Written with a focus on independent horror, but these thoughts apply to films in general.
What I’d like to see more focus on:
1.) Interesting Characters–More parts that are quirky, eccentric, twisted, or with complex personalities. Colorful characters with memorable character actors stealing scenes make Christopher Guest’s movies so compelling and would definitely add flavor to tried and true genre formulas. And give actors and actresses juicy and fun roles to play with. More strong roles for females–younger or older. Not just the damsel in distress or eye candy.
And on a similar note:
Making Strong Use of “Name” Talent–If you are lucky enough to have the budget to land a marquee name, have a role that has dialogue, scenes, or moments that really make use of his/her talents (comedic or dramatic). Or in the case of a cameo, something interesting, fun, and memorable for the actor to do in that brief appearance onscreen.
2.) Cast Diversity–Not just in terms of ethnic diversity, but most especially in age diversity. Having a cast featuring older adults beyond just teens and twenty-somethings. Meaty parts for veteran actors (particularly long-time genre favorites) can reinvigorate a career or bring attention to someone who has spent years in the acting trenches.
3.) Horror as Satire/Social Commentary–Using the backdrop of horror to comment on society/human nature or the genre itself. Just as comedy is a great vehicle for satire (South Park, The Simpsons, Stewart/Colbert), horror’s potential can be equally great in this regard–Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, American Psycho, Scream, Behind the Mask.
4.) Risk-Taking–The films that resonate with jaded horror fans, along with those smaller films that achieve mainstream success–spawning imitators, or become cult favorites–are trying something new, unique, or innovative. Whether in filmmaking technique, presentation, or subject matter/theme. Connecting with audiences on an intense, primal, and visceral level through suspense and disturbing moments that linger in the mind for a lifetime.
And perhaps most importantly:
5.) Acting Matters–Flat performances can derail a project with the best of intentions. Dialogue can fall flat, dramatic or scary scenes can be unconvincing, and unintentional comedy and laughter can be the result. Casting is key.
More Use of Trained Actors/Actors from the Theater World– Yes, there are many gifted actors who deliver incredible, instinctual work without those backgrounds–or come from other creative disciplines–music performance, writing, comedy, dance, modeling, stunt work, etc. However, training’s value can be great for an actor–whether hands on experience–or scene work with a coach/in the classroom. Actors who have honed their craft onstage or in acting classes/training can often bring added emotional life to their characters and can definitely enhance a film.