Movies by their very nature are formulaic. The three act structure and various tropes are as common today as they were decades ago. Horror movies are one of those genres where the field of clichés is nearly endless, but some have become so iconic that films and audiences not only expect them, but can’t live without them.
10. Cell Phone Reception
Everyone has a cell phone these days, and that has to be reflected in horror movies. It wouldn’t make much sense for a group of 20-somethings to visit an abandoned hospital, summer camp or mental asylum without their phones. Amazingly, in an age where you can get reception in the middle of Burning Man, it always seems to be out of service. Apparently, ectoplasm blocks cell reception. This has to be done, because how can people become trapped if a call to 911 would have help on the way in minutes? Or, what if a simple Google search would solve supernatural problems rather than splitting up and searching room to room … in the dark?
9. Falling Down
While running full speed through the forest, the victim inevitably falls and gets cut down by the bad guy. It doesn’t matter if the victim is running through the forest, city or a country road. There is always a twig or other obstacle that takes them down and sprains their ankle. The bad guy never runs. It could be Jason, a zombie or some other being, but it’s slower than molasses, Why? Slow is scary. The victim has to fall or else they’ll leave the bad guy in the dust. There are few shots more terrifying than seeing an ax-wielding maniac standing over you.
8. Sex Is Bad
You can almost always tell who is going to get it next, because they either just had sex or are in the middle of it. This goes back several decades and started out as a warning to teens thinking about embarking on sordid escapades. The victims are young and not married. When their hormones get the better of them, the bad guy is sure to show up. Just as Little Red Riding Hood is a cautionary tale about straying from the safe path, sex in a horror movie means if you do the nasty, you’re going to die. It’s one heck of a deterrent. Today, sex is much less controversial, but the cliché is still standard.
7. Splitting Up
When people are scared, they tend to stay together, and yet characters in horror movies always do the exact opposite. There is safety in numbers. The more people that are in one place, the less likely a single person or entity will be able to kill them all. That’s exactly why horror movies can’t have it. If you’ve got 10 people with machetes and baseball bats, even Jason might have a hard time taking them all out at once. There is always a convenient reason to split up, and everyone in the audience wants to scream at the screen. The bad guys can now pick them off one by one. It’s also an easy way to prolong a movie with a particularly weak script.
6. Stupidity is Mandatory
Do you know why people get in trouble in horror movies? They make stupid decisions. Decisions so far from the base of reality, we can’t believe it. It’s a mindset they keep through the entire movie. Sure, it sounds like a great idea to read from that human skin covered book. Sure, why don’t we break into the supposedly haunted abandoned mental asylum? Yeah, opening up a summer camp 10 years after a series of unsolved grisly murders happened is just what we need. We need this stupidity for the movie to work. If they made rational decisions, then the movie would be really short. It’d be a bunch of teens huddled around an Xbox playing Gears of War and an evil clown twiddling his thumbs inside an old rundown asylum.
5. Love Springs Eternal
Movies are made of two distinct parts, the A plot and the B plot. The main plot is the evil killer stalking the teens in the summer camp, but the B plot is the burgeoning romance between the final girl and whomever happens to be left. It’s amazing that even though everything happens in a matter of hours, and they’re being chased by monsters, someone still manages to fall in love. It’s hard enough to do it when your life’s not in danger. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of being stalked or submerged feelings coming to the surface with the knowledge you could die? It’s actually just really lazy writing.
4. The Sequel Shot
Horror movies and sequels go hand in hand. Whether the bad guy knows what you did last summer again or decides to take Manhattan, sequels with a killer have a readymade audience, and you don’t have to worry about that pesky character development. It’s pretty much horror custom to provide a parting shot of the bad guy still kicking as the credits roll. Why do they do it when we all know the sequel is coming? It gives us something to look forward too. Whether it’s a hand reaching from the grave or a bunch of superheroes eating shawarma, we can’t wait to see what happens next.
3. Weapons Montage
The good guys have been battling the bad guy with sticks and knives for almost 2 hours. Now, that we’re down to the final few, they suddenly come up with the great idea to fashion new weapons or bombs from common household objects, all to the glorious sounds of power chords. It’s their time to fight back, and it just so happens they find this cache of supplies. It’s not going to work. We know that. They’ll put up a good fight for a few minutes and then the tables will turn. All but one or two will die, and it sets up the ending.
2. The Dun Dun Duuun Moment
Throughout the entire movie you’ve been operating with a certain understanding. It’s all been clear and concise, but suddenly just before the end…the twist. The killer isn’t who you think it is, or his motivations aren’t what you thought they were. It’s when you find out the mother is still alive, or the killer is going after the relatives of those who murdered him. It could be that a survivor was behind it the whole time, or the mousy unusual suspect is the bloodthirsty child of the killer. It’s supposed to be some Earth shattering revelation, but we usually see it coming from a mile away. It’s still necessary or else the movie becomes predictable.
1. Machinery Will Break
Technology is a wonderful thing unless you’re being stalked by a killer. It’s going to fail. It could be your car, a flashlight or that fancy weapon you just built. Items that may have been fine for years will eerily just stop working. You can rationalize it by saying something like the ghost drained the battery, but it’s simply a way to keep the plot moving. It wouldn’t make for a very interesting movie if they got in their car and drove away or if the homemade chainsaw/ flamethrower combo cut the bad guy into pieces.
Horror movies are loved for a reason. We love the clichés, because they’re safe and expected. Life isn’t easy, and there are enough things to scare us, just by turning on the news, but horror movies give us a controlled scare like a roller coaster or haunted house. We know what’s going to happen, but we keep watching anyway.