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The 10 Biggest Horror Movie Cliches

Paramount Pictures

Even with films like ‘Scream,’ ‘Behind the Mask’ and ‘The Cabin in the Woods’ exposing horror’s biggest tricks for all to see, horror films continue using them like proven liars yet again asking for trust. These horror cliches have relaxed over time, but we’ll probably never get rid of them completely since they’re largely what make most horror films possible. There are tons of these tropes and rules depending on how specific you want to get, but here are the main offenders. And while exceptions will always present themselves, there’s a reason why they’re called “exceptions.”


Everyone Is an Idiot


For a horror film to work, people have to make some pretty awful decisions. Splitting a group up seems especially stupid when dealing with a serial killer who picks people off individually, but horror film characters do it all the time. Inexplicably holding back valuable information when talking to people who might help you (as Ethan Hawke does with his box of snuff films in ‘Sinister’) offers another example of horror film idiocy. There a whole universe of horror stupidity. But if everyone did the smart thing, we’d have no more horror to watch.


The Car Never Starts


Don’t bother driving a car into a horror film. It’s not going to start. You could take the Presidential State Car, you could take Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Humvee, you could take Bullitt’s Mustang. At the moment of truth, it will find a way to not turn over. The fact is, most horror villains use their feet for transportation (though some seem to have teleportation capabilities). And as the end of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ illustrates, the moment a chased heroine gets in a moving vehicle, she’s off the menu. So it’s works best to just pretend every automobile’s a lemon.


Bad Cell Reception


Along with cars that don’t work, it’s also very difficult to find reliable cellphone reception in a horror film. So if you need to talk to someone, you’d better have some carrier pigeons. It’s probably for the best. As we see at the beginning of ‘Jason Goes to Hell,’ a massive posse of gun toting authority figures can ruin a serial killer’s plans to silently murder people pretty quickly. So if future horror victims are allowed to run around (if they’re not tied to chairs being blowtorched) the show can only go on if they’re unable to communicate with the outside world.


There’s Always a Jerk Who Ruins Everything


If the heroes in a horror film come up with a doable survival scenario, one of them will inevitably screw it up. It’s usually a male, and it’s usually not a very nice male. Sometimes the guy’s alpha male idiocy can lead to a decent fight with the killer near the end, but rest assured this character will die and he’ll die big enough to make the crowd cheer.


The Black Guy Always Dies


There’s this fake horror cliche you always hear about where the black guy (or girl) always dies first. This does not appear to be true. The black guy does always die in horror films. Just not often at the beginning. They’re usually third or fourth. The same goes for Asians. Or any race filmmakers throw in to make their cast of characters more ethnically diverse. This cliche, of course, does not apply to horror films made in other countries or horror films billed as taking place in “The Hood” (‘Tales From the Hood,’ ‘Leprechaun in the Hood’, James Cameron’s upcoming ‘Avatar in the Hood’).


The Killer Never Dies


Invincibility is never a good foundation for tension, and yet horror films rely on it to a great degree. For the most part, horror films either end with the killer killing everyone, or one or two survivors turning the tables and taking the killer out. Regardless of how violently they put him down, however, he will be back. You can chain him to the bottom of a lake (‘Friday the 13th Part 5′) cut him up in a massive industrial fan (‘Child’s Play 3′), or make the souls he consumed burst from his body and drag him to Hell (‘A Nightmare on Elm Street 4′). It doesn’t matter — somehow his body will reform, hardly scratched and ready for more.


Adult Authority Figures are Useless


Sometimes victims on the run will seek help from authority figures such as police officers or their fathers. This won’t work. One cop and one daddy is no good. You need to inspire a whole police department and/or family reunion to take action on your behalf. But that probably won’t happen because the other thing about horror film authority figures is they rarely believe the blood and guts stories scared young people lay on them. It’s almost impossible to find a guy with a gun who both believes you and knows how to kick some ass.


No Guns


Horror films would go by a lot faster if more killers or victims carried guns. Whether a pistol, shotgun, or automatic weapon, the ability to blow someone’s brains out from across the street would simplify matters drastically on both sides of the predator/prey dichotomy. Filmmakers claim guns are too impersonal to scare, but that’s just an excuse. Yes, Michael Myers has been shot many times and keeps getting back up, but he probably wouldn’t if Loomis had split his head open with a sawed-off. Zombie films don’t count. Ironically, they’re the ones where more people should use blades.


Sex Will Get You Killed


This one goes without saying, but if you want to survive a horror film, it’s probably best you don’t get it on at any point during the movie. Or before the movie. Or after, just to make sure. In fact, even if you wait until marriage, you probably don’t want to do it then because you’ll just make a baby who will one day become yet another doomed teenager. And when that happens you’ll be on the parental side of the age line, which just makes you even more likely to get offed. Get thee to a nunnery.


Women Can’t Run Without Falling Down


Horror movies often pick one lady who gets to survive beyond the end of the film. Men have a much lower survival rate. The gender trade-off, though, is that horror films see women as athletically faulty idiots who cannot run across a field without falling over. Sometimes it’s thanks to their high-heels. Sometimes they trip over a branch. But a lot of times gravity just seems to grab them and slam them down to Earth without provocation. It’s pretty much the only way we can buy a sprinting young person being outrun by a lumbering, giant psycho killer, so get used to it.


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