The horror genre has a built-in audience that is willing to overlook the many tropes that these films tend to fall victim to. However, even the most hardcore horror fans can admit that there are some clichés that need to buried for good. Recently, there’s been a resurgence of scary movies that cleverly subvert tired tropes, but still, many horror films are plagued by moments of campy impracticality that have us screaming at the screen for the wrong reasons.
An effective horror film can truly get the blood pumping, but it can be easy to lose your investment in a character when they make completely incoherent decisions that ultimately lead to their demise.
In screenwriters’ defense, it’s not easy to get a character vulnerable and alone in a cabin in the woods if they have a good head on their shoulders, which is why most end up without. However, these 25 unrealistic horror movie clichés can make a viewing experience quickly go from spine-tingling to groan-worthy.
1. The Single Tap. It’s the moment just after the climax of the film where the remaining blood-soaked characters jump the gun on celebrating. Just after they think they’ve killed the antagonist, it comes back for one final scare. If any real level-headed person was in that situation, they would make sure that that thing that’s just murdered their entire friend group was dead for sure. Why risk it? Mutilate the thing.
2. The Final Girl Fall Down. Despite showing consistent balance and coordination throughout the duration of the film, there’s always a moment where the final girl is being chased by a steadily-paced killer only for her to come tumbling to the ground. Sure, it may be an effective suspense tactic, but it’s one that has become incredibly worn. You would think you’d at least get up a little quicker instead of turning back and screaming.
3. Untimely Canoodling. Teenagers often find themselves as the subjects of horror films and their hormonal drive tends to add more to the R rating than just gore. However, given the circumstances, you would think that even a libidinous teen would be able to prioritize their life over a quick sesh. Having all of your closest friends around you die in a matter of days doesn’t exactly put you in the mood.
4. No Signal. Smartphones have certainly added quite a hurdle to horror filmmakers who want to make their victims believably helpless. However, the lazy “no signal” scene has become a bit of an eye-roller over time. There has to be a more creative way to disconnect these characters from safety without them uttering the two words that have become a staple of modern horror screenplays.
5. The Feline Fright. If you hadn’t ever met a cat and only watched horror movies, you might think that they have the same functionality as jack-in-the-boxes. It’s a tired trick to have a character lurking around a creepy place only to have the fake threat of a cat come popping out of a cupboard or corner, but one that still seems to get played.
6. Creepy Kids. Nothing innocent in the horror genre is safe from corruption — including (if not especially) children. Creepy kids tend to find their way into most scary movies whether it’s just for a cheap scare, an unsettling prophecy, or as the main subject of the film. There’s also the fact that these kids seem completely oblivious to all things scary before they either become possessed or go missing.
7. “Let’s Split Up.” Apparently, the saying that there is power in numbers is lost for anyone being stalked by a crazed killer. There comes a point in most slasher movies where a group of people makes the incredibly ill-advised decision to split up (usually to “cover more ground”) despite the fact that they greatly outnumber their threat.
8. The Mirror Scare. If you’re watching a character open a medicine cabinet, you can almost guarantee that when they close it, there will be something behind them. It’s a scare that has been so overdone that audiences are genuinely more surprised when there ends up being nothing there. Why else would be watching a character look in a medicine cabinet?
9. The Foreboding Local. It’s all usually fun and games until a group of cottage/camping/lake house-bound youths stumble across a local who warns them to turn back with an unsettling message. Do they listen? Of course not. While it may set the tone, the characters often disregard this local’s foreboding nature without the slightest bit of intrigue.
10. The Suddenly Undependable Vehicle. When you’re being chased by something that is trying to kill you, a car is usually a pretty safe bet to get yourself out of there. However, anyone who has seen a horror movie knows that that car is definitely not going to start, and if it does, it will be at the very last second. Chances are, the character is going to frantically drop the keys first only to have the killer looming in the window just in time for the camera to tilt back up with them.
11. Running Upstairs. It’s a moment that has many of us screaming at our television screams. A masked killer is in hot pursuit of a character in their home, and instead of going out the front or back door to safety, they decide that the best course of action is to run upstairs.
12. “What Was That Sound?” Before the audience is fully introduced to the evil force at play, there’s often a set-up full of ominous and abrupt sounds that the characters are super curious to get to the source of. When most people hear something like a threatening whisper or disturbing gurgling, they don’t want to know what it is, they just want to get away from it.
13. Where Are The Parents? Most suburban-set slashers centered around teenagers seem to be completely void of any parents. You would think with a serial killer in town that they might be a little more cautious of their children’s’ whereabouts, but for some reason, parents either just don’t exist or don’t believe their own kids.
14. Hide-And-Seek. Naturally, if you’re being pursued by a murderer, you’re going to try and hide. However, horror films have fallen into the trap of using the same suspense device of having a character hide underneath a bed or in a closet while the killer lurks around and comes dangerously close to finding them. Most of the time, this character will cover their mouth to hold in a scream.
15. The Invincible Killer. If you’re dealing with the paranormal or some sort of monster then sure, you can get away with the invincibility angle. However, when you have a regular person as the killer, they shouldn’t be bulletproof. Many serial killer films see the villain go through the trauma that no human would be able to survive only to keep popping up scene after scene and sequel after sequel.
16. Useless Police Officers. It’s usually a glimmer of hope when a cop arrives at the scene of an ongoing massacre, but not in the world of horror films. It doesn’t usually take long until these authority figures end up like rest of the killer’s victims. It’s a safety fake out that has become so predictable that any time we see a badge, we know it will soon be covered in blood.
17. Cheap Jump Scares. It’s rare to find a horror film without at least a couple of jump scares, but there are some that are well-designed and others that are just plain cheap. You can throw a super loud horror movie sting over footage of a rainbow and it will still make you jump. Many horror films will throw these sounds left, right, and center even though they are completely undeserved. It gets to the point where you’re no longer scaring the audience, just annoying them.
18. The Character Dynamic. Most horror films that feature a group of characters ready to be picked off in unique and gruesome ways tend to have the same dynamic. There’s always the promiscuous girl, the jock, the nerd, the stoner, and the final girl. Movies like Cabin in the Woods have used this to their advantage, but slashers still follow this predictable formula to a fault.
19. Mythology Exposition. There comes a point in the story where the protagonist finally gets a grip on what or why these creepy things or killings have been going in. Usually, it’s when they go to a local library or, more recently, when the character just Googles it. This little research montage can sometimes feel like the audience is being spoon-fed rather than being entertained.
20. Found Footage. The Blair Witch Project changed the horror genre forever when it introduced the idea of found footage to mainstream audiences. It was Paranormal Activity that later made it a trend that still refuses to die. Other than the aforementioned, many of these films have very weak excuses for why anyone would be trying to film during whatever horror their experiencing.
21. “Based On A True Story” It worked for The Amityville Horror and it didn’t take long for studios to catch on to that. Nowadays it’s hard to come across a horror film that doesn’t boast some variation of “based on actual event” on the poster or trailer. It’s a gimmick that is often very misleading as the true stories behind these films are usually only minor inspirations.
22. Dream Scares. The Nightmare on Elm Street films excluded, many horror films will have quick sequences where they can throw in a scare or mislead the audience into thinking the protagonist is in real danger when it just ends up being a dream. This quick titillation is often followed by a sigh rather than a lingering sense of dread.
23. Dumb Characters. Sure, smart people aren’t going to get themselves in a lot of the situations of many classic horror films, but it’s hard to sympathize with a character who is making completely ridiculous decisions. Audiences will relate to and be much more on board with a character if they make logical decisions throughout the film.
24. Unrealistic Blood Shed. There are some movies whose shtick is to be over-the-top in the gore department. However, some films try and be realistic yet still have their characters shedding mass amounts of blood while still remaining conscious. Humans were not designed to be able to function while spilling blood everywhere.
25. Lingering Evil. If a horror film does well at the box office, you can bet your bottom dollar you’ll be seeing a rushed out sequel hit theaters in no time at all. However, many horror films will have a final scare that usually leaves room for a sequel despite if there are any actual plans for one.
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