connection to the audience and increase their level of comfort. For example, in the horror film ‘The Conjuring’ starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, a husband and his wife are fighting the supernatural ghost with tools, including a Ouija board. The story takes place prior to the ghosts invasion and is shown from the point of view of the family who are unaware that they are, in fact, dealing with entities from beyond.

Give Your Movie a Backstory

Your audience needs to know what’s going on in order to understand it. If there isn’t an explanation, audiences will have a difficult time understanding or relating with your characters. This can lead to confusion and frustration, which can kill the experience for viewers.

See our analysis of Why Are Horror Films Scary

Acting is Key.

Actors who sell their roles will make the movie that much more effective. Getting an actor to effectively act out a character’s fear can be tricky, but if you find someone to do it right, it will literally send shivers down the spines of your audience.

Threaten to Kill Characters to Build Suspense

A well-chosen setting can make all the difference in an effective horror movie. Creating a setting that makes people feel uncomfortable will help create suspense and make them feel anxious while they watch your movie.

Threatening to kill a character in a horror movie can be very effective. It enables the viewer to take action, making them feel like they are in the film and not watching a movie. When combined with some other elements, this can make viewers scared to death.

Add Gore

Scaring an audience by creating tension and gore can be very exciting. It’s important to have an effective combination of tension and gore, which is why it’s necessary to do things that may seem unusual or unexpected, but it’s not necessary to have common scares in a horror movie as well.

More Action and Less Dialogue

You want to show the audience; not tell them what the characters are afraif of. Characters who talk a lot and don’t do anything that would make them the least bit scary or creepy will become extremely annoying.

Showing the audience is much, much more effective than telling them. Creating suspense and characters who have to struggle will give us nightmares of what they could experience as they wait for their next scare.

Scary Visuals

This is how you get your audience’s attention. It’s important to show every creepy or horrific image possible.

Make Your Movie as Close to Real Life As Possible

Cinematic elements can make a scary movie seem even more real, while combining real-life moments such as the Blair Witch Project and Dogme 95 will give your movie a sense of authenticity.

Don’t Go Overboard with the Special Effects If you don’t have any special effects, you can still create an effective horror movie by using sound instead.

Make sure you don’t use more special effects than you need. If they are not effective, the movie will end up being unimpressive and seem amateurish.


If you want to write a horror film, the tips from this article should help you provide a frightening time for your audience. The last tip is key in not going overboard with the special effects if you are not setup for them. You can easily create suspense and fear using other methods which will give your end result a much more visually appealing look. As always, let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

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