Summer has become a solid season for releasing small horror films that go on to become big successes. This summer's Deliver Us from Evil offers a perfect example. You can make your own successful horror film by following these very simple rules:
Punish hanky-panky action:
Remember, sex gives us the gift of life, but when it comes to horror films it mostly just delivers the kiss of death.
A good jump scare:
It's hard to really nail our deepest primal fears, but jump scares offer easy thrills. All you really need is a well-timed cat.
A car that doesn't work:
You won't have any victims if your horror characters all have the ability to leisurely flee the scene. Make sure their cars are old and rusty and unreliable.
A good masked killer:
For real. We don't want to watch teens get hacked up by just some nobody. He (or she) needs an iconic mask, a somewhat confusing backstory, and an easily identifiable killing method.
Someone who dies after promising, "I'll be right back":
Horror-film characters are always making promises they can't keep. Promise number one is that they'll still be alive in five minutes. It seems trivial, but you can't go without this one.
A beautiful, wholesome Final Girl:
Someone has to survive the bloodbath and kill the killer, and it seems to work best when it's an unassuming young lady gone nuts.
A creepy old guy hanging around:
When it comes to delivering ill omens for every character to ignore, the only mouthpiece that will do is a grubby, probably drunk old guy.
A little political commentary:
Even if it's totally accidental, horror films tend to say things about the society that birthed them. This real-world connection makes them much more fun they would be otherwise.
A big jerk who gets a big death:
Our lives are filled with nice folks, but there are also tons of people who just want to make things awful. At least with horror films, you can give these types the justice they deserve.
A scene where the killer isn't as dead as everyone assumes:
You can always squeeze out one last good scare if you hold off your killer's death long enough for a sudden reawakening before being put down for good. Horror heroes are never as thorough as we'd like.
Bad cell reception:
Similar to the car rule, your whole movie screeches to a halt if your characters can just call for help. Strand them out in the middle of nowhere where those fancy phones are little more than paperweights.
A bunch of really dumb characters:
No one in real life would split up in a survival situation or read Latin passages from a skin-bound book, so you need characters who function well below normal intelligence levels.
A cute animal that accidentally gets people killed:
It's hard not to go after a cute cat or dog in need of help. This should give your film at least one highly relatable death scene, though it might spell bad news for cute animals out in the real world.