How to make a horror film with cheap Halloween SFX
Making a DIY horror movie for Halloween? If so, check out these tips on filming and special effects on the cheap.
Right, the first thing you need to do after you read this is check out the mooks guide on how to make a short 5 minute indie film. It’ll fill you in on screenplay writing tips, budget, getting mates to act for free, post-production and all the things that are worth considering in advance, even if you’re just heading out into the woods with a couple of friends and a mobile phone.
Now, one of the most important aspects of a horror film is the effects. You can create an effective low-budget (or even no-budget) film through building suspense, but if you can sneak in some cheap horror effects? All the better.
Location, Location, Location
In business, location is everything. If you’re in the business of making a short low budget horror film, it’ll make a big difference for you too. Here are a few ideas for spooky spots:
- Cemeteries: This one gets a little tricky because you need to obtain permission from the property owner. Some cemeteries don’t allow filming, period. If they do, they may require you to pay a fee. You’re probably on a tight budget, so consider doing a few scenic shots of the cemetery on a foggy night and shooting the action scenes somewhere else. Always be respectful and sensitive when negotiating with property owners.
- Forests, heaths or wide misty meadows: Horror film classics. Just be sure to avoid trespassing and spooking dangerous wildlife. If you’re filming in a park and it’s supposedly the eighteenth century, try to do close-ups which create a sense of atmosphere but don’t show the tenement flats in the distance.
- Derelict mansions, farms, or industrial buildings: Abandoned buildings make a haunting background for any horror film. As a bonus, doing a little research on why the building was abandoned may yield inspiration. Always obtain the proper permissions for the location you wish to use. This will ensure that you avoid trespassing and putting yourself in danger, since ruins can be structurally unstable, and entering a building without permission can lead to physical and legal ramifications.
- The dark recesses of your mind: Sometimes unnatural occurences in normal places can be just as unnerving as a film set in a bona fide haunted house. Take a leaf from the book of the Paranormal movies, whose shaky, one-camera approach pricks at primal fears.
Masterful Makeup and effects-laden SFX
Need a zombie? Use our Halloween zombie makeup tutorial for infected girls and boys by SFX Makeup artist Ellie Yermakova.
Search for horror makeup tutorials on the internet. From ghost girls to demons, you’ll find them. You may be able to recreate the effects using makeup you already have. Ensure that you practice beforehand, rather than applying SFX makeup for the first time on the day of filming.
Good use of makeup is key for doing horror effects. In fact, you can make a horror movie using makeup alone. You do not have to use professional movie makeup to get great results. You can do anything from bruises to lacerations to infections with nothing more than standard cosmetics. The first thing you should do is to try and find as many products as you can for free or cheap. Ask anyone you know if they have makeup they do not use. Typically, they will have some that is old or that just did not work for them. Once you have as much as you can get for free, you can fill in the gaps with products sourced from pound shops and clearance sales.
If you can afford them and they’re appropriate to the story, costume contact lenses can work wonders.
If you can find a local effects artist, get them involved with your project. Most of them love what they do and may not care so much about making a bunch of money; between you, you can work out a price that’s right. Do, of course, include them in the film credits. If you’re stepping up to promote the movie rather than making it a fun endeavour for friends, you could suggest cutting them in on profits; this is ONLY a fair suggestion to make if you actually have a business plan and know how and where profits will be made. However you work out payment, a passionate effects artist can really boost the quality of your horror effects. They also may be able to save you money by using supplies they already have and by using frugal tips they already know.
Buying movie quality props can take a bite out of your budget, but you don’t need purpose-made props when you can usually find the real thing for much cheaper. Here are a few film prop sources, starting with the cheapest.
- Your own belongings
- Your friend/family/staff belongings
- Dumpster diving
- Free items from classified ads
- Car boot sales
- Charity shops
- Online auction sites
- Pawn shops
- Costume shops
- LARP kit and costume
If you cannot scout out a free or second-hand version of what you need, check costume shops for cheap versions of weapons and other accessories. Often you only need to add some paint to make it look like the real deal. Here are some horror themes and some examples of cheap props for each:
Victorian Haunted House
- Brass candlesticks from a charity shop. Anything made of brass or lace with an old-fashioned feel.
- Cobwebs from the pound shop
- Wooden broomsticks
- Pinafores and aprons for servants can be sewn or made cheaply and worn over dark clothing
- Dolls can be brought from second-hand shops then fearfully mangled. Everyone knows a row of dolls is terrifying
- Old unwanted clothes can be ripped, torn and spattered with fake blood (cheap to buy, cheap to make)
- Broken chainsaws from an online auction sites or a junkyard. If you film with anything that could be construed as a weapon, make sure you have permission if needed and are not filming anywhere where you might frighten bystanders. Also, be careful. As the filmmaker you have responsibility for yourself and your crew. Ensure the horror effects stay fake, not real.
- Leaves and branches picked up from the woods
- Gothwear is perfect. Long leather dusters, corsets… all the good things
- You can get LARP-safe wooden stakes but a sharpened bit of wood and a refined sense of healthy and safety will do the trick
- Fake blood sprayed around the mouth with a toothbrush will look effective. You easily can make your own, or SFX artist Ellie recommends Fresh Scratch by Kryolan.
Kitchen Visceral display
You can get most of the visceral display effects you need by using food items. Raw meat makes great organs and flesh because, well, that’s what it is. You can make fake blood using chocolate sauce, corn syrup and food dye. Go to your butcher or the deli at your local supermarket and buy the cheapest trimmings and bones that you can find. Make sure you use gloves when handling raw meat and always wash your hands afterwards. If you want to keep your props, make sure your lead actor isn’t a labrador.
Post-production and Computer Contributions
Computers are a great way to add SFX to your film on the cheap. You can get a free trial of Adobe After Effects; check out 50 After Effects tutorials that might be useful here. EKD 3.1.2 is a free video editing program handy for post-production, as is the open-source program CELTX. You can search for more. If you need access to more powerful software, try to find someone who will let you use their computer or use trial versions during the free trial period. Post-production will make your home-made endeavour slick. You can edit scenes for suspense, add eerie soundtracks, nasty sound effects like creaking doors and, of course, work with SFX. Search online for “spooky sound effect samples” to locate a host of free samples you can download and use.
Notch up the Suspense…
When coming up with the monster or bad guy for your film, consider using shadows and mystery to create fright instead of elaborate costumes and effects. Alfred Hitchcock used suspense, ambiguity, and eerie silences, as did 1920 German Expressionist filmmaker Murnau (you can watch the WHOLE of seminal horror movie Nosferatu on Mookychick). When you leave things mysterious, the audience will use their own imagination to fill in the gaps. Go easy on the blood and visceral display and add an aura of mystery to your antagonist to save money and heighten the fear factor.
A still from comedic horror film “My Sucky Teen Romance”. Film director Emily Hagins was 19 when she made this. She started making films when she was 12.