As children Christmas is most wonderful time of the year – festivity, decorations and PRESENTS!; but as adults the Holidays can be a month of utter hell … draining your finances, awakening ages old feuds with family members and turning everyday normal people into materialistic maniacs. With all this craziness each year, there is no surprise the sub-genre of Holiday Horror is gaining popularity in mass culture. If you’re writing or directing your very own Holiday Horror flick, be sure to read our 5 tips on how to craft an absolutely “killer” Christmas movie.
Drench it in Blood … and Egnogg
The sub-genre of Holiday Horror has matured over the past twenty years. Gone are the days that you can dress a psycho in a Santa suit, lop off a few limbs and call it a Holiday Horror movie. Your film needs to stand alone as both a great horror film and a Christmas movie in their own rights. In fact, before a single strand of Christmas lights are used to strangle someone, make sure you’ve written a solid holiday film that can compete with the classics. Christmas can’t just be a gimmick in your movie; it needs to be a storytelling device. If you can switch the costume and the take down the Christmas lights and the film still works – you’re doing it wrong.
Wrap your Message in a Bow (and Strangle People With it)
The greatest holiday films wrap a pretty bow around pretty deep narratives. It’s a Wonderful life was about a suicidal man who felt worthless that about to kill himself until he was told ‘Don’t! You have a reason to live!’, Jingle all the Way addresses society’s rampant consumerism and the lows we will stoop to for materialistic items. The same concept applies to your Holiday horror films. Regardless of how many heads roll – your film needs to incorporate some form of holiday sentiment that ties back to the emotions and narratives (good and bad) that we encounter during this time of year.
Disembowel Holiday Cliches
Does this sound familiar? The scene begins with a Christmas decoration contest to be won. Usually there’s some sort of tragedy or deep issue the main decorator is trying to cover up, but inevitably they take it too far and it’s up to everyone else to remind them that the holidays aren’t about “winning” or commercialization, it’s about being together.
Take these common holiday cliches and flip them on their head. Maybe your main character does fully decorate his house for the competition – but it’s with the bodies of his neighbours. By changing the outcome of these stereotypical Christmas cliches, you are subtly telling your audience that it is alright to admit that Christmas doesn’t always live up to the idyllic sentiment that the Hallmark channel sells us, thereby allowing them to blow off a bit of steam that can build up during the holidays.
Hang them with the Christmas Lights
The kills of a great holiday film usually contain some sort of holiday flair— carollers singing in the background, Christmas lights flickering through a window. Contrasting the joyous elements of Christmas against the brutal nature of horror makes for a more unsettling scene. The next time you script a lovable couple cuddled next to the fire sharing cocoa … make sure the fire is coming from a burning corpse. The contrast will go a long way in creeping out your audience.
Before You Kill Them … Make us Care
Hollywood loves nothing more than riddling it’s Christmas films with stereotypical character archetypes. The single, lonely, but optimistic woman. The bitter, hardnosed, overworked professional desperate for a promotion. While these campy archetypal characters make for great Christmas fodder, nobody is going to care if they die when it’s time to face off against your homicidal snowman. Make your characters relatable and likeable. Give them flaws and quirks and make sure that we are rooting for them to live. At the end of the day, if your characters are flat and one-dimensional, we won’t feel a twinge of pain as when they get trampled by the hooves of a demonic reindeer.
So those are our five tips on crafting a killer holiday horror film! Even though you are creating a holiday flick … remember your horror roots and give your audience some good old fashioned thrills and chills. Although a bit of sentiment is good measure for a holiday horror flick – don’t be afraid to lop off Aunt Clem’s head. She gave you socks last year. She deserves it.