How to Create a Gothic Horror Film Set on a Modest Budget
by Karl Hopf ©2011
I have always admired the gothic horror film sets that were prevalent in Hammer Films and Roger Corman’s Poe Films. When I was in High School, I decided to make a gothic horror film of my own. I faced two major obstacles: a modern house in which to film and very little money to spend.
The first step to creating a gothic set is the design process. Sit down and look at photos of gothic sets from books or magazines. Make a list of furniture and props in the sets and take note of their arrangement. The best place for a gothic set is an empty room with white walls. White walls work well for almost any time period. The furniture that is moved into the room should all be of dark wood. If the furniture you have is too modern, you can temporarily doctor it up by C-clamping a piece of wood molding to it.
Before making any trips to the store, stop and look around your house. Do you have any old cloth bound books lying around? Old candlesticks and old paintings would look great on the set.
After bringing furniture into the room and arranging the props, take a careful look around the room. Do you see any traces of anything modern? Light switches, heating ducts and electrical cords would look completely out of place. You have to hide them behind furniture and props or make sure they are out of frame. I know this can be a lot of work, but the end result is very rewarding.
If the windows are modern, you can transform them into Tudor windows by cutting strips of posterboard and taping them to the window in a diagonal pattern. A gothic door is a little more difficult. Do you have an old wooden picnic table? If …you place it upright against the wall, it could read as a door. If the floor is included in the shot, be careful of the floor coverings. A medium gray rug could read as a stone floor. An imitation Persian rug would work great if you happen to have one. These ideas are meant as a point of departure. I hope that you feel free to alter them and experiment with ideas of your own.
I often see store displays that are very realistic set pieces. They are basically photographs printed on cardboard. Some stores will actually give you the piece if you ask for it at the end of the season! Find a photograph of a gothic room and prop it up on a table top. You can add a few props on rhe table top if you like. Now to the right of the photograph, have an actor stand about ten feet away. I am using a candlestick to create a transition between the photograph and where the actor is standing. The resulting illusion is that the actor is standing in a large gothic room!
There are a few items to buy at the store. I often look for props at the Halloween Stores. Look for plastic swords, shields and gargoyles. You can buy them on sale cheaper than the price of raw materials needed to make them. You can also look for items on clearance in housewares stores to add any finishing touches.
Hollywood often employs the technique of using foreground miniatures to add to the scope of full scale exterior sets. Why not use foreground miniatures for an interior set? Do you need a suit of armor? Take a plastic model of a Knight and place it close to the camera. In the same shot, have an actor stand about ten feet away. You now have the illusion that there is a full scale set of armor in the room.
While this article has been on creating a gothic set, the same principles could be used for creating sets of other time periods. Hollywood and Independent Films often shy away from period films because they are expensive to produce. With a little creativity and work, you can create a gothic set.