The horror genre is one that strikes me as a particularly unimaginative genre, littered with cheap tricks and techniques; many of which we movie-goers have witnessed countless times. But I have to wonder; without these devices, would the genre lose part of its charm? Certainly we couldn’t have a movie as cool as Scream without the charm that comes from knowing what to expect from horror movies.
As the first article of WhatCulture!’s 31 Days of Horror 2, I take a look at 12 of the most over-used clichés in Horror you will have seen time and time again;
12: “It’s Just The Wind”
I am absolutely convinced that just by reading that, you know what will follow.
Two strangers alone in an unnerving place hear something in the distance. Our protagonist will ask “What was that”, whilst the friend will almost always reply “It’s just the wind”.
Seriously, “the wind?”. Sorry, I have to ask but since when did the wind ever sound like a breaking branch or a growl? No, it’s never just the wind. Unless of course you are watching The Happening, then actually it really is the wind. Good lord.
11: The Weird Local
When our protagonist and friends arrive in the unfamiliar settings of a new town or village, it is usually completely devoid of anyone.
Except for one, of course, who comes fully equipped with a serious case of “the crazies”. This mentally-unhinged local will normally give his/her advice and to leave the new setting immediately, which goes unheeded.
10: No One Believes (until it’s too late)
I’ll be honest – although this technique has been done to death, it is still very effective as you can feel you blood start to boil when the protagonist is openly mocked for having a wild imagination. Normally it’s a tale of kids/adolescents vs adults, with a handful of disbelievers falling victim themselves to the killer (Oh yee of little faith). Leaving the viewer with a questionably satisfying feeling similar to ‘I told you so’ …
9: “Let’s Split Up”
At some point our protagonist and co will express a sudden desire to become their very own version of the “Scooby-gang” and split up in an attempt to cover more ground. I will never understand how this is ever a good idea; clearly our heroes have never heard of the term “strength in numbers”.
8: The Car Won’t Start.
There has to be a direct correlation between the type of person who finds his/herself in a grave situation and poor upkeep of one’s automobile, because I can often call this cliché happening before the film has even started. Never fear, however, as the car will start just in the nick of time. Pesky car, you…
Imagine the scene. Our protagonist is alone, helpless. It’s dark and the non-diegetic music that accompanies the scene gives an impending sense of doom. As the pitches become higher and louder, the more we expect something terrible to happen. The killer is close and our protagonist is in grave danger. Something terrible is about to happen…Oh, wait, it’s just a cat/rat/dog/cow/gopher/ fish/friend.
What’s even more bizarre is that if is it indeed a friend that has startled our hero, then it’s normally followed-up with ‘why are you so scared’, as if to say they can’t understand the reasons our protagonist is terrified. What kind of person would do that to try to get someone’s attention?
6: The Killer Won’t Know When He Is Beaten?
Has anyone else noticed that the villain is almost always super-human? Take H20 for example – Michael Myers is stabbed literally around 12 times, survives a blaze, and is pinned against a car that was rolling violently down a hill, before his sister decapitates him. Yes, I am aware that in the follow-up (“Big Brother: Halloween” was it called?) that a policeman was miraculously replaced with Myers just before his death and we’ve seen three more Michael Myers since then, but still… these villains never know when they are beaten.
Take note, Captain Planet; earth, fire, wind, water and heart (I guess) alone will never defeat our mass murderer, and I suggest adding ‘axe’ to that list.
5: Mirror Scare
Our hero is using the bathroom and opens the cabinet door. Once he or she (normally always a ‘she’ when set in a bathroom) closes the cabinet door, there is always someone starting back in the reflection (applying ninja-like reflexes to get into position unnoticed, I assume).
Sticking with the mirror-theme, when our villain wants to taunt our protagonist a grim message is sometimes left on a wall, written in red. Obviously it’s meant to resemble blood but it often isn’t (ie: Redrum).
Either there was a sale on red Sharpies, or it’s his/her mother’s lipstick.
This leads me nicely onto …
4: Mother, Are You There? I Love You ( I didn’t mean to hit you over the head with that shovel)
Back in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho and introduced the world to Norman Bates – a wonderfully complex and highly original creation, who’s shares a split personality with his deceased Mother. “Psycho” invited audiences to ask all sorts of questions and to psycho-analytically dissect Hitchcock’s horror masterpiece; it is a text that is rich in Lacanian theory. Bates ‘Mother’ was a masterstroke. So good, in fact, that it spawned many imitators.
Now, years later, the ‘Mother’ device has lost almost all of its originality. When modern Horror films use this device it now just seems lazy and an all-too-easy tool to use without much consideration.
3: Victim Flees/ Killer Saunters (and let’s throw in a ‘trip’, for good measure …)
I genuinely have this nightmare all the time; I’m being chased by someone who wants to kill me and I struggle to run. Something kicks in and my legs won’t obey and I usually trip. I like seeing this in horror film and I find the idea of endless perusing, at one continuous speed, frightening (which is why I will always argue that walking Zombie’s are 100 times scarier than Zombie’s that can run).
Saying this, even if it was Usain Bolt under the mask, there is no way he would be able to keep up with the victim using ‘the brisk walk’ method… Even if the victim has tripped over around 3 times.
2: Creepy kids
Unless they are Zombies, kids are not creepy and the sound of children singing is irritating, if anything. It seems freaky children do genuinely scare people, I must be alone in my thinking because I thought The Orphanage was anything but frightening (even when the kids come into contact with the protagonist in that film – during the highly tense “One, Two, Three” scene – the children merely ‘prod’ her. I don’t understand what there is to be afraid of!)
1: The End?
The most important lesson I’ll learn from horror films is that the danger is never over. Never assume for one moment that the danger has gone however annoyingly predictable it is. Jason jumps out of the water at the end of Friday the 13th, the fisherman gets his victim in I Know What You Did Last Summer, the hand reaches out of the grave in Carrie, and Death finally get the comeuppance desire in every Final Destination movie.
Whilst not original at all, I have provided my favourite from Drag Me to Hell (Raimi, 2009)
I’ve spent a while now detailing the genre’s unoriginality but I’m not sure I would want it any other way. Who can honestly say they would want to watch a horror film where the victim simply drives away in a car that starts first time, where the killer is out-run during the chase or where our protagonist listens to the deranged weirdo and decides to leave immediately ?
This article was first posted on October 1, 2011