Halloween Special: The Straight to Video Extravaganza

It’s Halloween. The day everyone seems to go nuts for, but only because everyone else seems to be doing it. I mean, all Halloween really is is a trumped-up excuse to go out drinking. What do we actually celebrate on Halloween? Does anybody care? Of course not, but we pretend to because, fuck, everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to appear un-festive. The one thing that we can take from this bizarre obsession with dressing up as slutty nurses and zombies in Primark t-shirts is the fact that said obsession also puts the spotlight on some bloody good horror movies. Of course, now my embittered but roguishly funny opening paragraph has turned you against the very notion of giving money to The Man for some big-budget Halloween classic, allow me to turn your attention towards the slightly smaller Man, namely The Man Who Sells Straight-To-Video Horror Movies. I know, I know, paying for anything is so passé these days, but if you just want to spend Halloween solemnly chugging beer, ignoring the probably fat kids begging for chocolate at your door, and watching some low-budget horror movie, please avail yourself of the following straight-to-video classics that really didn’t deserve to be, well, straight to video.

 

Bad Biology

 

 

To begin our list of bargain basement horror movies, it’s only fair that we go back to the subject that brought us all into the world in the first place: sex. Specifically, sex between two mutant sex addicts who have innumerable clitorises (clitori?) and a detachable, vagina-addicted penis with a mind of its own. Guess they glossed over those minor details in sex ed lessons back at school, but luckily you can get the education you deserve with Bad Biology.

 

That’s basically all there is to this movie, but needless to say it is certifiably batshit and not afraid to show it. To say too much is to spoil some of the more entertaining shocks, although it’s safe to say this is far from the scariest movie on this list and one that you need to be firmly under the influence in the company of like-minded friends to appreciate fully. It’s as well-acted as you’d expect, with the tone set somewhere between ’11-year olds re-enacting a famous tragedy’ and ‘Willem Dafoe screaming FINISH IT at Aunt May in Spider-Man only much, much camper’. If you can put up with that, and the constant nudge-wink ironic humour of the shoddy special effects, Bad Biology is a memorable, fun ride, which is all you can ask for from a Halloween movie.

 

Splinter

 

 

If you’re after something a bit more serious than that film, you could watch Gamera, the Godzilla knock-off about a giant monster turtle with rocket boosters. In fact, just watch Gamera anyway, but forget I mentioned it for the rest of this article and focus on something that manages to successfully be altogether more spooky than the pair of them: Splinter. This is actually one of my favourite horror movies ever, and one I always encourage people to watch whenever possible. It’s the tale of a couple who are taken hostage by a pair of fugitives, and end up trapped in that horror movie staple, a deserted gas station, as they’re besieged by carnivorous spores.

 

Unlike Bad Biology, there is no camp in Splinter. It’s low-budget but extremely efficiently made, with top drawer cinematography, special effects and acting throughout. The splinters themselves are a surprisingly effective monster, and are creatively used throughout for some brutal, sickening scares. It’s reminiscent of The Thing in all the right ways, with an intense, claustrophobic atmosphere and a small but likable group of main characters who are virtually the only characters in this movie. A common failing of a low-budget horror movie is to make you actively root against the obnoxious characters, but Splinter effortlessly sidesteps this by making the characters actually, well, not pricks. However, “doesn’t contain pricks” is not really a good tagline to put on a DVD case, so I’ll just tell you to bloody watch Splinter instead.

 

Batman: Under The Red Hood

 

 

Probably the most well-known of the films on this list, Batman: Under the Red Hood holds this honour partly because it’s Batman but mostly because it’s absolutely flipping incredible. The signs aren’t good from the start, with none of the cast from the classic Batman: The Animated Series reprising their roles, but push that inner fanboy to one side and you’ll be treated to a gripping tale of loss and the quest for revenge that follows. If that sounds a bit heavy, it’s for good reason; this movie is certainly not for kids and is considerably darker in tone than the TV show. The opening scene feature Joker beating the shit out of Robin with a metal pipe, then blowing him up, for example.

 

To go into any much more detail about the plot is to spoil the journey of Under The Red Hood, so I’ll simply gush about it some more until you relent and watch it. The voice acting is top drawer, the animation is sumptuous, the plot is mature and gripping to the end, and why are you still reading this and not watching it right now?

 

Pumpkinhead

 

 

If, after Splinter and Under the Red Hood, you need something a bit lighter (you’re probably quite drunk by now and I’d love it if you didn’t break down in tears) you can always pop in another campy gem, only this one’s even more appealing because it has a hilarious title. Pumpkinhead is actually far better than any movie called Pumpkinhead has any right on Earth to be,  and it makes good use of a fairy rigid adherence to well known horror tropes. The main lesson Pumpkinhead teaches us is that you shouldn’t screw with hillbillies, particularly not when one of them is Lance Henriksen and he might literally summon a demon from Hell to chew on your face.

 

Such is the plot of Pumpkinhead, which sees your common-or-garden teenage horror movie fodder accidentally run over Lance’s son while drunk driving (you know, for kicks), leading Lance to turn to the local witch for help. From there, it’s pretty standard stuff, but alarmingly well-acted and certainly much better than the many sequels in the franchise would have you believe. Ignore them, watch this.

 

Bubba Ho-Tep

 

 

To round off our list, we need something a bit weird. I mean, all these movies are pretty weird in their own way, but none of them feature a retired old Elvis living in a care home with black JFK. For those of you yearning for that oddly specific niche to be filled, yearn no more, and pick up a copy of Bubba Ho-Tep as soon as possible. It’s a pitch black comedy horror, starring Bruce Campbell as a decrepit Elvis. And, if you need more than that to tempt you into buying it (although you really shouldn’t) you can add in some delightfully icky monster effects that makes the film fun for all the family – at least, the members of your family with exceptional taste. Unlike many comedy horrors, Bubba Ho-Tep never feels like it’s unfairly targeting the horror genre or its fans for cheap laughs, and as such it manages to work as both a horror and a comedy, without feeling like some weird, ironic in-joke half-measure. It’s a film that absolutely has to be tried at least once – it certainly won’t be for everyone, but a film such as this deserves your time even if you end up not liking it.

 

That concludes our journey of the straight-to-video dungeon. There’s plenty more down here, such as my entire collection of Captain Simian and the Space Monekys, but that’s for another day. In fact, no it’s not. Captain Simian is all mine. At any rate, I’ll be sure to dip into my collection of video nasties again at some point, so stay tuned for more. Or don’t. Whatever. It’s your life, you sheep. End of article.

 

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Don’t Remake My Heart

On a recent episode of The Highlight Reel, myself and Matt got into it (and by ‘it’ I mean a discussion which only came to blows after we went off the air) on the subject of remakes. It’s a topic that’s been brought back into sharp focus by the considerable, still-churning backlash against the Robocop reboot. Yes, the one where they paint Robocop black for literally no other reason than to make him look cool. No, really, they explicitly say that in the damn trailer. It’s this kind of attitude that means remakes, much like sequels, are an often-unfairly maligned branch of cinema. They suffer from many of the same problems as sequels (needing to be different enough to justify being made without being so different that they alienate the fanbase), only these problems are exacerbated a thousand times by the fact that they are, well, remakes. You have literally seen it all before. So why bother?

 

Well, that’s an interesting question, and one with no easy answer. I know why they do bother, of course, because Hollywood is run entirely by moustache-twirling Scooby Doo villains, but from the perspective of the fan, the mucky-faced plebeian crammed into a cinema screen, the matter can be a delicate one to touch. As a film fan, whenever you watch a film, it is a unique experience to you. Any film is subject to your own personal checklist, and the more boxes it ticks, the more likely it is that you’ll remember it and take it close to your heart (unless of course, it is a truly terrible film, in which case you remember it in the same way you’d remember a bout of malaria). If a film that you like is being remade, then there’s absolutely no way you’re going to respond positively to it at first. How could you? It’s like Hollywood went right into that brain-checklist and fiddled with it, changing and tweaking everything about that film until it’s nothing like you remember. If you liked the actors in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre, there’s pretty much no reason you’d want watch the exact same film again with different actors in, right? Get the brain-eraser out and scrub that off the checklist. That’s one black mark against the film before you’ve even watched it.

 

But which remake am I even talking about?

 

What I’m getting at, in my own torturously metaphorical way, is that a remake is onto a loser from the start, purely because it takes something you liked anyway and then changed it. It’s adding tabasco sauce onto your favourite meal. Depending on what it is and how much you spice it up, your remake can be a disaster or a roaring success. Take The Haunting for example. The 1950s original was a brilliant exercise in horror, namely because it showed restraint. The plot begged questions of the characters and the audience because you didn’t know whether there was actually spooky shit going down, or whether it was all in the sleep-deprived minds of the characters. The 1990s remake, however, didn’t have any time for that subtlety crap. Didn’t you know? By the 90s, that shit was totally gay, man. Using the Babby’s First CGI brand of special effects that plagued films in the 90s as filmmakers took to this exciting new technology like a child would take to an annoying novelty ringtone , the rejigged version of The Haunting was like an exceedingly cheap ghost train. Gone was the creeping psychological horror, replaced by Owen Wilson doing awful comic relief and shoddy, shocking-but-not-in-that-good-way pixellated ghoulies that wouldn’t even scare Shaggy from Scooby Doo. It completely missed the point of the original, dumbed it down hopelessly and added things where they did not need to be added. This approach, used by many remakes during this time (and in present day, actually) is one of several solid reasons why remakes are treated with such scepticism by audiences around the world. Hollywood doesn’t care about you, and it certainly doesn’t get you, so if it can replace subtlety and craftsmanship with waving a shiny new toy in your face for 90 minutes, it will.

 

Or is it? See, within the sprawling hellmouth that is the modern Hollywood landscape, there lie a selection of noble artists. Sleeper agents, if you will, embedded, deep cover, within enemy territory, fighting the good fight for the simple moviegoer that they once were themselves. I have a lot of time for filmmakers who are obviously big movie fans themselves – I know all of them are probably big fans to some extent, but I’m talking the weirdly obsessive, student of the game sort of fan here – and that’s why I’m a huge fan of guys like Rob Zombie (I list The Devil’s Rejects among my favourite films of all time without shame) and his work in the Halloween franchise. Now, the two new Halloween movies he made are far from perfect, but they’re a hell of a lot more important than people give them credit for. You can hardly accuse Zombie of not getting his source material when the Halloween franchise itself had descended into campy self-parody over the years. It’s little wonder John Carpenter himself looked on Zombie’s remake so kindly, as he’d seen his creation bled to a more painful death than any of Mike Myers’ victims (and people who watched The Love Guru). Hallowee-make (shut up) modernised and reinvigorated the character of Myers and almost threatened to start a new franchise all of its own, for a time. It was never going to match the original, but what it did do was provide a gateway to a generation of moviegoers who knew nothing of the original classic, and instead might only know the character of Mike Myers from his pop-culture footprint, which had largely been spoiled and demystified by years of crappy, knock-off sequels. Hell, much of this could apply to horror films in general – as the best horror films are very much a product of their time, it makes sense that they might need to be updated from time to time. The need for a new lick of paint only becomes more vital after said horror film has suffered a series of dodgy sequels, which is ultimately the fate of every successful horror film.

 

And even most of the unsuccessful ones too!

 

At the end of all that, my not-very-revelatory conclusion is simply that, like all film (and indeed all art forms) remakes need to be made for the right reasons. If they’re made for genuine reasons by an artist who genuinely wants to add something to the original, then it at least deserves a chance. Take remakes on their own merits, and don’t tar them all with the same brush, and you could be in for quite a treat. Or, at the very least, you get to like a film that everyone else hates and get a smug feeling of superiority from doing so. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to defend the new Robocop on Youtube. You filthy mainstream casuals.

The Dumbening: The 5 Stupidest Moments in The Happening

So, on the latest edition of The Highlight Reel (which airs this Monday at 11pm GMT over on SineFM.com), I talk about cinematic idiots. It’s something I enjoy picking apart, and as such I know there are way, way too many to do a proper best and worst kind of feature. In the end, I went for a very broad view of what idiots mean to the audience when they’re on the screen – why they sometimes frustrate us, why they sometimes make us laugh, why they repeatedly get stabbed in the brain in horror movies, and so on. It was fun, but unfortunately that broad approach meant I couldn’t really get into what is by far my favourite stupid movie. Hell, it’s a film so colossally stupid, that the phrase “stupid movie” doesn’t quite cut it. It’s so catastrophically bad, in almost every conceivable area, that it’s actually one of the most entertaining films of all time, which plays out exactly like a feature length episode of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace with a healthy dose of Monty Python thrown in.  I’m referring to the cult classic The Happening – or Mark Wahlberg vs The Trees if you prefer – a quite breathtaking exercise in pure idiocy that, like anything that is truly dumb, so desperately wants to be smart, but it’s self-importance only serves to make it even funnier. It’s the cinematic equivalent of Hyacinth Bucket. In honour of this very brown, steaming gem, I’ve decided to put together my top 5 favourite dumb moments in The Happening. In case you haven’t seen it, you should go and watch it now, preferably while incredibly drunk. Like, right now. Go.

Done that? Great. I’m taking you on good faith here, reader. Ok, you were probably so drunk that you don’t remember the plot anyway, so here’s a basic summary: plants start sending out spores that cause people to commit suicide en masse in a curiously languid fashion. Marky Mark and his wife, the hipster’s wet dream Zooey Deschanel, have to find a way to escape the population centres where those evil shrubs are striking. Bear in mind, this is supposed to be a horror movie. Everything I’m about to list was written by an actual person (well, ok, M. Night Shyamalan, he sort of counts), and other people read it, thought it was scary, and handed over millions of dollars for him to make it. With that in mind, let’s dive in, but before we do, a friendly threat to comment with your own favourite happenings from The Happening below, or else I will come round to your house and blow on you until you kill yourself.

5: “There’s a car!”

 

She's right, though. It is a car.

She’s right, though. It is a car.

 

I had to think long and hard about this one, and to be honest the coveted 5th spot faced stiff competition from just about every single frame in the movie. However, of all the stilted, awkward lines of dialogue in the movie (that is to say, all the lines of dialogue in the movie), there was one that I distinctly remember snorting with laughter at when I first saw it, purely because I couldn’t believe a professional screenwriter could put such a thing on the page and think “yep, that’s totally something a real person would say”. There’s a scene in which Marky Mark and friends are sheltering in a bar with a group of other survivors, when they find out that the happening actually isn’t happening a few miles away. They all stream away from the bar in scenes reminiscent of the start of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, leaving Wahlberg and Deschanel behind. Hey, if I saw Zooey Deschanel trying to act all emotional, with her goggle-eyed acting range which resembles a taxidermy animal being slowly inflated, I’d leave the area pretty sharpish too.  No one listens to their pleas for help. “Can you believe how crappy people are?” Zooey asks. I can believe how crappy some actors are, yes. It appears everyone has left them stranded, which holds tension for all of two seconds before a car pulls up about a foot behind them. And, in case you are as stupid as any given character from this movie, Zooey points to the car, which is literally right in front of them and within touching distance, and states “There’s a car.” Wow, M. Night. Wow. Either he has a palpable sense of contempt for his audience, whom he presumably views as some sort of pond life, or he genuinely believes people actually talk this way. I’m not sure which is worse, but either way I’d like to see this kind of abusively obvious narration appear in everyday life. This is a blog post. You are reading it. The next number on the countdown is next. You are a person.

4: Run Like (Or A Bit Faster Than) The Wind!

Next on the list is a bit different, because it probably sounded really cool on paper. There are deadly spores in the air, and the heroes find themselves in the middle of a field full of long, waving grass. And, wouldn’t you know it, a light breeze begins to waft through the grass, leading to a tense chase as Marky Mark and his Funky Bunch are forced to run away from the wind… actually no. It doesn’t sound cool on paper at all, because I just wrote it down and I have no idea what in the blue hell they were thinking of. As movie monsters go, is there anything lamer than the wind? When your movie monster falls short of literally every 70s exploitation movie ever, most of which consisted of taking a classic horror baddie and putting them in space or some shit, you need to rethink your strategy. Just… the wind? Really? You thought prolonged shots of waving grass was enough to establish a high threat level? How did the actors keep straight faces trying to sell this? Was M Night standing behind the camera making whoooooshing noises like Freakazoid to get them into character? What were the rejected monsters from The Happening? Light drizzle? Low humidity? High-pH soil? This scene provides many questions, but alas, no answers. Not that it matters, because the wind catches up to them anyway – and I’m still not sure of how you actually manage to run away from something like the wind, it seems to me like trying to fight gravity by craning your neck really hard, but whatever – and in the end, nothing happens. You can’t even invest enough in your own crappy, invisible, ultra-cheap monster idea to have it kill anyone. This is a special brand of godawful.

3: Must Be A Board Meeting…

Wheeeeeeee!

Wheeeeeeee!

The first scare in any horror movie has to be a good one. It needs to set the tone of the movie right from the off, to let the audience know that they’re going to need clean pants when they waddle out of the screen. It’s why so many horror movies open with something horrible happening to a bunch of no-name, random victims before moving on to introduce the main characters, as if we’re just catching the end of another horror movie before the main feature starts. It reassures us and lets us know that, even though we’re taking a bit of time out to get to know the characters, we did in fact sign up to a horror film and scary shit will indeed be going down. The Happening takes this approach, and, cruelly, at first has some success before it rapidly descends into farce. We see two girls on a park bench (in Central Park, no less), chatting away. It’s horrible and wooden, and incredibly awkward, but hey, it’s a horror movie. We’re here for the chills, man, not Shakespeare. Slowly, one of the girls starts to glaze over, as the entire park comes to a standstill. The zombified girl pulls a spike out of her hair and silently stabs herself in the neck with it. Hey, that was kind of cool! You established something eerie and opened with a shocker! Sure, it was horribly acted and seemingly written by a 5 year old, but you know, it looks like a neat idea. Can’t wait to see where they go with it.

Oh, what’s this? We’re cutting to a building site, oddly specifically located “three blocks away from Central Park”? Ok, well, a little weird, but I’ll go with it. A bunch of builders stand around, awkwardly bantering just like real humans don’t, when a body tumbles from a rooftop and crashes behind them. “Christ, McKenzie fell,” deadpans one builder, with all the emotion of Steven Wright reading out of a phone book. Soon after, another builder falls off the rooftop. Then another. And another. And another, until it is literally raining men. Pro tip for all you budding writers out there: when you’re planning your first big scare in your horror movie, don’t have it be a repeat of a classic Monty Python sketch. And don’t have it mirror the lyrics to 80s pop hits, either. I can’t even believe it needs to be said that your super-serious, environmental horror movie, which has this message that you really want people to believe in, should not have your audience pissing themselves laughing within 5 minutes of the credits. Surely someone involved in the production of this movie saw Monty Python, and even if they thought the idea of builders collectively tumbling to their deaths was gripping and chilling (it isn’t, though), the comparison should have still been flagged up. As a result, the first big scare actually does set the tone for the rest of the movie, but not in the way you might hope.

2: Hakuna Matata

Amazingly, the Python-aping opening isn’t even the most ridiculous example of death in the film. That’s right, The Happening manages to out-Python Python. I’ll remind you again, this is a horror film, a serious one at that, with an environmental message that Shyamalan really wanted to be deep and thoughtful. You have to question why, then, when his intentions were so pure, that he decided to include a scene in his film in which a zookeeper staggers into the lion enclosure and starts annoying the lions until they eat him. Everything about this scene is just hilarious. The idea of a guy going up to some lions, who really don’t give a shit, and just prodding them until they bite his arm off is one that most comedy writers only wish they had thought of, and here it is for your viewing pleasure in The Happening. It’s a real special, creative kind of stupidity that allowed this to happen. It doesn’t even make any sense within the films’ own flimsy logic. Even if a person did come under the influence of these deadly spores, and immediately tried to kill himself as quickly as possible, surely there were quicker and easier ways than being mauled by lions? You mean to tell me that this guy, who’s practically been turned into a zombie by these spores, decided he needed to unlock the complex security measures that are there to stop precisely this kind of thing from happening and get mauled by lions? Was that really the most immediate solution that was available to him when he was brainwashed into killing himself? It’s such a stretch in logic, and so out of place with the rest of the film that this, more than anything, is the scene which baffles me the most. At least the rest of the hilarious crap in this film, stupid though it is, has at least a grain of (incredibly dumb, but still) logic in there. If you hadn’t lost your audience by the time this scene burbles onto the screen, you certainly have now, M. Night. What on Earth were you thinking?

 

1: The Plant Whisperer

Well, if you’ve seen The Happening, you knew it was coming. I’m sure you knew what was number one before you even clicked on this article, and, unlike M. Night Shyamalan, I’m not prepared to insert some last-minute twist just for the sake of it. By far the stupidest moment in a film that’s so full of them the pure idiocy of it is physically crippling to watch is… Mark Wahlberg begging a pot plant for his life. Everything about this scene is comedy gold. Just read this statement aloud. You’re watching Mark Wahlberg beg a plant to spare his life, reasoning with the plant that he and the survivors “just want to use the bathroom” and then they’ll be gone. It’s impossible to read it without chuckling, and yet, for some reason the scene is shot completely straight. Wahlberg is doing his quiet, tense whispering voice and doing this wide-eyed, fearful expression like a woodland animal being hunted by angry hillbillies. There’s no music, and no cuts. Your entire attention is focused on the action, which is usually a sure fire way to ratchet up the tension to unbearable levels WHEN THAT ACTION DOESN’T INVOLVE MARK WAHLBERG BEGGING A TREE NOT TO KILL HIM. The completely dead-straight melodrama of the scene only serves to make it even funnier. I often wonder what M. Night was doing on set when they were filming this scene. How many takes did he demand? “No Mark! You need to be MORE fearful of that plant! Really sell that killer tree to me!” And then, in what serves as a glorious, side-pulverising punchline to the whole affair, M. Night’s flair for shocking twists strikes again as it turns out the plant was plastic all along. The laughs keep coming, as Wahlberg decides to narrate his discovery without ever changing his tone or expression, as if to spell it out to you what total crap you are watching. “I’m talking to a plastic plant,” he states. “I’m still doing it.” That you are, Marky Mark. That you are. Then, the scene cuts, mercifully sparing us the (probably) deleted scene in which he asks the plant plant how its day has been, what it thinks of the weather, and if it caught the big game last night. I wonder how he ended that conversation. Did he say bye to the plant? Did he just shuffle off awkwardly? Given the dialogue in the film, he probably said “I’m going to leave now. I have to find my wife and friends in the other room so I’m going to walk out of this room and find them. I’m still talking to a plastic plant.”

What other film gives you that amount of room for interpretation? What other film asks the important questions that The Happening does? What other film gives such critical roles to artificial shrubbery? The answer is none. So, dear reader, I leave you with the view that The Happening, as well as being a laugh riot, also manages to break down centuries-long discriminatory policies against plastic plant employment. Thank you, M. Night Shyamalan. For everything. I’m going to end this blog now. I’m going to stop typing and go away. I’m still typing now, though. But now I’ve stopped. Where the lions at?

Horrible Horrors: The Worst Horror Movie Cliches

“That film gave me nightmares!” Now, a lot of you might think that’s a glowing review of a horror movie. I disagree. You see, to have nightmares, you first have to be asleep, and my God, there are enough horror movies out there to not only put you to sleep, but to make you wish Freddy Krueger would pay you a visit while you’re there. Like any genre, the horror movie has its fair share of clichés, which range from the boring to the downright annoying. However, half of those clichés are so played out that they were being parodied back in the 90s (in Scream), and now we actually have parodies of the parodies (Scary Movie), and even those double-parodies have probably themselves been parodied no end of times (any given ironic anti-humour show on Adult Swim). How deep does this rabbit hole go? Who knows, but your trip down there is sure to be the opposite of an emotional rollercoaster. An emotional Segway, perhaps. Made of zopiclone.

Maybe it’s just a sore subject with me right now because I recently wasted an hour and a half of my ever-shortening life (the gypsy woman told me I cop it at 25 anyway) watching The Lords of Salem, Rob Zombie’s latest and far-from-greatest. Now, it was far from the worst film I’ve ever seen; it was certainly stylish, albeit heinously self-indulgent, and I’m always kind to Rob Zombie anyway as I’m a pretty big fan, but there was one particular recurring theme, running through the film like a particularly tedious version of Groundhog Day, that stuck with me longer than any creeping sense of dread I might have felt. It was a cliché. Not just any cliché, either. It was the single most vein-poppingly annoying cliché in the history of cinema: the nightmare scene. You know what I mean, the bit in EVERY HORROR FILM EVER MADE (probably) where a character has something horrible happen to them, then all of a sudden they wake up gasping and sweating like an obese fish, and – phew! – it was all a dream. This happens so many times in The Lords of Salem that I legitimately lost count, and I’m sure as hell not going back and watching it again to check. There is nothing more insulting to an audience than this, which makes it all the more puzzling as to why it happens all the time in movies. It’s cheap. It’s basically the director saying “welp, we don’t have anything actually scary to do in this film yet, so I’ll just put in this meaningless scene where this woman gets disembowelled and say it’s a dream. Time for lunch.”  It shows a lack of purpose and confidence in writing. If you want to kill of the characters, then kill them. Be as mean as you like to them – IT’S A HORROR MOVIE. Don’t dangle this carrot of horrific violence in front of me, and then yank it away because you don’t have the bottle to make any of it stick. The only time this cliché has ever been remotely entertaining is in the remake of The Wicker Man, in which Nic Cage, hilariously, has a nightmare within a nightmare and wakes up twice. Think about that. The best example of this trope is in The Wicker Man remake. Worryingly, this also means The Wicker Man may have inspired Inception. I think I’ll leave that there.

There are plenty of other ridiculous clichés in horror movies that I’m passing over, such as the trip – you know, when someone is running away from the killer or other generally unpleasant thing, and they always, ALWAYS manage to fall over somehow. Surely if you’re running for your life, the body accounts for such things? You’re meant to be nimble and agile, with adrenaline flowing through your body, not tripping over a slightly uneven blade of grass like some lonely bridesmaid drowning her sorrows on a hen party in Newcastle. Granted, sometimes the filmmakers are nice enough to actually show them tripping over something, like a jutting branch, but most of the time their ankle just sort of crumples for no reason. This is usually accompanied by a close-up of said ankle, as if to explicitly point out that you are an utter moron for believing that this could ever happen in the real world, and that even if you don’t it doesn’t matter anyway because they still have your money. It’s a cheap, insulting way to increase threat because you aren’t creative enough to have your baddies carry any threat on their own, which, while I’m at it, is probably why most horror movies are populated with headstrong, egomaniacal cretins that make Liam Gallagher look like a well-balanced, reasonable individual, who always find ways to let their own stupidity relieve them of the air in their lungs.

That trope is fairly common in zombie movies as filmmakers contrive to make a bunch of shambling, stupid, slow dead folk get literally within licking distance of your characters, which is specifically the ONLY way they can possibly kill you. It’s all about using your clichés to artificially inflate the threat level, and boy do zombie movies have to work harder to do that than most. In fact, they have a whole bunch of clichés unique to the subgenre that serve precisely that purpose. Chief among them: that scene in every zombie movie where a character is bitten, and the rest of the characters decide whether to kill them or not. “But he’s going to turn!” “What if there’s a cure?” “WE CAN’T TAKE THAT CHANCE DAMMIT, THERE ARE CHILDREN HERE!” And so on, until eventually the character dies, and turns, and there’s either an emotional Old Yeller scene where they’re put out of their misery, or they eat a bunch of people, followed by an emotional Old Yeller scene where they’re put out of their misery. Honestly, this is slightly less annoying than most others, because it’s something that I could imagine happening to me if I was caught in the middle of a zombie apocalypse (and it’ll happen one day). That’s a key part of any good horror movie: getting the audience to sit uncomfortably in the characters’ shoes. However, that doesn’t change the fact that it still happens all the damn time, and there’s only so many movies you can watch play out exactly the same way before you become completely desensitized to it. It’s something that has long since worn out its welcome, and the only time I’ve really seen it mined for anything like a real emotional impact was in The Walking Dead video games from Telltale, which used it to craft a superb air of menace and inevitability that was crucial to the payoff of the story.

Pictured: a zombie, turning.

Woah, that actually ascended into something resembling niceness there. Let me remedy that by getting straight into what is, by some considerable distance, the second-most soul-destroying, teeth-grinding, facepalm-inducing cliché in horror movie history behind the dream scenes. The jump scare. Oh God, the jump scare, and it’s annoying, bratty cousin, the fakeout jump scare, where the musical score builds, the character creeps through the darkened room, when all of a sudden, THE ORCHESTRA SUDDENLY STINGS AND OH GOD WHAT IS THAT oh it’s just a cat or something. Horror movies, please: stop this nonsense. Now, jump scares have their place. Executed right, they can be memorable as hell. But here’s the thing: you get ONE, maybe two if done well, before they start to outstay their welcome. Anything more than that and you are failing in trying to make a scary movie, because your audience isn’t getting scared of what’s happening in the movie, they’re just getting scared of the screechy noises blaring at them out of nowhere every 5 minutes. That’s a natural reaction, and one that takes precisely zero effort to evoke. There’s a massive difference between being scared and being startled. Anyone can startle you. It’s the single cheapest scare tactic that there is, and as such it has to be earned. Sadly, far too many movies just abuse the privilege. Put it this way: if your friend kept sneaking up behind you and yelling in your ear, would you consider them to be masters of suspense, or simply a massively annoying dickhole? More to the point, why do you have such awful friends?

 

2 very different reactions to 2 girls 1 cup.

 

Anyway, here endeth the rant on horribly annoying horror movie clichés, the only scary thing about them being that they aren’t going to stop anytime soon. There are plenty more that I’m missing, I’m sure, and many other genres have their own predictable clichés, so if there’s any more annoying tropes that really get on your nerves, feel free to comment below and we can all join the circle of hate together. Go on. Embrace the hate. You know you want to. Liking movies is soooo cliché.