Horror films are intended to shock and disgust (Boardwell, Thompson 1997:58), they touch audiences’ deepest fears and play with people’s psychology. Themes usually deal with the unknown, as that is what people tend to fear the most, for example supernatural powers and death.
Horror film roots go back to 1920s’ Germany, where well-known films like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligary (1919, Robert Wiene) and Nosferatu (1921, F. W. Murnau) were produced (Bergan 2006:???). Even though nearly 100 years has passed, those films are still a big influence for nowadays’ productions. Themes, like zombies, supernatural powers and nightmares, have given people the wanted podium for ages and yet not a lot has changed.
Low-budget independent horror films started to get popular during 1950s and 1960s, after Hammer Studios re-produced most of the classical horror tales like Dracula and Frankenstein in Technicolor. The Night of the Living Dead (1968, George A. Romero), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974, Tobe Hooper) and Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) are also low-budget films, yet they have made a lot of income and are popular until this day (Bergan 2006:???).
Indie horror’s peak time ended in 1980s, but independent filmmakers still produce low-budget films as they don’t want to work with massive studios. Furthermore, these films do get popular and earn a lot. For example, Paranormal Activity (2007, Oren Peli) was made with 15,000 USD only, but managed to make over 100 million USD in the box office (IMDb, 2010).
Nowadays, most of the horror films are produced in Asia, especially in Japan. A lot of them get re-produced in Europe and mainly in the USA. Good film to point out here is The Ring (1998, Hideo Nakata), originally produced in Japan, which got popular in the USA and Europe after it’s remake, called The Ring (2002, Gore Verbinski) (Bergan 2006:???).
The most essential part of the horror film is sound. Most of the time it is the non-diegetic material, which means that the music that audiences hear does not change actors’ behavior in the scene, because they can not hear it (Boardwell, Thompson 1997:92). It gives a huge advantage for the sound editor to play around with the atmosphere. Sound and music are necessities that create the film’s environment, give audiences ‘the right feeling’. Especially in horror films the non-diegetic music is the key to the scary outcome. In my editing I also used intense and horrifying music, which sets the viewer into the mood. It gives out hints, that something scary is going to happen next. For example, if to watch the film without audio, it would probably not be scary at all. It can be said, that when it comes to indie horror films, audio is not the part from where to save money. This task reminded me again, how important audio and sound are. It can be extremely difficult to get a good sound from the set and it is going to be extremely expensive and time consuming to do it later in a studio. However, sound department still seems to be underestimated and unvalued, at least that is what I have came across during my film studies and previous work experience on film sets.
As the task was to film in a group and then do an individual editing, we already thought in the pre-production about having various shots, so the footage could be edited into every style.
I chose to edit the footage in indie horror style because I believe that it has the biggest impact with the chosen script and filmed material. Horror films’ narrative is not as important as the immediate emotion that it brings out in people. In my opinion, the story is not brilliant, but it can be said that with the editing it has an impact.
Watching through the footage also made me to think about the importance of doing maximum work on the set. What I mean is that a scene should be acted thoroughly from every angle, as it makes actors more natural and gives more choices for the editor to pick out the best clips. In dialogue scenes, mixing footage of the speaker with frames of the listener, gives also a good idea of the listener’s reactions, which all together makes the imagery more appealing and interesting. I also used this style in my film and I believe it makes the outcome looking more professional.
To contrast the flashback moment in the end of the film, from other imagery, I played around with colors, brightness and contrast.
As horror films use a mixture of handheld and steady shots, I did the same. I also added tracking shots to have that following around, stalking atmosphere.
I need to point out, that in the beginning of my edited film is a massive continuity error. We see a guy entering his apartment with a bouquet of flowers. He places the bouquet on to the table when he reaches it, but afterwards, while he is watching TV, flowers are gone. As it is not anything extraordinary to happen in low-budget independent films, I decided to keep the clips. For horror movies, continuity is not something to waste money on to. Like I pointed out before, everything is about the feeling and atmosphere, so money goes more likely on to sound, for example.
I have also seen edits from others in my group and I can only say that I’m positively surprised that editing can make such a big difference. I’m not talking about good or bad editing, which is also relevant, but more likely about different styles that can be used. Next to big things, like choice of shots, are small differences like colors, fonts and speed. Even a little change in that can make the outcome totally different and another film will be born.
In conclusion I have to admit, that this task was an eye-opening one for me. I have never put a lot of thought into the idea that editing has different styles which all lead to a new perspective and outcome. In the future I want to put more effort into getting as much information from the set as possible. By that I mean the best possible sound and various shots with different angles to secure that editor’s job is made as easy as it could possibly get. Otherwise the final product can be artificial and distant from wished outcome.
1) Boardwell, D., Thompson, K. (1997) Film Art. An Introduction. 5th edn. London: McGraw-Hill
2) Bergan, R. (2006) Eyewitness Companions: Film. 1st edn. London: Dorling Kindersley
3) IMDb (2010) Paranormal Activity. IMDb [online] available from < http://www.imdb.co.uk/title/tt1179904/> [28 February 2013]