Jason Blum on what makes a good horror film: ‘Best scares won’t work if there’s no story’


Producer Jason Blum, a horror genre master, says all good scary films ultimately depend on how well they are able to blend present-day reality with the flight of fiction. Blum is behind some of the most influential blockbuster horror films of the last decade, including Paranormal Activity, Insidious, The Purge, Oculus, Split, Jordan Peele‘s Academy Award-winning Get Out and Us.

Most of these films later transformed into global franchises, occupying a major pop culture space in the horror genre. In an interview with PTI over Zoom, Blum said over the years he has realised that the “key” to making a good horror film — beyond all the jump scares and dramatic backdrops — is to simply have “really great storytelling”.

“Most people think when they talk about a good horror movie, how good the scares are. You can have the best scares in the world but they won’t work if the story isn’t good. If you have a great story and great actors, the scares will come easily. Movies are scary if they tangentially touch reality. And all these movies do. They are about greed, getting older, racism, prejudice. But you can’t be preachy about it,” he said.

This core principle of horror filmmaking, the producer said, extends to his latest offering Welcome To The Blumhouse – a film series comprising four features – Bingo Hell, Black As Night, Madres and The Manor.

The 52-year-old producer believes that the setting of a horror film can be instrumental in driving home a larger point.

Get Out, for instance, promised viewers a horror film about a young Black man who meets the family of his white girlfriend, but knocks them out with a stinging commentary on racism.

According to Blum, horror films work best when the audience is tricked into gently “relaxing” with the film’s setting and characters before the makers pull the rug to unleash the proverbial monster.

“Horror is a great way to get what you want to say, seen or heard by a big audience. The best horror movies are entertaining first, and then they have something to say, like ‘Get Out’ for instance. I like seeing people jump in their seats.

“The way to make a horror movie scary is you have to get people wrapped up in the storytelling and acting so that you are not expecting a scare.”

The four films of this year’s Welcome To The Blumhouse series are mounted on themes of personal phobia and institutional horrors but are firmly set in Blum’s vision of giving a platform to the creators from an underrepresented group.

Out of the four features, three have been helmed by women — Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Gigi Saul Guerrero (Bingo Hell), Filipino-American director Maritte Lee Go (Black As Night) and Belgian filmmaker Axelle Carolyn (The Manor). Filmmaker Ryan Zaragoza has directed Madres.

Blum, who has backed films through his Blumhouse Productions, said when diverse voices chronicle stories that matter, the result is an original and authentic movie.

“In this particular series of movies, the one thing we had to have was that the creator or the director had to be from an underrepresented group. So all the creators are from an underrepresented group of people. Besides that, the movies had to be scary, unusual and entertaining. These were the criteria we used to pick out the four projects this year. In the past, the filmmakers have not represented our audience.

“Especially (with) horror movies, the audience is diverse… Before Black Lives Matter, five-eight years ago, we started looking for filmmakers who better represented the make-up of our audience. That makes for better movies because you have people from different perspectives telling scary stories, which makes for better, more original movies,” the producer said.

While Bingo Hell and Black As Night are currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Madres and The Manor will premiere on the streamer on Friday.

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