Wes Craven

Spooky Screenplays: 5 Frighteningly Good Horror Scripts

Halloween is just around the corner and that means binge eating candy in between visits from trick o’ treaters and binge watching late night horror flicks. Writing a screenplay is no small feat–but writing a horror screenplay requires a unique and specific process where scares and tension are as equally important as plot and character.

Horror movies need to tap into the audience’s collective fears and leverage them to make the screenplay successful. A great storyline and characters are the way to start your screenplay but you need to figure out how you will leave your audience unsettled. If you plan on writing your own horror flick in the near future, here’s a list of great screenplays you can learn a thing or two from:


John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is still one of the most successful independent movies of all time, and set the bar for modern horror screenplays. There are several reasons why Halloween is still a staple in today’s movie culture. It is no secret that in most genre screenplays, female characters are underwritten, unsympathetic, and objectified. While Carpenter did write most of screenplay, producer Debra Hill wrote the dialogue between the three female leads played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Loomis, and P.J. Soles. Thanks to Hill’s dialogue, the female leads felt more believable and authentic–which helps the audience connect with them before they become Michael’s would-be victims.


The Shining

This movie’s script, written by Stanley Kubrick and co-writer Diane Johnson, is a shooting script–a version of the screenplay used during the production of a movie or television show, and is different than a spec screenplay. Kubrick is a master director, and seeing how he planned to build tension outside of the dialogue and simple stage directions is a master class in suspense.

The Exorcist

The Exorcist may be more than 40 years old, but it can certainly rattle your bones and leave you with chills. One thing to note is the lack of a movie score; there are of course the iconic piano key notes throughout the movie, but there isn’t a dedicated score outside of that. It may be obvious to the audience at first but as the movie progresses, the minimalist music helps lull the audience into the screenplay, helping them forget they are watching a movie.




After skillfully building tension with a crime plot centering around protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh), director Alfred Hitchcock does something uncommon in Hollywood, and especially in 1960: he switches the point-of-view of the film’s lead about 50 minutes into the film by killing Marion off. The audience is left with creepy motel owner Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) as he struggles to get away from his domineering, hot-tempered, and murderous mother, or so we think until the script delivers yet another iconic plot twist.


Kevin Williamson, writer of Scream, opted for a shocking first scene–making the movie’s opening one of the most iconic in horror movie history. The film begins with a young woman, Casey, innocently flirting with a stranger over the phone, before it ends with her frantically running for her life. Because Casey was played by A-list actress Drew Barrymore, who was also put front and center in the film’s marketing, audiences were really thrown for a loop when the phone conversation takes a sudden turn from flirty to menacing. The script never lets up either, giving Wes Craven one of his most meta films of his career, one that deconstructed the entire slasher genre.

Happy Halloween From NYFA!

Watch if you dare for a #NYFAHalloween scare! Wishing you a #HappyHalloween with this compilation of horror films produced by #NYFA students!

Posted by New York Film Academy on Monday, October 31, 2016




Director’s Essentials: 5 Underappreciated Wes Craven Classics

Wes Craven on Scream set

Last time in our Director’s Essentials series we took a look at five must-watch Coen Brothers titles, but given that Halloween is upon us we decided to focus on—and celebrate—the life and works of the late, great Wes Craven.

Having tragically past only a few months ago, the contribution Craven gave to the horror genre cannot be understated.

Putting the well-known brilliance that was Scream to one side, here are five under-watched gems from the master of the macabre’s cinema career.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)

Of course, we should really have included the first (and best) movie in the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise as a landmark in both Wes Craven’s career and the horror genre in general, but Freddy Krueger’s debut doesn’t need an introduction.

Instead, we’ll use this as an opportunity to pay homage to the third (and next-best) movie of the canon—A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. Taking a turn for the comedic, Dream Warriors was a lot of silly fun and featured a catalog of glorious 1980s-era special effects. Even Freddy Krueger himself, Robert Englund, went on record to say that it was his favorite of the sequels.

Must Watch If: You thought the original was as good as it got.

The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988)

A twist of fate would see Craven attempting to escape the teenage slasher genre he’d practically invented. Following the success of his work on the first and third Elm Street movies (he declined to get involved in an official capacity with the second flick and initially didn’t want it to become a franchise), Craven lamented: “It got to the point where every script I received began with the point of view of a crazed killer stalking a teenage girl. I’m not giving up on horror films altogether. I just want to try something different.”

And The Serpent and the Rainbow was certainly different. No less horrific than you’d expect from a Craven movie, but a lot more cerebral than the slashers for which he’d come to be known. A real underappreciated treasure amongst his filmography.

Must Watch If: You want to see Craven’s horror at its most serious.

Paris, Je T’aime (2006)

If you’re looking for something really out of the ordinary for the horror maestro, look no further than his contribution to this multi-director anthology and love letter to the French capital.

With each director covering a short based in each arrondissement of the city (two ended up being cut from the final release), Craven’s segment was set in the famous Pére-Lachaise cemetery in which a betrothed trouble have a quarrel.

We don’t want to ruin the ending—you can watch the full short above—but let’s just say it involves a supernatural intervention.

The two-hour movie is also notable for being the first feature to be fully mastered in 4K resolution, and also features a short from the previous subject in our Director Essentials series, The Coen Brothers.

Must Watch If: You’re after an ambitious and well executed movie project featuring something you’d never guess was from Wes Craven.

Red Eye (2005)

Lead with on-point performances by Rachel McAdams and Cillian Murphy, a tight screenplay and an opportunity for Wes Craven to flex his psychological horror muscles. What more could anyone ask for?

Must Watch If: You’re building a case for Cillian Murphy’s ability to play surprisingly creepy villains.

Music of the Heart (1999)

Aside from the aforementioned Paris, Je T’aime, 1999’s Music of the Heart was Wes Craven’s first and only dabbling outside of horror and the various subgenres he pioneered.

Based on a true story, it tells the tale of Roberta Guaspari—the violinist who established the Opus 118 Harlem School of Music—as played wonderfully by Meryl Streep. An unlikely pairing between the highly acclaimed actress and master of terror, but one which works and more than proves that Craven had talent far beyond the genre he became famous for.

Must Watch If: You mistakenly assumed Wes Craven was a one-trick pony.

Got any other favorite Wes Craven titles that we haven’t listed here amongst the essentials, or disagree with any of these entries? We want to hear from you—let your voice be heard in the comments below.

R.I.P Wes Craven, and thanks for all the nightmares.

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