Things I've Learned From Horror Movies

Horror movies represent survival in its most extreme form. Depending on how you play by the rules, you end up either a victim or a survivor. Below are the five rules that separate the mice from the men.

Above: Kills both mice and men

Just The Facts

  1. The first horror film, Le Manoir du diable, was made in 1896 by Georges Melies. It was only two minutes long.
  2. The shower scene in "Psycho" is easily the most infamous onscreen murder in movie history.
  3. "The Silence of the Lambs" is the only horror movie to win a Best Picture Oscar.

5. Know Your Surroundings

You hear a noise in the basement. You go to check on it and find that the electricity is mysteriously not working. You descend the staircase anyway, regardless of flashlight. You blumber around obnoxiously for a few more measures of a discordant, tension-building musical score. Before you know it, you have been stabbed in the back by a serial killer who was hiding in the one place you didn't check (right behind you) because you failed to hear the sloggish shuffle of his homicide-bent footsteps.

Name: Carbon Monoxide (the silent killer)

You might still be alive if you had only checked that creepy, dark nook; the closet; the backseat etc. Horror movies use this cliche quite often and is most prominent in their use of the "Mirror Scare."

If you made it through even half that video without shitting yourself, I applaud you.

If you didn't watch it, the video demonstrates how full awareness of your surroundings is a necessity if you don't want to be startled suddenly. But it applies to any situation with unfamiliar surroundings. If you have ever seen and episode of Man vs. Wild, you would know that one of the first things Bear Grylls does is he becomes associated with his environment. This gives him the upper hand in finding food, shelter, and an escape route should anything go wrong. Man vs. Wild is probably this generation's archetype for learning about survival techniques. And let's all hope that they soon air an episode of Man vs. Wild & Serial Killer, because that would be fucking awesome.

He could handle it.

4. You strip, you live; get naked, you die.

This section title really only applies to women, especially in horror movies. So let's make it multi-gender associated and retitle it "Always Have Leverage." No one makes it far in horror movies without something that attributes him/her value. Whether it be the prized object, a weapon, or simply clothes -- if you have no bargaining power you will die.

No clothes = No bargaining power

This is a common negotiation tactic and is explained in books like Getting to Yes and Bargaining for Advantage. This well-known principle has the acronym BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). It basically means that a person should have one to many different alternatives available, so that he/she isn't pigeon-holed into desperately accepting the first offer that comes up. It is a grim life lesson, but much better than those taught to us by Disney.

"I'll do anything! Just gimmie that sweet crack rock!"

Think about looking for a job, choosing a school to attend, or even pleading for your life. Without alternatives, you have no other choice than to take the first thing that comes by and hope for the best.

Negotiation tactics focus on creating the best possible arrangement for all parties involved. But more often than not you will have to compromise because you must give a little to get a little; thus, you strip, you live!

Okay, so not everyone who strips in horror movies is granted the golden key to life. But stripping for survival reminds me of a folk lesson once taught in the Appalachian mountains that I learned from the movie Songcatcher.

Up in them there parts, survival was a daily routine because lurking in the forests was a predator that continually threatened human life: the mountain lion. Chances of escaping a mountain lion attack are very slim. But there is one tactic that can buy some time. Should you ever be hunted by a mountain lion, strip off your clothing, one piece at a time, and leave them behind you. If you are lucky, you will have time to escape while the mountain lion sequentially rips your clothes to shreds in the order that you dropped them.

Wise advice from the inbred hill-folk of Appalachia. You can't negotiate with a mountain lion; you are trespassing through his forest. You can only compromise. It makes me reflect on the grander scheme of things. Because aren't we all just forest trespassers in this game of life, hunted and threatened by the deadly mountain lion that is our inevitable death? But there I go with my mountain lion metaphors. The lesson to be taken from all of this is that keeping the upper hand in a situation requires having some leverage. I recommend reading some books on negotiation tactics to learn about it. Check out the links below.

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3. Be Intolerant of Bad Ideas

Otherwise known as "Don't Take No Bullshit." From taking the shortcut through the backway, that no one is familiar with, to the simple "We should split up!" -- if it is a bad idea, dont go along for the ride. Do the right thing and punctually bitch-slap the person who suggested it first.

"For the last time, we are not hiding in the abandonned orphanage!"

Scientists and psychologists expound the intricacies of what causes stress and how people respond to it. But we won't go into any of that here. The principle is simple. People under duress panic and that's where bad ideas come from. Don't listen to them.

Always be aware that people think and say stupid shit all day long. But it goes both ways. You may be tempted to think that you have the best ideas in the world and everyone else is just fooling themselves. You could go along living your whole life that way. Until one day, you find yourself trapped upstairs in a room with no exit while a serial killer slowly hacks away at the door with an ax (metaphorically speaking). Why did you go up there in the first place, you fool? Never run upstairs to escape the killer!

Chose to hide in the closet.

The ego has the extraordinary ability to deceive its human host into thinking that every idea it has is a good idea. Panic and fear do not factor into the ego's ability of it being the conceited bitch that it is. So do yourself a favor and consciously put it in check. Weigh your options wisely, go over the determing factors, and most of all...

Wise words, good sir... Wise words.

2. Contribute to the Team Effort

This one is about trust, guys. If you can't trust the team that you are with, someone isn't trying hard enough. If you really can't trust your group, you must be in the movie The Thing. But could you imagine how much easier that situation would have been if those damned arctic scientists would have built up a good rapport with each other from the beginning?

"It's me, guys. I'm the Thing. Sorry..."

Trust is a common element used to create conflict in horror movies and is seen in films like Saw II, Predators, Dawn of the Dead, and The Thing. Usually the characters find some unbelievably stupid reason to not trust each other and try to make it through the film alone in vain. Another scenario is that some macho prick will enforce a totalitarian regime on the other characters, forcing them to play by his rules, eventually leading to a collapse of the entire system like in Day of the Dead. If only Captain Rhodes contributed more to the team effort, maybe his torso wouldn't have been torn in half by zombies.

This is what happens to you when you act like a prick!

Maybe if the other characters had paid heed to lesson three, and didn't tolerate any of his bullshit, they could have made it out of that bunker sooner. But it doesn't have to be you!

Team effort goes a long way and most jobs out there require that a candidate has experience working in a team environment. Why? Tons of reasons!

1. Multiple tasks can be initiated with more people working together.

2. Tasks can be completed faster with more people working together.

3. Okay, you got me. I can only think of the two most obvious reasons right now.

Innovation comes from different people, with different backgrounds and different ideas, coming together in order to solve a problem.

Now let's discuss badminton.

That means you in the back too, Bugbear. The only way you are ever going to stop the bullshit is by contributing positively to a team. Critique and be critiqued. Everyone needs some kind of a support system because no man is an island. Although, perhaps humanity and human interaction resembles some form of an archipelago. Take that Shakespeare!

1. Finish What You Started

Who survives at the end of horror movies and why? It's not always the big movie star. Drew Barrymore was gloriously slaughtered within minutes in the beginning of Scream. And it's not always the most lovable, audience-appealing character.

Although, sometimes it is.

Also known as the "Don't Puss Out" rule, the hero/heroine who makes it to the end in horror movies is the one who sticks it out, endures the trials, and never gives up. Whether or not they willingly engage in the dilemmas, they collect information in spite of the danger and eventually find the answer they need.

In this sense, horror movies are just like any other movie with a resolute ending. But the personal stakes are much higher (do or die) and give more immediacy to the general maxim. It is seen in countless movies such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, The Ring, Jurassic Park, Nightmare on Elm Street ad infinitum etc.

If fictional characters with no basis in reality can do it, you can too. Isn't that what we are all taught? Don't puss out. See your endevors through to the end and maybe you too will achieve glory.

The ultimate badass of horror.