11 Horror Movie Cliches, And How They Can Be Done Right
The Killer's In The Backseat
THE GOOD: The ‘high beams’ urban legend (also featured in the film of the same name) is an oral tradition probably as old as the automobile and even though the horror trope has been endlessly adopted in by movies, Matt Reeves Let Me In is a recent example that proves the cliché isn’t completely dead. And don’t think that because it’s a remake that Reeves is simply cribbing from the original; the sequence reinvents the tired setup by placing us with the killer (Richard Jenkins's character) and opting for suspense over a jump scare, and it's completely Reeves's invention. Exciting, tense and eventually explosive, Reeves manages to milk it so the audience somehow feels worried for both predator and prey.
THE BAD:A far less successful use of the backseat killer [SPOILER ALERT] occurs at the very end of Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire. The scene tries to pull off a simple jump scare, not to mention squeeze in the well worn ‘he’s not dead?’ horror convention, but fails miserably as the playful music betrays the moment and it also offers another chance to groan at Tom Cruise’s woefully miscast Lestat. It’s laughable not scary. The supernatural aspect of his character also hurts the scare’s effectiveness since the killer in the backseat is terrifying precisely because it’s a realistic scenario, hence urban legend, that transforms the familiar, even comfortable spot of the family sedan (that’s where the kids sit!) into a dark place of unexpected terror.
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED: As a myth that's become a cliche, the killer in the backseat has to be used in an inventive way these days-- and if you're going to try to scare us, at least make it feel like this could really happen to us.
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