If there’s one thing everyone likes, it’s being scared. Ask anyone who suffers night terrors. But while we all enjoy a good scare, ones that fit the “good” part of that statement are becoming more and more scarce. The whole horror movie genre’s been getting a little lazy lately, resting on its bloody laurels and recycling the same tired shit way too often. If you want to keep the people on the edges of their seats, you need to retire this old schlock and come up with new, more exciting schlock.
Stage Left Jumps
Stage Left Jumps
This terrible trope is all too common in horror movies, and has actually been used so much that we have to assume Jason Vorhees has a portable matter transporter device shoved up his zombie ass that allows him to simply appear wherever he wants. Basically, this works by exploiting the screen you’re watching. In your world, the horror movie is confined into your television or the movie screen. When a character is facing you, you can’t really see what they see, because you’re in that space. Likewise, whatever exists to the left and right of the screen is as big a mystery to you as the popularity of that Cash Me Outside meme. But if you were that character in the movie, barring some major optical trauma or being trapped in a wee hallway, you’d probably have full use of your peripheral vision. Which is why when someone jumps out from the side of the screen to shock you in the audience, it’s entirely bumblefuckish to assume it would also scare the character being attacked in the movie, who would have seen that scare coming miles away.
“Surprise! I’ve been in this room for, like, two hours.”
Movies get away with this quite often because the audience doesn’t think about it. The killer or Hamburglar or whoever leaps into frame, and you jump and think “Fuckballs! That scared me! I am truly among the spooked!” and then they attack our hapless hero and the action continues. But if you were in the room, that guy literally would have been standing next to you the whole damn time. That’s at best. At worst, he had to wind sprint in from down the hall or across the room, giving you and the other characters in the film time to say, “Oh shit, here comes Doug the Stabber. Maybe let’s run.”
There’s a scene in the epically preposterous movie Shark Night 3D in which the heroine has divined that the local sheriff is up to shenanigans, and is sneaking up behind him in her own living room when another of the movie’s villains simply grabs her from the side. So unless he is some kind of advanced sofa chameleon who was blending in with the furniture after sneaking into the room through a silent trap door, this dude literally had to dock his giant boat outside, run up to the house, come inside, and cross the room, all the while remaining undetected by a girl standing right in front of him. A girl who, mind you, did not have bleach in her eyes or errant bits of fatty pork shoved in her ears.
While this kind of scare is effective (who doesn’t like to see a guy confronted by Jason Vorhees, only to turn around and run six blocks in the other direction before entering a locked building and hiding in a closet that inexplicably has Jason Vorhees already in it?), it’s a bit of an insult to the audience. This shit needs to stop. A killer kicking your door down and chasing you is probably just as scary as one who managed to hide out of frame.
This lame duck of a trick is so worn out at this point that it’s like rusted iron filings being forced into your piss hole by a pressure washer. There isn’t a single movie that uses the eerie laughter or singing of a creepy child in a way that’s unique at all, because it can’t. I don’t know who the first creepy kid in a horror movie was (The Shining? Annie?), but the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise back-suplexed this trope into a pit of broken glass and lemon juice a thousand times over with that silly-ass nursery rhyme about Freddy coming for you. And no movie has really improved upon it since then.
While creepy kids are a staple of horror (They’re little, innocent kids! And they’re coming to stab you! Christ!), it can grate on you when they’re all the same kid. You want a supernatural kid like Samara in The Ring, who doesn’t laugh at you so much as turn your face into baked ham through mystical, sopping wet TV powers. What kind of game does the laughing/singing kid have? That’s all bullshit. Kids weigh like 50 pounds, tops. You pick that little potato sack of evil up and literally drop it out of a window. What’s the kid going to do? Remember the kid in Pet Semetary? He was an actual rabbit-sized toddler. Who the fuck gets killed by a toddler? Evidently Herman Munster does, but that’s just poppycock and we all knew it. Herman should have blindsided that little half-pint psycho with a size 12 to the sternum and sent him reeling into kindergarten cardiac arrest.
The Children Of The Corn, The Omen, The Bad Seed, The Little Rascals — all of them have worn out their welcome at this point. If kids want to creep you out now, they better innovate, since just laughing weirdly or singing a down-tempo nursery rhyme is only going to establish that this devil child may have sinister intentions but also cribbed all their best moves from movies that are at least 20 years old or more. That’s like someone coming at you with an Ace Ventura impression in the hopes it’ll cause some kind of raucous comedy calamity in the room.
“Please, for God’s sake, somebody stop me.“
This is a classic in horror. I’m willing to bet this has existed in horror since horror began, and with all due respect to the foundation of a genre, this can go fuck a goat. The horror misdirect is basically the blue balls of scares. You’ve all seen this before. There’s a mysterious noise when there shouldn’t be one, so the hero goes to investigate. Everything looks normal, but you hear the sound again. Why, there’s something moving behind those boxes! Slowly, ever so slowly, we creep in to investigate. Reach over, ever so carefully, grab the box to see what’s jostling it, and then suddenly THE DAMN CAT JUMPS OUT AND MAKES THE DAMN CAT NOISE! Oh man, it was just the cat! There’s nothing to fear. Then usually the killer shows up two seconds later and stabs them good — possibly for disturbing his cat, I can’t say. Maybe ask the guy from Friday The 13th Part 2, who obviously threw a cat in through the window.
Allow me to start my complaint by saying that I have had cats my entire life, because my mother was in training to be insane from the get-go. But never once have I ever been summoned by mysterious noises to another room where I had to pull back a curtain or open a cupboard to discover my cat inexplicably placed in some position that required him to rummage about making noise like an idiot and then leap out at me like I had a can of tuna for a face. Does your cat do that? If so, you may have a defective cat.
Let’s be real about cats: They sleep like 20 hours a day, and when they do get up, it’s to eat, shit in a sandbox, and then perch on your stomach and methodically knead your soft tissue with their raptor claws until you’re tender and scabby. Cats ain’t got time to tango in your cupboards, especially when an insane killer is on the loose. Nor do they typically hiss and springboard like satanic kangaroos upon discovery. This scare should have been a barking dog, because your asshole dog will absolutely bark at a stranger in the house, or even a shifty parrot that suddenly says something like “Squawk, you’re about to be decapitated, squawk!”
Misdirect scares will occasionally make use of things other than cats — another person in the house, a phone, etc. Hell, the first Gremlins used a toy robot in a Christmas stocking. But each one is like jerking off to a porno and halfway through, discovering one of the people in it is your dad. You’re immediately taken out of the moment with nothing good to show for it. You didn’t get what you wanted, all that buildup was a bullshit lie, and the end result is you’re breathing heavily and scared and not for any reason you enjoyed.
Fuck you, mirror scare. This bit should join ska jazz and children pushing hoops with sticks as old-timey things that we absolutely don’t want to revisit. We’ve all seen the mirror scare. There are a solid half-dozen movies I can think of that are literally just about scary mirrors. Two of them are actually called Mirrors 1 and Mirrors 2. To clarify, the mirror scare is when you look in a mirror expecting to just see yourself, and then OH MY GOD THERE’S A SCARY THING IN THE MIRROR! This scare can be fancied up like a steak with sauteed mushrooms by making it so that when the character turns, the scary thing is no longer behind them. Oh, the bathroom of terror. Oh, the loo of suspense.
Oh, the latrine of general anxiety.
The most egregious of all mirror scares is the useless mirror scare, and I hate it. It makes me seethe. Should I get angry at movies? No, it’s an issue I’m working on by ensuring I only watch movies while petting a stuffed bunny to keep me cool. But this one is just dicktastical. The useless mirror scare occurs when the OH MY GOD etc appears in a mirror that the character in the film doesn’t even see — they’re just passing the mirror or looking the other way or whatever. This happens in movies like Stir Of Echoes, which you knew sucked because Kevin Bacon never dances in it or even attempts to start dancing in it. In this case, the scare is solely for you, as a viewer. But who the fuck are you? I’m not actually in Kevin Bacon’s house eating Skittles and drinking a gallon of Mr. Pibb; I’m doing that shit at home in my underwear. Don’t stop the flow of the movie just to scare my ass, as I’ll turn this hogwash off and watch funny dog videos on YouTube. I don’t give a shit.
Again, this kind of scare is effective. If the scrotum-faced nun with bleeding gums shows up in a mirror all of a sudden, you’ll jump, but you’d jump if someone woke you up by farting directly in your ear, too. It’s not an actual part of the story, and it seems entirely pointless if you even consider it for a moment. If the ghost is here to torment the hero, why show up in a mirror that no one in the confines of that fictional universe is looking at? That’s like baking a cake in the hopes someone whose birthday it is pops by for a visit. Unless the filmmakers in these instances are suggesting that the ghost really was trying to scare the hero but the hero just missed it and the ghost has shitty timing or aim or some such. If that’s the case, let me know, Hollywood, so that I don’t accidentally by a ticket to Mirrors 3: Inept Poltergeists.
It’s Spring Break! You know what that means! Hot coeds getting loose on the beaches of Cancun and becoming imperiled in all classic beach slasher ways: Man-eating shark, school of piranhas, James Franco with dreadlocks. There are so many films about vacations gone wrong, it’s a chore to wonder if there’s even such a thing as a movie vacation gone right. Amity Island and Camp Crystal Lake are out. So what does that leave? The ship from Wall-E? Hawaii with the Brady Bunch? A road trip with famous curmudgeon Chevy Chase? On this month’s live podcast Jack O’Brien and the Cracked staff are joined by some special guest comedians to figure out what would be the best vacation to take in a fictional universe.
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