in Horror General

The Curse of the Horror Trope

Having always been a great fan of horror movies, I have to say that along with all the many thousands that I have enjoyed immensely, there have also been the occasional bad ones. You know the kind I am talking about: the ones where you think, how on earth did THIS ever get made? These movies suffer from, to coin an apposite phrase, The Curse of The Horror Trope.

Let me expand on this. Some horror movies are just plain silly. People do the most ridiculous things in them. Their actions are so unrealistic, so stupid – and so downright annoying – that you just feel like reaching for the OFF switch on your TV, or, worse, picking something up and hurling it at the screen in utter anger, as you feel cheated rather than entertained. Oh you stupid clot, you think, as you watch yet another far-fetched scene where a character – usually a teen – behaves in a fashion in which they just wouldn’t in real life.

Let me give you a few examples of such silly horror tropes. Picture the scene: a screaming teenage girl is fleeing from a house in which she has just witnessed the bloody slaughter of her boyfriend. As she stumbles outside the path, she spots a car parked nearby. So what does she do? Yes, you’ve guessed it: she dashes to the car, yanks open the door and slips in to proceed to fumble with the ignition, in a desperate attempt to start up the engine before the murderous maniac can catch up  with her. Amazing, isn’t it, how you can suddenly regain some calmness of nerve, despite the fact that you have a crazed killer breathing down your neck. Oh Lord, give me strength! In real life, you would be in such a hysterical state, and you’d be shaking so uncontrollably, that you would just run and run and run, as if the very Devil himself were after you. Fact. It wouldn’t matter one iota whether a car was conveniently parked there or not; your main concern would be, rather than waste time fiddling around with a car that just won’t start, to put as much distance as possible between yourself and your pursuer.

Another most annoying horror trope is when somebody – be it a well-meaning villager or an expert in the supernatural (e.g. Van Helsing in Dracula) – warns you not to go anywhere near the old house in the woods or the creepy castle on the hill. Yet despite all these warnings, what do you do? Well, you only say up yours to the warner and venture up to this apparently shunned place, as casually as if you were taking in a harmless tourist attraction. Fool! You ask for everything you get. Really, I have lost count of all the times I have cringed in disbelief as I’ve watched yet another group of travellers enter the dysfunctional family’s shack or the vampire’s lair.

Then there is the trope of the reckless person who steps near the fallen body of the apparently killed maniac, just to retrieve something from his pocket, be it a key or a gun. You know that the slumped form is going to suddenly awake and shoot out a hand to grab the ankle of the protagonist before they have even stooped down to the body. Why on earth do they have to linger, especially in such close proximity to the body? Why don’t they just make their escape while they’ve got the chance? You know, I have to laugh to myself sometimes at how utterly ridiculous some of these horror movie scenarios are, and this is certainly one of them.

Finally, I must end by citing an example involving Dracula. Now don’t get me wrong. I love Dracula like anything, and regard him as one of my all time favourite movie monsters. But I have to say that even Bram Stoker’s immortal creation hasn’t always escaped being ridiculed by the curse of the silly horror trope. For example, when Dracula’s prisoner – usually Jonathan Harker – enters the vampire lord’s crypt and sees a couple of stone coffins, one of which contains Dracula and the others his brides, why doesn’t he use his common sense and stake Dracula first? After all, he, Dracula, is the one responsible for all the horror, so you would naturally expect our hero to get the main villain out of the way first. But no, he does not; instead, he calmly bypasses Dracula’s sarcophagus and chooses to stake the lesser vampires first. Big mistake. Because while he’s wasting precious time dispatching the other sleeping vampires, the sun is going down, Dracula’s eyes snap open, and… well, you know the rest. And have you noticed that it’s always near sundown – the time when you’re rendering yourself most vulnerable to a bloodsucker’s imminent rise from the grave – when hunters decide to track down vampires, when they’ve got all damn day to do it. Honestly!

Silly horror tropes can really irritate you. On the other hand, my word, don’t we have such fun pointing them out!

If you are looking for a good book on horror movie cliches, then I can highly recommend TROPEFEST!: Attack of the Killer Cliches

You can also buy that book by clicking on its image link above this article.

Alan Toner