Things I’ve Learned as a Moviemaker: Stuart Gordon

Smaller is scarier.

When you do a movie for a studio, it’s gonna be somewhat homogenized. But a smaller movie like the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre just came out of nowhere and horrified everybody. The fact that it was shot in 16 millimeter made it seem even more real. I would put Audition and 28 Days Later in the same category—they’re not studio films. The small movies, where the director is capable of anything and not held back by studio pressures, are the most frightening.

Suspense is scarier than shock.

Horror is not about quick cutting with MTV style edits. It’s about anticipation and stretching things out during a scene. In Carrie, before the bucket of blood dumps on her head, [director Brian] De Palma goes into slow motion and follows the string connected to the bucket. Alfred Hitchcock did the same type of thing. He would let audience know what was happening, and have everyone dreading it. Hitchcock once said, “Shock is something that
lasts for a second, but suspense can be maintained for 30 minutes.” He’s right.

Frightened characters create a frightened audience.

It’s important that characters in horror movies are afraid. If you expect your audience to be afraid, actors better
seem afraid. I talk with the occasional actor who says, “I wouldn’t be afraid in this situation. I would be brave.” I tell them that being brave is doing something even though you are afraid, and are aware of the danger. In The Others, for instance, there’s a real sense of fear in Nicole Kidman’s performance.

Make it fantastic–but not too fantastic.

If a movie is fantastic, there should only be one fantastic element. Too many and they cancel each other out. In Re-Animator, in addition to the reanimating serum, we originally had hypnosis and other weird stuff that ended up on the cutting room floor. You can’t stretch the audience’s suspension of disbelief. You should only ask them to believe one thing.

The audience should feel your pain.

It’s the little things that scare you the most. Godzilla destroying Tokyo is not scary, but cutting your finger with a razor blade is. The little things are the things we can relate to. We can feel the pain. MM

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