'Tis the season for scaring yourself silly, not only with horror offerings like Paranormal Activity 4 and Sinister in theaters, but with Halloween being a perfect excuse to dust off old favorite scary movies. But when you're marathoning the entire Halloween series, or just picking and choosing from among your horror favorites, you sometimes can't help but notice some annoying trends. Wait, that person is going into the creepy scary basement again? And, hang on-- why can't they just get the hell out of there and away from the monster?
Like any genre, horror has its tropes and cliches that it returns to over and over again, but there are ways to do it right and ways to drive you crazy. Below we get into 11 horror cliches that can be great when done right, and really really irritating when done badly. Not only do we pick the good and bad examples of the cliche, but we give some advice on how to spot it when a movie is actually using it right. check out our picks below, and chime in with a comment letting us know what other horror cliches drive you nuts.
SPOILER WARNING: We'll be discussing the endings of a few horror movies, though none especially recent (and if they're especially recent, they're probably not that good). So fair warning.
Found Footage Horror
THE GOOD: Starring unknown actors playing a doomed trio of film students traversing into the woods rumored to be haunted by the Blair Witch, The Blair Witch Project was the found footage feature that started it all. Part of what made the film impactful was its mystique that included internet rumors it was all true, but what's made it a contemporary classic is how their cameras—which go from a documentary tool to a coping mechanism as the mayhem mounts—bind us to their experience from the start of their trek to the film's final harrowing moments. Co-directors Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez trusted that the raw performance and shooting style was evocative enough that they didn't need much gore or special effects to terrorize audiences, and so started a trend that is still drawing crowds.
THE BAD: Where the first three Paranormal Activity movies played to the strengths of this genre, from a contained narrative to extended tension building and a tremendously terrifying finale, the latest addition to the franchise traded in the slow-burn scares for a string of jump scares, making for an entry that was fun, but barely frightening. But worse than its jaunty tone was Paranormal Activity 4's lazy screenwriting that offered thinly sketched—and sometimes pointless—characters along with a recurring lack of justification for its heroine—a terrified teen girl—to endlessly be recording what's going on around her. Sure, it's good for cheap thrills, but its scares won't linger like the image of Mike in that corner…
WHAT WE'VE LEARNED: With the genre already promising audiences that all involved in the plot will die—or be otherwise destroyed—the found footage genre demands excellent character work that will invest us in its protagonists and root against the inevitable. Also key is justifying the found footage device through the entire film, lest viewers write them off as stupid and thereby somehow deserving of their fates. Failing that, the narrative should at least be fast pace enough that the audience has no time to wonder why this character fleeing in mortal terror is still carrying a camera.