Ever watched a horror film and cocked your head at the antagonist, be it a ghost, a demon, or a maniac - and said to yourself, "That thing's just not scary." Of course you have. I think we all have.
Horror is a delicate creation and there's a lot of places to fuck it up along the way. (I'm always comparing it to a souffle' that can collapse at any moment.) But there's one way that a lot of newbies and amatures blow it that is easily avoided. It's in the casting and hiring of the creature player.
I've actually heard of film shoots where time comes to bring out the monster and they grab a PA or some random stunt man or the craft services guy, shove him in the costume, roll cameras and tell him to "be scary." I have to admit, I was of that mindset once, when I was just starting out. The latex mask is scary, the costume is scary, the lighting and the scene are scary, what difference is it WHO is in the scary mask.
Every bit of difference in the world.
I've talked about having a sense of horror before. It's the same as having a sense of humor. You either have it or you don't. And to take it a step further, even if you HAVE a sense of humor, you either can perform funny or you can't. Think of the stand-up comedian who's got a great sense of humor in his every day life, but he blows it up on stage while PERFORMING it.
Now imagine a scenario where you're directing a comedy -- you have a hysterical script, a really funny scene, and you cast your "Uncle Kirk" , (the least funny guy you know), as the lead. He comes out and the scene isn't funny because Uncle Kirk sucks, and everyone is baffled that the scene didn't work. The script is funny, the set is funny, the lighting is bright and cheerful... we can't IMAGINE why that didn't work. A ludicrous situation right? The scene didn't work because you cast Uncle Kirk instead of a comedian.
And yet, on horror sets every day this same thing is happening. They get everything right, then they cop out on the creature player and it completely fucks everything up. And then everyone sits around the editing room wondering why none of it worked.
It didn't work because the most important element in the whole film was not there. The talented creature player. The person at the center stage who understands horror, grasps the art of the scare, and who has a feel for the uncanny and the awful. Without that person in the costume or the mask, you have nothing. Actually, you have less than nothing, you have a negative. You've stripped away everything good about your project and then actually taken something away.
So next time you're prepping your horror film, and someone suggests "just grabbing someone from the crew" or "getting a stuntman that fits the costume" for the monster, know right then that you're dealing with someone who doesn't understand horror. At all.
Phantom of the Opera, Frankenstein, Dracula, Michael Myers, Jason, Freddy Krueger, Leatherface... They didn't become greats because they were "one of the crew" or a stuntman. They became great because they were fully articulated and crafted by actors who completely understod the art of the scare... guys like Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, Robert Englund, Kane Hodder, Gunnar Hansen, R.A. Mihailoff... They're greats for a reason.
So avoid a pitfall when you make your horror film and remember to start with your antagonist not your protagonist.
You'll thank me later.
Gaudium per atrox.