Filmmakers will agree that when Alfred Hitchcock was creating some of the oldest horror films in the genre, the movies did not feel like they belonged to the genre from the modern POV. But unlike Hitchcock, whose movies are free from graphic magic, today there are many opportunities for directors to make things better. Nowadays, truth be told, the skill of a director, actors and a talented composer is enough for a good horror film. Progress of modernist moviemaking cannot be avoidable in this genre, but there are motifs that have become firmly established over the years, and every subsequent generation of horror films is built on these clichés. Moviegoers can easily guess them.
The first predecessor of horror films, directed by French director Georges Méliès, appeared on screens in 1896 and lasted about three minutes. In 1913, German Paul Wegener continued this line with his film Golem. The horror films that have had a big impact on today’s followers of the genre were largely confined to the topic of vampires and monsters and were originally broadcasted on a screen in the form of silent movies. The production of soundtracks by Universal Pictures began in the 1930s, and it was then that the well-known Dracula and Frankenstein were created, many of whose remakes have not lost their popularity over the years. The 1950s brought the film industry to aliens, scientific experimentation and giant insects that have been dominating over mentally unstable human characters for the past 30 years. Already in the 1990s, the horror genre acquired elements of irony and parody and more budget took an important place in cinema.
Horror Movie Clichés
Horror films have not lost their relevance over the years, but their motives are often repeated, and what scares the public often becomes a cliché. Here are the most common options.
Imagine a place where a mentally uncontrollable psychopath hides his powerlessness, where it is always dark in the basement, and the stairs leading to it are very narrow and dangerous. There is always a feeling that there is something there, which is amplified by the tense melody of the soundtrack, and the sudden rumbling and crackling of the frightened rivets can be heard on a cinema screen. Is it because of this adrenaline that we watch horror movies? I think so, but the rush doesn’t seem to come to us when we wait for what might follow the current frame and it’s clear from the start that the script includes an overused jump-scare or something similar to it. This is the downside of using clichés.
We often watch movies in which the characters have some annoying problems. In particular, one of the main and frequently used clichés in horror films is the development of events in a place where there were no police, telephone lines or people living nearby. Today, the digital age has made this a bit incredible, in theory we can always run out of battery or find ourselves in a place where there is no Internet connection, but that’s extremely rare unless the location is in the middle of the jungles.
The Car Never Works
Before us is a hero who escapes from an evil killer, maniac or a zombie from the grave and gets into their car, but the engine does not work. This is the most nerve wrecking scene in a horror movie when a properly working car breaks down just at a “right” moment. Horror movie heroes will never run away during a decisive moment.
The Elders Are Useless
In horror films that revolve around teenagers, for some reason, you won’t find a responsible adult to rely on or ask for help. You are probably familiar with the situation when they do not listen to you, do not believe in what you say, or simply think that you have gone crazy with excessive imagination. This is another common horror movie cliché.
As Alfred Hitchcock said, a
woman should look like a
a good horror movie. The more
room for imagination, the
better. Hitchcock Presents
When We Think The End Has Come, Things Can Start Again
Yes, in horror movies, a psychopath or a killer never dies the first time they are killed, and when the protagonist behind them seems to be able to breathe freely, they can get back on their feet and keep fighting until the climax. Audiences are often annoyed that the characters are negligent, never check to see if the killer actually died, and celebrate while victory is still a long way off.
Admittedly, this is the most beloved and widespread scenario since the creation of horror films, where the main motive will lead us to a group of followers of damned books, exorcism rituals or satanic occultism. We often come across films that actually overwhelm us, because this scenario can no longer be imagined in a unique way by our imaginations. The most important is the last act, shot or even the climactic intrigue left at the end of the film, which tells us that evil is not completely defeated, the curse continues to exist somewhere in another character or place, and then the same fate is probably awaiting the new victim. The types of films do not leave us indifferent and always make us want to watch the sequel. This is exactly the feeling that a good horror movie should leave on you.
Horror films love desolated places, abandoned buildings, hospitals, empty cities or houses. There is something in the loneliness and fake peace of those buildings or areas that make you feel like one day someone will surely break.
One of the favorite scenarios of the audience is the one with a house in which the newly formed family moves into, that becomes the main focus of the film. Happiness gives way to fear when paranormal activities begin at home, which affects the characters in different ways. The power that scares the church, scientists and scholars and the police will not go anywhere. On the contrary, it gradually intensifies, and the heroes have to look for a solution on their own. The main cliché of these films is the plot that the entire film follows. The murder or mass persecution that has happened in the main house of the film and has cursed it for many years does not leave the viewer indifferent. Films are built on this cliché, which is circulated every ten years and never loses popularity. The main thing is that the audience likes it, don’t you agree?
Killer dolls – one of the most popular motifs in horror movies, which attracts magical methods under the influence of evil forces and can cause be of value to a person. The story of a puppet with human qualities and their creative upbringing is nothing new for children’s literature, but what can be shown in a fun way and take a beautiful turn in a book of stories for kids, becomes a nightmare in a horror movie.
The most famous story, based on real events, involves an antique doll discovered in 1907, which a mother gave her daughter for her birthday.
The strangest thing was that in memory of
a college student, the girl often changed
places and found herself at home in a
completely different situation. He moved
and wrote messages that no one knew
how he came up with. Such plotlines still do not
lose its relevance. The doll that sees,
understands and acts is one of the main
clichés of horror films.
Cops Are Helpless Or Get Killed All The Time
The policeman either does not come or comes alone, unprotected and doomed to die. Probably everyone remembers the film Misery, where a positive, but outdated and vulnerable character of a policeman ends his life. This cliché used in horror films often disappoints the viewer.
Even in the most light and fun situations, when all family members are happy and have no idea what to expect next, a dog appears that anticipates the worst via feeling the aura of the possessed house not risking to come close to it. Pets constantly whine and inform their owners of the impending catastrophe, although, of course, no one ever pays attention to this, and the viewer wonders how it can a whiny pet be overlooked like that.
Fans of Korean thrillers are well aware of the most common scenario lately when a driver explores the road for several hours in an uninhabited area and somewhere inevitably comes across a stranger who offers to drive him or asks for help to repair a broken car. Taking to a stranger already means a problem, and the viewer knows that the main character will end up badly.
An Unexpected Continuation Of The Journey Of A Group Of Friends
The most popular motives of the 20th century are based on this scenario. In the House of Wax a group of friends who are planning a fun trip and are having a great time get into big trouble. It could be the wrong house, city, or a person that gets in their way. Most often, such scenarios choose small towns as their destination or a mysterious temple found in the middle of the jungles, which for some reason no one touches. What the main characters find funny will suddenly turn into a big bloody battle, and in the end the ones you least expect to ends up surviving. A weak and vulnerable girl who has lost a loved one along the way becomes so strong that she is finally able to win over the danger. Let’s all remember how many times have we guessed the end of a movie built on this cliché?
Admittedly, when we see a mirror in a horror movie, we always know what to expect. It seems that no one can escape this cliché and the viewer is always accustomed to its presence in a horror film. While the main character cannot understand where the danger may come from, the mirror always appears for a real reason, with a dangerous and shocking events accompanying its appearance.
Ignorance Of The Elderly
The main characters never listen to older people who are trying to warn them or trying to at least hint at an impending disaster. Young people constantly laugh at their reactions and try to prove that no danger can stop them, a danger that in their mind is a figment of the imagination of cowardly elderly people.
A child is the sweetest and most innocent creature in the world before they appears inside of a horror movie frame (Orphan). After that, the smile of the most beloved creature may seem to us the light from hell even more dangerous than that of an adult psychopathic killer. However, in some movies the voice of a reason and the remaining calm one that plays the critical role at the end are also children and that is the use of one of the most common clichés in horror movies.
Shelter or Madness
Scenarios of this type are probably very well remembered by everyone and each time they unfold the already familiar development of events. An abandoned orphanage (The Orphanage), filled with the souls of murdered children, or madness, where it is impossible to distinguish a normal psyche from a damaged one, and often even the most patient and helpful doctors can turn out to be the problem, or a cheerful cop who actually belongs among the patients.
The film you can’t guess the ending of is the best film and this type cannot relate. Directors may have to work hard to break these clichés and create something more interesting. Although the question is whether they even try to do it anymore. We would like to experience the rush of adrenaline again.
The Shower Scene
After Hitchcock’s Psycho, David Fincher, Scorsese, Carpenter and Steven Spielberg continued to work on his motives. The famous shower scene has been used in many horror films, the murderer hidden behind the curtain, the eerie sound of drops, and the protagonist walking slowly into the bathroom or waiting there is another major horror movie cliche.
Horror movies often create fear out of nothing, which paranormal experts trying to determine if characters are truly in danger (Poltergeist). At that time, a moment comes when everyone is powerless before inexplicable events and psychics are involved in the matter. In films of the 21st century, this was even introduced through the portrayal of social networks in films, in which, of course, at the most inopportune moment, the connection is severed, and the main characters are faced with an inexplicable evil force.
Films about extinct people, characters who find their tracks and continue their search. Revealing a hidden secret, the viewer at this time always hopes that the main characters will be able to find the victim alive, although often their fate is decided at the beginning of the film and the spirit of the deceased is involved in the case. Someone who helps the survivors take revenge on their killer. All these sound familiar, doesn’t it? It’s a horror cliche built on other little clichés.
The main characters always tremble and lose the key – the last chance to survive. Or they cannot open a car door surrounded by zombies frustrating the audience. Where does the instinct of self-preservation disappear at this time, which in reality is actually strengthened more?
Moviegoers do not miss the phrase that the film is based on true events. This arouses their interest and increases adrenaline because the facts they see are very close to reality. However, directors often use completely fictional scenarios to write a horror story, in which there are so few shots close to reality. This often causes a negative attitude towards the film in the viewer. To make it believable, you need to present the scenes of the film in realistic way even if its fictional. Make me believe that it is fictional and not some weird slum of everything in between.
The viewer is overwhelmed with anticipation and fear when the main character walks into an empty city or an abandoned house, and the music gradually brings us closer to the peak of tension. However, it may turn out that the protagonist was simply kicked by a cat or a goat crawled into an abandoned house.
Everything goes well until the team of heroes breaks up, and one of them decides to go out into the dark to find out the cause of the strange noise they heard. We are even looking forward to the moment of their return, but we may have to wait for a long time. This will continue until others also dare to go into the dark, and in the end, everyone is left to decide the secret and the fate of friends or family together.
Often no one tries to escape from the cursed place and find assistance outside. Instead, the characters try to hide in the house or lock the doors and windows not trying to get out and end up hiding either under a bed, in a closet, or in a dark, damp basement where the situation becomes much more complicated, difficult and unbearable.
The most common cliché is dreams that bothers the protagonist to the point where they may even be afraid to sleep because of them. Turns out oftentimes the dream is real and the evil appearing in it can harm the sleeping protagonist or even kill him.
In horror films, children who are closed off and keep to themselves often have imaginary friends. Parents perceive this as harmless entertainment until they discover that this is not a joke at all and that the child has a connection with real spirits. Often this behavior of children leads to a completely unexpected ending, where the most dangerous culprits are the parents themselves.
In horror movies, dogs mainly perform a warning function that no one pays attention to. Seemingly harmless cats are the most aggressive, evil and shocking animals, especially when the main character is attacked in the dark.
The heroes of the horror film do not know that the place where they have to live was built on the site of bloody rituals or the graves of ancient Indians, whose souls will never give rest to those who are there. In the film, it’s always clear where the paranormal comes from or revolves around the character that cause the tragedies that they desperately try to solve and avoid throughout the film.
The main characters ask for help but no one ever hears their voices, the viewer understands this well, but also understands that these are rather voices of despair, and in a real situations this usually does not happen due to our strong sense of self-preservation during difficult times.
In a horror movie, everything is a weapon except the weapon itself. The actual weapon that could easily be used to protect the protagonists from imminent danger, or more painlessly put an end to the psychopathic killer’s actions, does not work or is thrown away. Of course the main characters have to save themselves using sticks, stones and some tools in a creative way. We love challenging tasks, don’t we?
The horror genre is still one of the most popular trends, however, when we finally get tired of staring at the screen of perennial clichés, no one will know what to make of this genre. The audience is becoming more and more sick of the predictability, so the directors have to work hard to come up with something new and exciting. The viewer already clearly sees all the possible shortcomings of most horror films, the quality and the budget spent on special effects won’t stand a chance against the expected perspectives everybody is tired of. This is becoming more and more critical in the 21st century horror movie scene.
Author: Nino Gogitidze