Horror movie number 1,800 turned out to be Jesus Franco’s godawful COUNT DRACULA (Spain/West Germany/Italy/Liechtenstein, 1970), starring Christopher Lee and Klaus Kinski. Apparently, Lee didn’t want to play Dracula again, but Franco convinced him that the story would remain true to Stoker’s classic. It didn’t – not by a long shot. Furthermore, the sets were as barren as any no-budget horror with the most pathetic day-for-night footage I’ve seen. Worst still, why have Kinski play Renfield and not even give him one speaking line? Renfield could have been cut right out of the picture. I understand some people adore Franco, but after watching several of his cheap and poorly edited third-rate movies, I really don’t understand the love and admiration.
Granted, over the last 100 films I have seen some great, innovative, and beautifully executed horrors. For instance: ANTIVIRAL (Canada, 2012), THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF ROSALIND LEE (Canada, 2012), THE LORDS OF SALEM (2012), and RESOLUTION (2012). However, the bulk have been expectedly disappointing due to the same tropes and clichés filmmakers feel the ludicrous need to bestow upon the audience at every turn. Here are the ten things I hate the most in horror that leaves me cursing at the screen, rolling my eyes, and fast forwarding:
Fight or Flight or Scream
When we’re freaked out, we fight, flee, or stand still and take the ax to the head. But what I hate the most is the pathetic “fight response”. Now, that sounds crazy because we should cheer when our Final Girl or hero stands up in the face of a monster. Yet, when this fighter simply knocks the antagonist to the ground before running away, or leaves them with a knife in the belly, I become hostile. FINISH THE BASTARD OFF. Out of those 1,800 horrors, this must have occurred at least 1,600 times. And you know I’m not exaggerating. (David Carradine, when shooting his nemesis in Q: THE WINGED SERPENT, had the smarmy presence of mind to say, “He does not die easily,” then kept on shooting.)
Grab that Weapon!
This ties in with the aforementioned fight element. What moron, knowing his or her life is on the line, would strike back against their antagonist, yet leave behind the knife, the gun, the baseball bat, or other weapon? Sorry, I was born and raised in New Jersey. If you take a weapon from someone trying to kill you, you’d best use it – repeatedly – and leave with it until you’re sure the assailant’s dead. Then throw said weapon into the river and take a shower… (Of course, in FUNHOUSE a character raged on in a full-blown assault, though the end result was definitely not what he had in mind.)
The Killer Rises…
It’s not a shock when the antagonist isn’t dead after seemingly being annihilated. Yeah, we’ve seen that one a gazillion times as well. After our Final Girl or hero wipes out the big bad, the body either disappears from the scene, or the monster stands up to unleash havoc once more. Stop it, filmmakers. We don’t get a jolt. We don’t gasp. We just laugh. (Even when I was a kid, HALLOWEEN didn’t work because of this silliness.)
The Mirror Trick
In almost every horror, someone approaches a medicine cabinet with a mirror. They open it up, take some herpes or hemorrhoid medication, close it – and bam! A ghostly or demonic image appears. Stop it. Please. Thankfully, some use the mirror device to fake out the audience by not having anything appear in the reflection. This should keep us on our toes because this might be a sign that the filmmakers aren’t going to cater to the mundane (hopefully). (Thankfully, John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and the film BROKEN offered different takes on the abuse of mirrors.)
Gas Station Stop
How many times do you and your entire entourage exit the vehicle when you stop at a gas station? Sure, the driver might get out to pump gas, but why does every single horny college kid need to climb out, get a snack, take a piss, or bully a yokel? And each gas station attendant happens to be either batshit crazy, stupid, or downright evil. In all my gas station stops, I’ve never met one attendant that fit any of those three categories regardless of location. (At least in URBAN LEGEND, Brad Dourif’s socially awkward gas jockey was actually trying to help.)
In real life, when people are scared, they sometimes screw up and fall on their face when running away – but not every damn time. I’m so sick of seeing stupid people scream, run, and wipe out for no apparent reason. Let’s call it the “phantom fall”. If you want the antagonist to catch up to the person, then make your lunatic monster run faster. (Didn’t the screaming kids trip and fall in every FRIDAY THE 13th movie?)
The Lost Art of Subtlety
Foreshadowing is especially pathetic in many a horror because it destroys the suspense. This means, don’t have two people talking, then cut to a knife on the counter, then go back to them talking – only to have one of them pick up the blade and play slasher. Whenever a filmmaker does something so blatant and pathetic, it’s a clear sign the director thinks his or her audience is made up of the lowest common denominator. (Part of the reason THE SIXTH SENSE worked so well was because the clues were subtle, yet in plain site.)
No Cell Service
Okay, we get it already. Just about every character in horror has a damn cell phone, but we don’t need the “I can’t get a signal” scene in every stupid film. Often, the cell phone issue doesn’t need to be addressed at all, especially if we know our group of soon to be dead pinheads is heading to a “remote” anything. Be creative and do something different. (YOU’RE NEXT had the bad guys jam the signal.)
This is the bane of the found footage subgenre. Sure, it’s simple and easy to have some idiots from a fake show investigate a haunted mental hospital and get slaughtered, but we’ve seen it dozens of times already. The paranormal investigating team setup has leap-frogged over the old, “Hey, this place was built on an Indian burial ground” premise. (Maybe this is why there are no plans for a GRAVE ENCOUNTERS III.)
When I see six college kids stuffed into an SUV heading for a remote cabin in the woods, it’s a safe bet that five of those morons are going to get ripped to shreds. Then, when they pull up to a party with twenty other people – well, you know where the body count’s headed. Stop with all the redshirting. After all, I can’t even remember the last time I witnessed a creative death scene in any movie. (It was just as much of a blast to see Joss Whedon poke fun at this and other tropes in THE CABIN IN THE WOODS as much as it was to watch Wes Craven tackle these plot redundancies in SCREAM.)
As a writer, I know it’s not easy to circumvent a cliché, but at least give it a shot, dammit. Otherwise, if you’re not bringing anything new to the audience, why make a film anyway? This is part of the reason why the five films I mentioned in the beginning stand out so well.
What tropes, cliché’s, and abuses are you sick of in horror?
(Photo from Geek Mode Blog.)