Abide by Sam Raimi's 3 crucial rules of horror
(Credit: Gage Skidmore)

Abide by Sam Raimi’s 3 crucial rules of horror

“There’s a method to Raimi’s madness, he wants to entertain you, and he succeeds, as almost no one has ever succeeded before.”

As the narrator of this 1980s horror documentary points out, there are very few horror directors that succeed in both making us squirm in discomfort, and also eagerly await the next unknown terror lurking around the corner. It’s the equivalent of a rollercoaster, or more aptly a ghost-train—a high-intensity ride of garish frights and terror that tows a careful line between fun and fear.

As Raimi once said himself: “Filmmaking is first and foremost an entertainment,” says the director. “The worst thing a filmmaker can do is make a boring picture. If you make a boring picture, you’ve not only failed, you’ve committed a crime.”

For fans of Raimi, the now acclaimed director, screenwriter and producer, his work with the cult horror Evil Dead series will remain his lasting legacy. While Raimi has enjoyed major success with projects such as the Spider-Man trilogy, thriller film The Gift, the 2009 horror film Drag Me to Hell and more, the cult hit that launched his career is the headline act for many. “I don’t really approach stories to make them different from other stuff I’ve seen, I just try to get into the character, into his or her head,” Raimi once said of his approach. “Try to make it as funny, as scary or as wild as I can so that I really like it.”

He added: “I like something where I can really use my imagination and be an active participant in the construction of the monster and usually that’s in the world of the supernatural or the world of the fantastic, so that’s why those kinds of stories about demons and the supernatural appeal to me or maybe I’m really interested in that subject.”

Speaking in the MTV series, ‘This is Horror’, led by the insight of literary horror aficionado Stephen King, Raimi reveals his methods and his approach to the genre as a whole. Upon multiple examinations and revisits to the genre, the director came to define horror by there main rules:

1 – The innocent must suffer

2 – The guilty must be punished

3 – The hero must taste blood to be a man

He also notes that whilst in conversation with directors Joel and Ethan Coen, a 4th law was suggested: “The dead must walk”. 

These rules most accurately apply to the ‘Slasher’ sub-genre that emerged in the latter half of the 20th century, rules that would later be parodied in films such as Wes Craven’s Scream, and more recently, The Cabin in the Woods. The third rule, relating to how the central character must go through a metamorphosis and coming-of-age, wherein they defeat the evil antagonist, is, however, an encompassing rule that is broadly reflected in the majority of contemporary horror films. Whether it be the overcoming of their introverted self or the defeat of something more internal and psychological.

Raimi is one of the few, influential horror directors that can make such claims and have them set in stone. In fact, both him and Wes Craven, two of the genres most influential and self-aware directors, engaged in a cinematic dialogue, challenging each other film-by-film to become more shocking, and more horrific. This is explored in the clip below, where Raimi outlines his rules for horror, before claiming that Craven’s 1977 film The Hills Have Eyes Is “one of the most gut-wrenching horror movies I’ve ever seen in my life”.

Take a look at the short interview, below.

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