Horror Film Aesthetics




Horror Film Aesthetics

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The below is excerpted from the Preface to Horror Film Aesthetics, published in 2010:

"This is a book about horror film aesthetics. That sounds abstract and theoretical, but quite the contrary, this book is intended to be pragmatic. A practical and useful guide for aspiring horror filmmakers. This book analyzes how various cinematic tools -- acting, makeup, costuming, set décor, framing, photography, lighting, editing, and sound -- have been used by past films to effectively (or in some cases, ineffectively) create horror on screen.

"This book is an 'aesthetic how to' guide for horror filmmakers. Not to help them copy past films, but rather, to spark their imaginations. To expand their understanding of the horror genre -- its nature and appeal to viewers -- and their appreciation for the full creative potential of their film and video equipment. Aspiring filmmakers often read technical manuals to learn what the buttons on their cameras do, but they don't bother to learn how to use those buttons creatively. I know this as a horror film fan, critic, and journalist, and also from screening films for the Tabloid Witch Awards horror film contest and festival, which I founded in 2004 and continue to manage.

"This is not a book about how to use film and video gear.  This is a book about how to use film and video gear effectively. In a way that conveys your horror story and themes in a clear, entertaining, and frightening manner.

"Student and independent filmmakers should find this book useful, but it is also intended for the hardcore fan. I hope this book will enable fans to 'see things' in horror films they may have previously missed, and thus gain a deeper appreciation for the genre. An appreciation that leads to greater viewing pleasures."

Sipos discusses his book in an interview at Theofantastique: Read Part One and Part Two.


What the Critics say ...


[D]eserves ongoing recognition as a basic study of how cinematic tools have been used to create horror in film. From defining the horror genre and aesthetic uses to chapters covering framing, photography, lighting and sound, this is a specific coverage from a script reader and actor who has extensive experience in film. Very highly recommended for any college-level collection strong in film analysis in general and the horror genre in particular.

  -- Midwest Book Review, March 2011



[S]eeks to legitimize the often maligned horror film by explaining all the tools and tricks employed by effective horror films. Mr. Sipos methodically goes through each filmmaking element in perfectly dorky fashion (mise-en-scène, photography, lighting, editing and sound design) exposing how filmmakers' choices work together to create terrifying screen moments....

What makes this book fun is we can all find examples from our favorite movies where these techniques are used. It brings dork-dom to a new level of intellectual legitimacy, and there is nothing wrong with that.

  -- Terence Smith, Scarlet: The Film Magazine, August 2010

Ever notice how calling a movie a film makes it sound much more important and academic? I suppose it helps when discussing horror movies -- I mean films -- especially their visual language. Some critics will argue horror films don't have any aesthetics, but armed with Sipos' book, you can easily show them otherwise. I already had this book in print format, but didn't want to leave it at home while I traveled. There's much to reread here and absorb over time. Agree or not, you'll still find the discussion interesting and enlightening, once you get past the rambling first chapter on what a horror movie -- sorry, I mean film -- is. Don't get me wrong: the first chapter is very good, but it's broad and unstructured in scope as Sipos tosses in everything minus the kitchen sink to define his perspective.

  -- Zombos' Closet, December 6, 2010



With the patience of a film professor speaking to a room of puzzled freshman, Sipos explains the basic principles of horror film technique. Ideally, a film's technical elements are supposed to work in the service of an aesthetic unity but, of course, this isn't always the case....

The knowledge herein would therefore be most beneficial to those who actually hope to work in the horror field, or anyone wishing to be more conscious of the pleasures they take in the craft of the genre.

-- Brett Taylor, Video Watchdog, No. 163 July/Aug 2011.


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