Your Horror Film Survival Kit


Learn everything you need to know about creating a horror film from start to finish with these helpful tutorials.

It’s the season for horror. Whenever it starts to slightly drop in temperature from summer to fall, every horror movie guy and girl will undoubtedly break out their favorite Friday the 13th sweaters and start yearning for some new and classic horror films.

It’s not just film fans either. For those in film and video production, there really might not be any film genre more popular right now than horror. It’s also one of the most accessible genres to dive into as it doesn’t require much more than a camera, some willing friends, and some clever prosthetics and DIY effects.

So, for every potential horror fan turned horror filmmaker, we have your step-by-step guide into how to write, shoot, and edit your own horror films from start to finish.

Check out these helpful tutorials and breakdowns as you gear up to create your potential horror masterpiece.

Lessons in Modern Horror Scripting

Alright, as with any film or video project, we have to start with a script. And, while horror films are no different, working in horror does require a good deal of film genre theory. Horror fans are quite particular about their favorite genre, so if you haven’t done your research, it’s helpful to do a deep dive into the history of the horror genre overall.

As you can see in the YouTube video above from Lessons from the Screenplay, the horror film has evolved over the years. Once a simple type of film meant to give audiences a delightful scare, the genre has morphed over the years to be much more reflective of popular culture and a reflection of the modern psyche. 

Here’s a fun article to check out exploring the recent horror film Lamb and how arthouse (or elevated) horror has reshaped the modern horror landscape. All fantastic information to review before diving into a story and script of your own.

Setting the Tone with Horror Lighting

Once you have your story and script, you can dive into the actual production and shooting. However, before you grab your camera and start rolling, there are several horror filmmaking elements you should absolutely consider first. And, one of the most important elements you should consider is lighting.

Horror lighting is particular and unique as it’s more often than not meant to add to the overall mood and suspense of a film. Many shots are left on screen longer as directors play with different moody lighting setups as a way to hide characters and events on-screen, but cast in darkness.

You can read much more in-depth about how to create an ominous atmosphere for your horror films by using just one light in this full breakdown.

Aside from being a notable DP, Shane Hurlbut, ASC, has also been a guiding voice for new filmmakers over the last decade with his filmmaking courses featured on Hurlbut Academy. He’s also produced an excellent tutorial on how to light for horror.

The Importance of Audio

Also, while we’re talking about lighting and effects as some of the crucial elements to any horror film project, we also have to talk about audio and sound. (Let’s face it, audio is far too often ignored or forgotten in this industry!)

The tutorial above from PremiumBeat contributor Zach Ramelan is a lesson in how audio and sound design can turn any bad shots into good ones, making your projects feel more realized and well constructed—as well as creepy, when needed.

Read the full article on how to replace your audio with dynamic and cinematic sound design.

Shooting Practical Effects

Another important part of the production process for shooting a horror film is the effects. And, while many filmmakers these days might prefer to work with CGI or other digital effects to help save time and money, the real crux of what makes horror films so enjoyable to watch (and often film) comes from using real practical effects.

You know the ones we’re talking about—the fake blood packets, prosthetic limbs, and other classic horror tricks and effects. If you really want to nail a modern horror film project, you should always try to do whatever you can on-set, and with practical VFX first and foremost.

Pulling from the tricks in the video above, you can try out your own DIY practical gore effects by following the tips in this article.

Now, you didn’t think we were going to create a tutorial article list, include a segment on practical effects, and leave out Film Riot did you? Every year, Ryan and the team produce an amazing set of horror tutorials, and this year is no different.

And, if that wasn’t bloody enough for you, their most recent tutorial demonstrates how you can create a realistic stab effect—safely.

Editing with Tension

Ok, so you’ve written your horror film, created your practical bloody effects, learned what you need to regarding horror lighting, and by all accounts, have a horror film waiting to be made on your media card.

If your script is tight, hopefully, your scary short will start to unfold naturally in the edit bay. However, I’m sure we’re all familiar with the aspect of not truly finding your film until you’ve reached the edit bay.

Film Perception is a relatively small filmmaking theory channel, but the video essay on the art of editing horror is just as phenomenal as if it were coming from the likes of NerdWriter.

Create Horror Movie Titles

As we mentioned above, while you might always want to go practical for your effects and gore, one area that’s actually smart to explore from a digital VFX perspective for your horror projects are your intro and outro sequences. Titles, in particular, are the perfect opportunity to really flex some creative muscle and instantly connect your project with a retro vibe and aesthetic.

So, if you want to channel your inner Stranger Things or your favorite John Carpenter-esque title sequence, check out this full tutorial and article breakdown, providing you with all the tools you’ll need to create a title treatment with a creepy spin in After Effects.

35 FREE Halloween Video Assets

Moving on to other types of video assets and effects you can try out for your horror films and projects, we actually have a rather unique offering to share with you. Created by Charles Yeager and the team at Shutterstock, here are thirty-five Halloween-inspired video clips which can be used in a variety of formats.

If you’re any type of filmmaker or content creator looking to dabble in other mixed medias and different types of video formats—like social video—these are really cool assets to spice up any project with an extra spooky vibe.

You can download the assets for FREE by checking out this article.

400+ FREE and Paid Halloween-Themed Assets

Finally, since we can’t just leave you with thirty-five FREE things, we have to give you well over a hundred! Pulling from some of our good friends and resources (including these awesome Carnage blood effects from Rocketstock, as you can see in the video above), this final article contains a treasure chest full of awesome horror movie and Halloween-themed assets, effects, and resources.

You can sift through all the gory and frightening madness in this full roundup.

For more filmmaking tips, tricks, and resources, check out these articles:

Cover image via YouTube.


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