Top 3 Cliches that Can Make or Break a Horror Movie

It’s Halloween time, time of tricks and gore and witches and ghosts – and of course, movie nights by right belong to horror movies! Whether it's a new movie or an old classic that has survived the test of time with flying colors, now is the perfect time to binge-watch your favorite ones. And in the process you might notice the ultimate horror movie clichés: those that can either doom the movie, if executed poorly, or elevate it to an instant hit, if done right and in an innovative way.

1. Found Footage

I blame the Blair Witch Project for this one – which is actually one of the best horror movies ever made, according to general consensus! You know the drill: the movie starts with a disclaimer about what you are about to watch, usually alleging that it is a video recording that was found later in a dusty attic or a dark forest or something of that sort. Blair Witch did it in an exemplary manner and really set the bar for the rest: the movie featured no music score, underlining the sense of authentic and real-life footage, and the film was accompanied by careful leaks and shady internet rumors that indeed everything captured on camera was the real deal. The camera work was exceptional, too, really conveying that amateur video recording sense. Other followers in the genre though, such as the latest installments in the Paranormal Activity series, did not do as great a job with the found footage.

2. Risk Taking

This is perhaps the ultimate horror movie cliché: the protagonist will inevitably get out of the car in the middle of nowhere and start wondering around, will most probably split up with the rest of the group even though everyone knows there is safety in numbers, and will just have to walk into that haunted house, the god-forsaken cabin in the woods or the dark basement. So why is it that we fall for it every time? Risk taking is actually one of the favorite challenges of the human brain and psyche, featuring in practically every aspect of our lives, from crossing a busy street to playing popular luck games like poker.

Poker games are all about that thrill of taking a risk and calculating the odds – perhaps in a more reasonable way that your average horror movie lead, that much is true – and studies show that in strategies like “All In” and other risky poker moves, the brain activities of the player significantly differ according to their level of experience. So perhaps we need to see fewer horror movies with naive teen protagonists and a few more with seasoned risk takers like poker players, to see if they could for once outsmart the evil that lurks out there!

3. Do You Know Who Used to Live Here?

The eternal setting up story of the genre: you move into a house and find out that somebody living here a long, long time ago had died there. Of course you should turn the other way and run as fast as you can – chances are that when somebody starts explaining to you how someone died there, you are starring in a horror movie and you are on your way to a first class haunting experience or serial killer or even a more unconventional encounter like monsters or vampires even. The Amityville Horror probably did it best, really using the trope to build its story and develop the characters. As with risk taking exemplified by our enthusiasm for poker, the human mind is naturally drawn to the theme of connections to the past, so this is again a great angle to base a storyline on – as long as it feels natural and isn’t just abused to try and explain stuff in a sloppy way.

So next time you enjoy your favorite horror movie, try to notice these tropes – and other little cliché moves, like lights flickering and going out or cellphones dying at the most crucial moment. But remember: all horror movies use their clichés; it’s how they approach and develop them that separates the boring from the really great ones.