By The Script Lab · October 19, 2020
Halloween is here. And that means it’s time to grab some popcorn, lock the front door, and scare the heck out of yourself with some classic horror movies. In all seriousness, if you want to become a better horror screenwriter, you need to immerse yourself in the best the horror genre has to offer. The horror movie genre is booming right now. So to help get your next spooky screenplay started, take a look at these 10 great horror scripts for tips, tricks, and formatting techniques you can use to write your horror screenplay.
Just click on the images to download each of these frightful feature films!
This modern horror film from writer, director Jordan Peele has become an instant classic. And that’s because it’s a great horror movie. The screenplay builds interesting, intelligent characters and ramps up the tension with subverted expectations at every turn.
A truly modern classic that still pays homage to tense suburban-style thrillers like The Stepford Wives, Get Out is a fantastic script to study for pacing, tension, drama, and character development.
Sprinting, rage-filled zombies that literally spit virus-infected blood and gore are the stuff of nightmares. Add a fish out of water protagonist waking from a coma 28 days after the UK has been overwhelmed by this new breed of zombie and you have a truly terrifying — and engaging — horror classic.
Pay special attention to the way the script handles character development, dialogue, and the first ten pages — especially considering the limited budget of this blockbuster hit.
It doesn’t get much scarier than this Stephen King classic. The Shining is a masterclass in horror screenwriting thanks to the incredible book adaptation from screenwriter, Diane Johnson. This script explores the darkest sides of humanity and how we’re all susceptible to the horrors of isolation.
Pay attention to how this contained screenplay handles such a limited cast and single location (the hotel). And remember that the scariest things in life are often the things we bring with us.
The Babadook is an Australian psychological horror film written and directed by Jennifer Kent. It’s received significant praise for its complexly woven family storyline. Like every film on this list, The Babadook isn’t just about cheap scares but a compelling layered narrative that taps into primal, if unknown, fears.
This script is Kent’s directorial debut. That alone should inspire (and scare) first-time horror screenwriters into finishing their scripts as quickly as possible.
This horror film is one of the best examples of genre-blending from the past 40 years. It’s funny, oddly insightful, and entertaining for a wide range of audiences despite the overt horror themes and tropes. Don’t get me wrong — Evil Dead 2 is still super dark. But the ability to add levity and wit to a classic horror genre (and a sequel to boot!) is a rare skill.
Study this script. Pour over it. Learn what you can, and try to find ways to mix and match different screenwriting genres to keep audiences not only guessing, but entertained.
Every horror screenwriter should download the script for Saw. This movie almost single-handedly widened the appeal of horror films to an entirely new generation of viewers, spawning the mind-bending “puzzle” horror subgenre in the style of Se7en.
Filled with twists and turns, Saw is a complete example of the psychological side of a successful horror film with tension, betrayal, and characters that rise to previously unimaginable challenges to overcome horrific situations.
Scream did what no other horror movie ever had the courage to do. Kill a big name star in the first five minutes. When Drew Barrymore is savagely stabbed to death in the iconic first scene, audiences are immediately thrust into a deeply terrifying world where no one is safe. And that’s why this film launched an entire horror movie franchise.
Learn how to strip away plot armor and subvert audience expectations with this epic modern horror classic. Pay special attention to the first ten pages as they’re one of the best-written opening scenes in horror screenplay history.
Guillermo del Toro brings his nightmarish visions to life, but not in the typical horror fashion. Instead of guts and gore, Pan’s Labyrinth is a cerebral fantasy-inspired look at the inner depths and horror that form the heart of ancient myth and story. A take on the power of storytelling itself, Pan’s Labyrinth is a different — but equally terrifying vision of horror.
Pay special attention to character descriptions in the script to see how to set up your vision of horror in a way that works for not just costumes and sets, but DPs, directors, and of course the producers, agents, and managers that are going to buy and sell your script in the first place.
This movie is just plain terrifying. How did they manage to make falling asleep horrifying? This horror movie is an incredible example of what a memorable and unique character can do to scare generations of children right before bedtime. Freddy Krugar is an iconic character that will literally haunt my dreams for years to come.
Pay attention to the dialogue, and remember that some of these catchphrases were pretty original in 1984.
Horror movies don’t typically have a lot of dialogue. Many scenes are simply accompanied by tense violin tracks. But if you’d have said that you could write an Oscar-caliber horror film without a single word of dialogue in the first thirty minutes, no one would have believed you.
A Quiet Place highlights how screenwriters can ramp up not only tension but character connection and development with clear concise settings, well-informed plot devices, and cohesive world-building. If you want to elevate your horror screenplay, study A Quiet Place. Just make sure you keep your voice down.
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