A good horror movie is hard to find. And, there are so many crappy horror movies that could have been really good if it weren’t for the same mistakes I see, over and over again. This is what lead to the idea for this post. What if I just said what makes a horror movie crap? How about just getting it out there and letting the makers of horror know what sucks and why. I do this because it’s obvious by the monumentally, craptastic horror movies that I have seen lately, that some filmmakers have lost their way. Someone needs to tell them WTF they are doing wrong and how to fix it so that we all don’t have to sit through so many bad horror movies.
Before I bestow my knowledge upon the masses, please keep in mind that these are just my opinions. Of course I think I am right but I am not perfect and if I were, chances are I wouldn’t be here bitching about what others are doing wrong. Someone would be paying me to do it right. And, one last thing. The problems I mention below are not always a problem, sometimes the story calls for some of things but it’s very rare and 99% of the time they do these things and it keeps an otherwise decent from being a good or great movie.
First off, having your characters do stupid things. Stop it, all you’re doing is telling the audience that your movie or book isn’t smart enough to kill off a character without having them resort to stupidity. Like the classic stupid scene in every horror movie where someone hears something and decides to go check on it by themselves. It’s stupid, stop doing that. You can’t have characters in horror movies that things that real people do. In real life we’ve all heard a noise and checked on it. That’s because it’s real life we know we’re not in a horror movie and that the sound has a logical and non-life-threatening explanation. However, characters in a horror movie can’t be allowed to do that because it makes them look stupid. When characters do stupid things it takes the audience out of the movie and we all think, “They should know better than that, what an idiot.” The best horror movies usually kill characters when it’s not expected, that’s what makes it scary.
Splitting up is another stupid thing that characters always decide to do. Stop it already. It’s always a bad idea, it’s always been a bad idea, it always will be bad idea so stop making you’re characters do it. If you can’t think of a reason to split your characters up so they can more easily be killed, stop being a writer and do something else instead. You can come up with interesting ways to split up characters without having one of them say, “Let’s split up!” Use the settings of the environment or use the killer. Just stop making the characters think it will be a good idea to split up, it’s stupid. It’s not always easy to come up with a reason to have them split up however just giving up and saying, “Let’s split up” is never the answer. Here’s some suggestions to get you going. Characters in a tunnel, they get separated by a partial collapse. Characters trapped in a haunted house, the ghosts start throwing shit around and the characters scatter. Characters lost in the woods, killer shows up and kills one of them, the rest of the group scatters. It’s much more creative when you force your characters to think and much more rewarding for the audience then having one of them say, “Hey, let’s all split up!”
And, while we’re on the subject let’s go ahead and stop having everyone trip and fall while being chased. If you can’t think of a reason for your killer to catch up without having them trip and fall, just go ahead and stop writing now and find something else to do. Then there’s the car not starting. It’s stupid, it’s really stupid. And, the whole cell phone thing and never having reception. Seriously, I went on a hike not too long ago and I was in the middle of nowhere and I had cell service. No data, so I couldn’t have posted a selfie if I had wanted to but I sure as hell could have could call someone. But, even so. Just set up a situation where no one has a phone at the beginning. Just go ahead and let everyone know there’s no cell service and be down with it. Hell, have the phone break, anything but the dreaded no cell phone service excuse.
THE SAME CHARACTER TYPES IN EVERY HORROR MOVIE
The second thing horror movies do wrong. The same characters are in every horror movie. There’s the stupid jock, the stuck up girl, the slut, the dumb guy, the smart guy, the smart girl and the douchebag. It seems that every bad horror movie has a mega douchebag. He’s always such a douchebag and completely blind to his doucheness. He’s always got the smart sensitive girlfriend that for some reason is completely blinded by how big an asshole her boyfriend is. Or, she is aware of his epic douchery and for some idiotic reason chooses to stay with him in spite of it. That is until she suddenly realizes what everyone else sees and leaves him for the sensitive smart guy. Filmmakers, stop that! You don’t have to make completely stereo-typical characters. But, if you do go there, than for the love of all that is holy, make sure you kill the shit out of him when the time comes. His death must be at least equal to his douchebaggery. Anything less than that and the audience feels un-fulfilled.
NO ONE BELIEVES YOU
Third on my list is probably the most frustrating of all. Not believing and why they don’t believe. This is going to be a long one so bare with me.
How many times do we have to see a character open up to someone they love or a close friend and tell them, there’s a ghost, or there’s a someone after them. It doesn’t matter what they situation is. It’s like suddenly that friend or lover is Dr. Phil and has determined that the person is crazy. It’s infuriating. What kinda idiot thinks that their friend has suddenly gone crazy? It’s asinine. Stop doing that. Your character needs to take that shit a little more seriously no matter how crazy his or her story is. At least give them the benefit of the doubt. This is supposed to be a friend. Again, it’s a horror movie. You can have the friend or loved one hear the story and not just completely ignore it and just assume the person telling it has suddenly become bat shit crazy.
In real life I don’t believe in ghosts. I love a good ghost story though. And, when watching a ghost story, for example, I often think of what I would do or say if a friend or loved one came to me with an outrageous story of ghost encounter. I’ve had friends tell me of encounters they have had. I don’t believe they actually saw a ghost but I absolutely believe that they saw something that they can’t explain. I don’t assume that they are crazy. And, if a friend came at me with a really outrageous story about how a ghost was out to get us. I would listen, I would ask questions, and I would seek a logical explanation but when shit starts flying around the fucking room and ghosts are telling me to get out, I am going to get the hell out of there. I might not believe it’s a ghost but I am smart enough to accept that someone doesn’t wasn’t us there and it’s time go or at the very least get some help.
It’s like when a character is being chased by the killer and then they finally come across someone else, say a cop for example. The cop doesn’t believe them and all too soon they’re both dead. There is no excuse for this in horror movies. The cop doesn’t have to believe the crazy story. But, the cop has to take it serious enough to do more than just shrug it off like the person is crazy.
Now with all that I have said about not believing. There’s an excuse to be made as to why no one ever believes the character telling the completely unbelievable story. That’s because the person telling it sounds like a complete loon! How about this… Have the main character take a deep breath and try to calm themselves. Running up to anyone and saying some crazy unbelievable stuff is never going to work. Have your character take a mental step back and explain why they have come to believe that their house is haunted. Have them calmly explain the phenomenon they have witnessed. Hell, have them even lie a bit and make up an excuse to get the help they need. For example, the character believes their house is haunted. Then have them try this, “Hey, my house has been making some strange noises at night. Probably just the house settling but I am concerned that maybe it’s something more serious like a plumbing leak or something…” When they come over and witness the ghost, you can then have the character say, “Sorry about that, I knew you wouldn’t believe me if I just said the house was haunted.” Problem solved.
MAKING COPS LOOK STUPID
This brings me to the fourth thing horror movies do wrong. Making cops do stupid things. It seems like horror movie always have cops that refuse to believe anything they are told. I have seen cops in movies go to their graves because they just refused to believe the obvious. Stop having them do that. And, while you’re at it, enough of the idiot cop characters. I am talking about the bumbling, doofus, Keystone cop characters. I don’t care what backwoods setting your film is located, stop with the goofy, idiot cop characters. If you’re going to kill them, make it exciting, give them a fighting chance and a clue.
MAKE SURE THE KILLER IS ACTUALLY DEAD
Number five on my list. Noting makes me root for the killer more than when some idiot assumes that they have just killed the villain when we know they have not. What does the character do? They turn their back on them and walk away. Worse, when they do so but drop the weapon right next to the killer and then turn their back and walk away. The moment this happens, I root for the killer. I have been screaming about this one for years. There is no excuse for this kind of stupidity. And, I know this is going to offend my many horror fans but this goes for Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween as well. If ever a character deserved to die in a horror movie it was Laurie Strode in Halloween. How many times did she not only stab Michael but then drop the weapon and walk away. Still, I love the movie, Michael Myers is my absolute all time favorite psycho killer. Halloween is one of my all times favorites. But, let’s not kid ourselves, Laurie Strode did some really stupid things. And, this type of character behavior has got to stop. It’s been more than 30 years since she did that and characters are still not making sure the killer is dead before they walk away.
The sixth and final thing is the ending. A marginal movie can be made great with the right ending. And, a great movie can be made marginal with a crappy ending. There are many ways an ending can ruin a movie. One of those ways is when there’s not a proper payoff at the end. Say you have a killer committing the most violent of murders. The films ends with less than spectacular death for our villain. The movie isn’t going to make any money because people want to feel that justice was served. As with the stereo-typical douchebag in films, the main antagonist must pay for his crimes. If the audience doesn’t feel like the killer suffered enough, it doesn’t matter how good the rest of the movie was, they will leave the theater feeling let down.
So there you have it, my list. It’s not perfect and I could spend all day long point out the stupidity in horror movies that for some reason far too many of us have just accepted as the norm. But, that would make this an almost never ending post. I could also go for just as long pointing out times when it is okay to use stereo-typical characters, stupid cops characters and so on. But, this article is about how too many times horror movies just simply got it wrong and it seems to be these things are constantly ruining what could otherwise be really good horror movies.
What do you think? Do you disagree? Did I leave something out? Am I being unfair? Let me know. I may not get the chance to respond but I will for sure read it.