Horror movies are so full of tropes that the scripts are practically mad-libs. Interestingly, not only are horror movies full of the same asinine actions and scenes, but the same background characters keep showing up in every single one.
It's already a total cliche, so let's get it out of the way first. Sex is like flypaper to the average murdering psychopath, and anyone who wishes to participate in it during a horror movie is going to die horribly, probably mid-coitus. All those free-floating pheromones draw slashers from out of the woodwork. There can be more than one oversexed slut - in fact for a decent B-movie you'll need at least three actresses for whom it's this film or make a porno - and the Slut can be male or female. Who knows why rampaging murderers are so enraged by youthful indiscretions? It could be that horror movies replace morality stories, it could be a quasi-realistic depiction of the psychological tendency to associate death and passion, it could just be the killer wants to join in and was never taught the difference between "penis" and "knife" (which puts a whole new spin on the average horror movie). The fact remains, if you show any sign of wanting to bump uglies to the tune of creepy staccato violins, this will be your last scene in this picture.
No one got out of this film happy. Including the audience
And good riddance. There's a time and a place for that sort of thing, and it does not include the following settings: any abandoned structure you have trespassed onto to avoid bad weather, the middle of nowhere while another member of your party is missing, a house with a reputation for being haunted, or anytime a serial killer is loose and you are not behind locked doors.
Exception: Note we stress sex. Making love in a horror movie assures that you are a deep person who is taking a representative step to growing up in the midst of horrifying circumstances and seeking comfort in the arms of a trusted consort, especially if it includes lots of lit candles. Your partner will still die, but chances are you'll be fine.
Then, on the opposite end of the spectrum, are the two nastiest people you've ever met. They bicker, they insult one another at every opportunity, and they lash out at anybody nearby when they're not at each other's throats. Deep down you suspect they are together only because no one else wants to be around them, and you're right.
If you are ever around these people you should leave anyway. But especially when you are in a horror movie, because he's coming after these two nattering nancies with a chainsaw just to shut them up.
Exception: if one of these people actually seems like a pretty decent human being, he or she will make a good love interest to the main character and might survive, blissfully free to date since their harpy of an ex is now busy putting their organs to use as garlands to decorate the backyard.
Sometimes one person actually does know exactly what's happening, but no one will listen to them. Often they elderly or in a mental institution, and either way are haunted by the memories of the events that happened in the last movie, often to a different actor who happens to share their name. But, and this is important, they are not actually in on scheme. They would love nothing more than to stop the bloodshed, if only someone would listen. Unfortunately, their entire purpose is to relate exposition or voice-over a flashback that explains events. Almost immediately afterwards the sinister forces that have haunted them for so long appear to punish them for breaking the silence.
Exception: the one person at the very beginning of the film who warns the kids not to go up to the haunted lake, not to go into the old house, and certainly not to say "Bloody Mary" three times in a mirror at midnight...That person will be fine. They will survive to a ripe old age, balancing precariously between the roles of dramatic foreshadow and self-fulfilling prophecy.
Any woman in high heels walking down a lonely street, any homeless person pushing a shopping cart, anyone who investigates a strange sound or opens the door to an unexpected knock on a dark night, and who does so before the credits role...Â¦that person will die. Such is life in a horror movie. It's not fair, of course. If you're walking alone in the woods and you pause because you hear a sound, a lifetime of conditioning suggests that it will be deer and not a shapeshifting monster from a meteorite from space. This poor shmoe doesn't even have the luxury of there being a warning out that a killer is on the loose - they are about to become reason other people get that warning!
"Gee, what's that down the sewer grate over th - HOLY SHIT!!!"
Exception: If they can get away to escape and relate an important plot point to the protagonist they may survive long enough to curse the monster for not finishing the job.
"I just want to figure out what's going on here!"
No, you don't, sir. Because what's going on here is you're about to get a machete rammed into your cerebellum.
If you are the protagonist, it is your duty to push the story forward by attempting to uncover the cause of events before you and all your buddies wind up as floating carcasses in Crystal Lake. But sometimes the protagonist has help. They may call up a friend at a library (too far away to qualify for the repercussion as the Person Who Totally Knows What's Going On), who can help do research while they run around like headless chickens from one murder scene to another, always just a little too late. Or a second protagonist, someone outside of the mayhem with a bit of skill at pattern recognition, is also on the trail. This latter example is helpful to the flow of the story when the murders happen so fast, or the protagonist is so inept, that it is implausible that they might stumble across the solution. Often this role is filled by a police detective searching through clues whose significance is relayed through a series of flashbacks; other times by a private investigator who may show up for the last minute save.
This character can be a great boon and even be the one to stop the monster forever. As long as he stays detached.
But the GWJWTFOWGOH isn't detached. He knows this isn't just some random murder spree: there's something out there, something evil. He's spent hours in the stacks in the reference section of the library, or snuck into a secured laboratory, or even looked at fucking microfiche. There is stubble on his chin and stains on his suit, he slams a file drawer shut in frustration and drinks from a flask when the stress of this case starts to weigh him down. Basically, any investigator whose personal involvement or level of research goes beyond examining a crime scene or doing a google search on the name "Freddy Krueger," that dude is toast. Especially if they've been on the trail for quite some time.
If they're a good enough actor, they may survive for a sequel or two.
Exception: So long as they stay detached and have no moral qualms against placing blame for twenty-eight disembowlments on a 108 lb. teenage girl driven into a fugue state from the horror she has survived, they'll be fine, albeit no longer qualifying for title of GWJWTFOWGOH.
Second Exception: Marvin Gaye
"Goth." "Freak." "What are you, Count Dracula?" Et cetera.
Anytime you see someone wearing black nail polish, mascara, and black clothes, they will die by the end. Every time. This is the disenfranchised kid, boy or girl, who has a deeper sense of what's going on because they are themselves drawn to the dark side.
This is useful, because they can provide some sort of explanation to the mayhem, sometimes even outright exposition. Unfortunately, the pull to darkness often means they wind up possessed or turned evil themselves, and if not they will most certainly be killed to be silenced or to interrupt the incantation which might banish the villain until the next movie.
Exception: If the Dark Kid has been the bad guy all along, he or she will survive even a Rasputin-level execution and end the film by opening their eyes and rising to kill again.
Second Exception: if the Dark Kid is also the protagonist, they can survive by realizing that life is worth living and promising to be one of the Shiny Happy People if they get out of this alive.
The same way anyone who cannot refrain from having sex in a horror movie dies, so too does anyone who gets high at these inopportune times. And for exactly the same reason. Horror movies are quasi-morality tales. Moral: drugs are bad.
Any character whose personal Maslow hierarchy of needs places "Smoke a bong" above "Don't get your decapitated head on a stick" gets exactly what they ask for. While it doesn't have to be pot, any harder drugs almost guarantee death. Alcoholics have a better survival rate than potheads so long as they are not belligerent drunks, or the monster will make them dead drunks.
Exception: anyone who gets the villain drunk/high enough to distract them might survive, as might anyone who is drunk/stoned enough to suspect they are hallucinating but wise enough to shut up and hide in the corner without making a sound.
Not necessarily the same as the Stoner. Usually named Moonchild or Starbeam, their expanded consciousness makes them a bit more aware of the otherworldly forces out there. May even consider herself a witch, though more likely a Wiccan. Practices yoga, recycling and rhythmic chanting with abandon, and will get angry at anyone who throws trash out the window.This character is around even today because horror movie writers don't seem to realize it is 2011 and anyone who was at Woodstock is now pushing sixty.
Even though they are probably the nicest person in the group outside of the obligatorily bland main character, they are annoying and so they deserve to die.
Exception: if the horror of events around them are enough to snap the hippie out of their pot-induced daze and make them recant their peacenik ways in favor of an uzi, there's a good chance they'll make it out with only a flesh wound.
Often in times of crisis people turn to God. When a horror movie monster is on the loose this is the equivalent of pouring melted butter over yourself and hopping in a pot of boiling water.
Anyone who mentions God without anyone else asking is fodder for the horror flicks. Even worse, they'll have their faith shattered when the monster pretends to be offput by the sign of a cross and then bats it aside with a mocking laugh of derision. And if you used your faith as a reason to be a dick to someone, you probably deserve it.
This one works for villains, too. Unless an entire community of hyper-religious fundamentalists is the source of doom, anyone who answers WWJD by picking up the kitchen knife is going to meet their maker far sooner than they intended.
Exception: a virgin who wears a small gold crucifix around her neck and runs into a well-lit church will usually have her faith affirmed and receive divine aid or at least respite, so long as she does not look better in a black corset than a tight white t-shirt.
Second Exception: any priest who is main character and not evil himself will also probably survive if he starts off with doubts about his faith but overcomes it.
"I need an old priest and a young priest! And a middle-aged priest for good measure!"
"Come on out! This isn't funny!"
Why the fuck do people say that in every single horror flilm Because every single horror film includes some dick who thinks the height of hilarity is jumping out of a closet, a level of wit most of us outgrew sometime around Ninja Turtle underpants.
I totally wish I still had these.
This douchebag sets up at least two pratfalls before he gets a much-needed axe to the crotch. If female they usually only get to pull one prank, but it's usually a lot crueler. Either way, no one is sad when this character realizes the monster is behind them just before it devours their soul.
Exception: If you provide comic relief and are attractive enough, there's a chance you might survive to the end to say the line that lets the camera pan away on everyone sharing a laugh.
Smart people survive horror movies, so long as they're not TOO smart. Anyone intelligent enough not to escape a home invader by running UPSTAIRS will live. Anyone who could program Unix will not.
If you wear a bow tie, have thick glasses taped together, wear a button up shirt with the top button buttoned and a pocket protector, you will not only die, but probably get violated as well. Rick up there only survived because Little Shop of Horrors was actually a musical.
Exception: None. If you try to help you will be killed. If you try to run you will be killed. If you try to stand up to the demon just like you should have stood up for yourself against the world all this time, you will find closure, but you will still be killed.
Not necessarily the black guy, but anyone who is a "minority." Black, Asian, Latino, Jew, homosexual, overweight, handicapped...the only reason anyone other than Aryans survive horror movies is because blondes usually get cast as the Oversexed Sluts.
Long and short - if you have anything that visibly defines you as "different" from the "norm" - from the slightest trace of an accent to a religious symbol other than a cross , you are marked for death. If you're in a wheelchair or leg brace you will be humiliated by a Pepe le Pew-like chase scene first.
Exception: you can be black and survive, so long as A) you call attention to the fact that black people die first in horror movies, or B) there is absolutely nothing in your attitudes, actions or dialogue that would prevent a white person from playing your part. Also, Native American Indians are usually okay.
Also there's a Romero sequel where the black guy gets out alive, but it's the exception to the rule.
Bigotry is a real problem, but it's even worse in horror movies where it is a surefire recipe for comeuppance.
Anyone who is outright racist, sexist, mysoginist, or homophobic is definitely going down. Less guaranteed but almost as likely are anyone who mocks the Hippie for insisting on recycling, the Nerd for being a nerd, or the protagonist for being unassuming and relatable to the audience. Usually represented as a Southern redneck, which is ironic when you really pause for a moment to think about it. Easily piggybacks onto the next character.
I don't understand this picture, either.
Exception: If he is the only one with a gun he can extend his lifespan at least long enough to save the protagonist.
Conflict is how lazy writers create drama. Whereas in real life a small group of strangers united by terror might band together, in horror movies there is always at least one guy who uses this as an opportunity to push people around. They are usually jocks or bullies, but whatever outfit they wear they are still the guys who take things way too far. In an 80s movie they would be overcome after the protagonist engages in a training montage, but in horror movies they just die. This is doubly lazy on the part of the writers because half of a horror movie is rooting for the assholes to die anyway; when you write someone with "asshole" as the defining characteristic, of course they're getting decapitated.
The traits that would make you a hero in an action movie and the foil in a comedy will get your ass eaten by stop-motion claymation in a horror movie.
Exception: A character who BECOMES angry due to all the, y'know, murder and terror is probably your best bet at survival, as long as he calms down afterwards and maybe goes to get a job at S-Mart.
Second Exception: A character described as having "a chip on their shoulder" instead of "being an absolute fucktard" might survive, so long as their brooding good looks draw the protagonist to try and save them.
Not this guy.
Certain people are guaranteed to live to the end: the pretty girl with a level head, the child, the mentally handicapped character, Gizmo...Killing them would just be a cheap shot. Horror movies are morality plays, and these characters represent innocence, so killing the innocent transforms the audience's sympathies from schadenfreude to tragedy.
But after a certain age innocence begins to look like either imbecility or cowardice, so there is no shame enjoying it when the shy, quiet kid gets a corkscrew through the eye for cowering in the corner.
Exception: Anyone who grows a backbone and stops being the Mouse will probably survive, especially if they are the main character. Also, as alread stated, no matter how they cower, kids or mental handicap negate this corollary.
When parents aren't actively participating in the murdering in horror movies, they are often at least peripherally responsible. But just because a whole town buried a dark secret that is now coming after the next generation is no reason for them to worry; they'll be fine. And any parent on a murder spree is automatically the villain, and the one hard and fast rule of every horror movie is that the villain never completely dies.
However, there is one brand of parent guaranteed to die. Any stiflingly overprotective, slightly scary mother or the abusive drunk of a father who gets more than thirty seconds of screen time in the opening act will surely get their comeuppance, often when mutation or black magic empower their wayward child with the same darkness these parents tried to beat out of them.
Exception: None. If they were good parents their kids would warn them to get out of town before the aliens came. If they come to regret their actions it just pushes their murderous psychopathic teen to kill them that much faster.
'Nuff said. There's a good reason light switches are built near the entrances of rooms instead of in the very middle. I don't care if the electricity has gone out and you must resort to using the burner on the kitchen stove, there is no excuse for blundering around in darkness when a rampaging maniac is on the loose. For that matter, this usually happens in A) a small area like a cabin where there's not much to bump into anyway or B) the house you've lived in all your fucking life. There's no excuse at all for sticking your hands in front of you and gripping every wall and piece of furniture like you've suddenly gone blind, especially when, keep in mind, this person is probably capable of stumbling from their bed to the shitter down the hall in their sleep. The second they do get around to lighting a match or palm-slapping a flashlight into working there will be an indistinct figure, a scream, and the blackness once more.
Exception: When a blackout hits a group of people it does not stops the murders, but it does limit them to one at a time. This is especially unfortunate for the last two people, whom must now wonder which of them will survive.
Sure the Stoner smokes pot and the Angr Guy beats up people for no reason. But those are common tropes. There's also a breed of lawbreaker that does so unrepentantly just for the fun of it. The Hoodlum causes wanton destruction of property for fun, speeds past cops, runs protection rackets, lights fires to watch the glow, steals as a lifestyle choice, mocks people for showing kindness, threatens children, and if trapped on a desert island would piss in the water supply for a lark. The women are bitch prostitutes, the men are muggers and creeps, and rarely do either have all their teeth. In short, the Hoodlum is basically a mad dog, a creature so inhuman it is practically rabid and to whom the only solution is to be put down, a deed which the bad guy will fortunately perform with alacrity. When they appear in movies they usually die almost immediately due to their unwise choice to pick on something that is clearly a hunched-over monster.
Exception: If the Hoodlums travels in packs one might survive to warn others, this will ultimately prove futile
There is a better class of casual lawbreaker than the Hoodlum, and this is the business asshole in a suit. He smokes cigars, he drives a Hummer, he engage in shady business practices, dump medical waste in city landfills, threaten to repossess the family house, ands harasses his secretary. He need not even be in a suit: take for example the guy in Jurassic Park trying to buy the embryos.
"Johnson! We got Johnson here!"
Whether an individual Suit or a whole boardroom of them, his casual callusness is often what initiates the threat in the first place, say, by building on an Indian burial ground. His crimes are bigger than his predecessor; whereas the Hoodlum violates Laws, the Suit violates Statutes. Like the Hoodlum, the Suit's sociopathic inability to empathize with humanity and his pleasure in asserting dominance by flagrantly violating the basic tenants of social intercourse is the basis of all their actions and their downfall.
"Government regulations be damned! Richardson is right. That abandoned asylum built on
an Indian burial ground would be a perfect place to dump our toxic waste!"
Exception: a Suit who is unaware of the danger posed and therefore not morally repsonsible for the results has a good chance of surviving the plague he unwittingly helped release.
When the shit hits the fan, the Suits call in the Spooks to help cover it all up. Much like chess players send out pawns, and with the same inevitable results. Unforgivably, the Spook knows everything that is going on but will not tell us until the end, double-damned because he interferes with solving said crisis by discrediting or erasing witnesses, so he is a character whose entire narrative function is somewhere between Faceless Villain and M. Night Shyamalan twist. He will most certainly die and for no purpose but to raise the body count.
Exception: a Spook who opens to the protagonist about what is happening without A) detaining them first or B) getting wounded in action beforehand establishes themselves as allies to the protagonist and might get out alive.
Also helpful: believing in the existence of extraterrestrials.
The Spook is a specific example, but it is a rule in horror movies that anyone with a gun dies. So cops, military, and other authority figures wind up biting it while lesser characters survive despite being the ones actually trained to survive attacks.
Yet even a gun is not a requirement to guarantee death, when you can just start ordering people about. This character differs from the noble leader you might find in sci-fi shows and other genres because he winds up blustering his authority when anyone questions it, resorting to intimidation, threats and even violence. So bungling cops, teachers, small-town sherrifs, inept mayors, and any boss who thinks their authority extends into zombiepocalypse is going down.
The immediately following scene is NOTa good model for a successful chain of command.
Exception: Negated with chiseled cheekbones.
This asshole would be the first to go.
Anyone who was a dick in the prelude but who tries to make up for it before the end of Act 2 extends their lifespan, but only to the last ten minutes of the film. It's one thing for a villain to change alliances to the side of good, but the only way to guarantee he won't vacillate back is for his ass to die in a hurry.
Exception: if the protagonist's love interest sacrifices himself to save everybody else, the VSR might live to the end as a new potential love interest. Especially if we get to see his abs.
Or if he's Vegeta.
When science pushes past the boundaries of That Which Man Was Not Meant To Know, resulting inevitably in some beastly monstrosity escaping from controlled laboratory conditions and into our world, the scientists responsible have two choices. They can be responsible, reporting their mistake to the proper authorities and accepting blame, and perhaps even doing their part to rectify their error. Or they can be the scientists who appear in horror movies.
This brand of scientist, if he wasn't insane before, will most certainly be by the end, just before he is murdered by his own creation. Often the phrase, "It's beautiful, isn't it?" will be applied to something with more eyes than teeth and more tentacles than eyes, or some vague talk about the next step of evolution. Something about science seems to degrade the morality compass of the brain. The Remorseless Scientist will experiment on children with psionic powers, mutate the genome willy-nilly, and considers electric shocks a basic investigative tool.
Whether the formation of the monster was intentional or not, the scientist falls in love with his creation, protecting it like a mother and equally willing to sacrifice his life to protect his own little perversion of the natural order. Just before it kills him.
Remember, the very oldest horror story was that of Frankenstein.
Exception: any scientist willing to turn his back on his creation (and on Science by affirming that there are indeed things Man Was Not Meant To Know) will survive at least long enough to discredit his entire profession.
It happens in every horror movie. A child sees a monster. There's a video of something in the haunted house moving. Someone wants to investigate a sound outside. And always there's one person who acts as the voice of reason to present a rational explanation. "The scary shadow is just the coat hanger." "The curtain moved because the window is open." And of course, the classic line:
Usually a skeptic is a boon, someone who is not going to be terrified into shrieking by tree branches on the windowsill or a cat leaping from the closet.
But after a certain point, skepticism goes too far.
"Oh, right. There's a giant monster behind me. Suuuuuuure."
Sufferers of "Scully-itis" will exhibit a level of flagrant disregard for reality that borders on the schizophrenic. It's one thing for doctors who treat the first case of zombies like a virus or psychiatrists to write off visions of the future as hallucinations or for television debunkers to find a logical explanation to the ectoplasm on the wall. They are scientists, and scientists are supposed to find rational explanations; that is why we no longer cure migraines by drilling into the skull so the evil spirits can escape. But once everybody KNOWS about the zombie plague or the visions of the future start coming true or you actually catch the ghost on camera, treating this like a fluke is river-in-Egypt-level Denial.
Science, after all, ruins the moral compass and logic portions of the brain. Known fact. This is why otherwise sane scientists may be swayed to join the darkness (see Unrepentant Mad Scientist) or engage in cover-ups as Spooks. Logic is so rare in horror movies because the very act of exhibiting it eventually degrades a person's ability to use it.
Exception: If the Skeptic is trying to reassure a child, the scary shape will indeed turn out to be a pile of clothes. The monster, meanwhile, is hiding in the closet for when the Skeptic leaves.
"I'll teach YOU to go around telling people there are man-eating plants the backyard!"
"Don't tell stories!"
I do hate this one. Any time there's a horror movie with a child in it, or for that matter a teenager or anyone with gray hair, at some point they are going to announce to everybody exactly what is going on, and they are going to be shot down. No matter how obvious the danger is, or how trustworthy the child is, they will assume this is an overactive imagination. If the blabber is elderly, they will assume he or she is senile whether or not there is any history of foggy thinking, and if they are teenagers they will assume this is just an outright lie to cover whatever shenanigans they want to keep hidden.
There is a definite pleasure in watching this unimaginative authority figure turn around to confront the very monster they were denying. Of course, when they do die, the child/teen/octogenarian is left to explain the blood stains on the carpet, and, as has already been determined, no one believes their stories.
Exception: if the teenager involved actually DOES have a history of mental illness the parent may survive so long as the actual monster attacks occur elsewhere.
Fuck him. .