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Afro Horror: Upgrading Your Creature Feature

March 26, 2021
2 min read time

This past week, I hosted a Clubhouse Q & A with my friend through the internet, Josh Rubin. At the top of our discussion we talked about our love for creature features, specifically werewolves. Perhaps in part due to the fact that Rubin’s own film, Werewolves Within — based on the video game in which werewolves attack a small town — is slated to premiere this summer. As we began to banter back and forth about the unearthed werewolf classics that we've seen, a thought crossed my mind: What happened to creature features? 

If you know me, you know I am a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. One of the best dramas to hit airwaves, in my opinion. Outside of the meaty center story between the characters, the other highlight of Buffy was, of course, the vampires. In Buffy, the vamps stick to the status quo: no sunlight, pale skin, rising from the dead, etc. However, unlike most of the “pale ones” ethos, Buffy vampires are able to still be undead with a soul. It’s not a huge revelation, but that tiny difference marked the stamp of what made this dark drama special. You can check out what else made it special in Final Draft's History of TV column. #TeamSpike.

I mention all of this to get to my point. How do you upgrade your creature feature script? Here are three tips to make your own stamp on the genre.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

My first tip is stripped straight from Buffy. Take the old legend and make it something new. Fresh. There’s only so many times an audience can sit down and watch a creature feature without getting bored. The same tropes or storylines don’t make for an effective film. I hate to even mention this, but Twilight making their vampires sparkle in the sun, rather than burn to death, was actually very effective. That element made the Twilight vampires stand out from other lores, whether you liked it or not. We have centuries of folklore to work from, so take what’s in our past and build on that foundation to make your horror film stand out. Speaking of the past...

DO YOUR RESEARCH

The best way to plan for the future is to know what happened in the past. That’s no different in this genre. If you’re truly unsure of how to make your creature feature different, take a look at what’s already been done before. Watch the old Universal Horror classics (RIP, Dark Universe) — or their modern upgrades like The Invisible Man, covered here for some great screenwriting takeaways. What do you like about the classics? What do you dislike about them? Taking a trip back down memory lane will help jump start ideas on how to elevate your own script.

BE BOLD

Why are you playing it safe while writing a creature feature? Go for it! One of my favorite films we’ve also covered in our Clubhouse room is The Descent. A wonderfully simplistic tale about a group of girlfriends who go spelunking and crash right into a nest of Crawlers. The creatures themselves are fast and ruthlessly scary. Take a look at your own creature feature. Does it go far enough? Does it push boundaries? Is it something we haven’t seen before? If it falls short, doesn't, and we have — push harder.

I, for one, am dying for another resurgence of the creature feature. I want to see all of the ghouls and beasties new writers can come up with or I want to see a new take on some of the beloved ones from the past. At the end of day, all any of us wants is to be horrifically entertained.

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