Cardinal Rules

The Rules

Rules?  Since when did horror movies have to abide by rules?  That’s a pretty good question, but after a lifetime of watching countless horror flicks, I have established a small list of general rules that most films abide by.  That being said, I have noticed as of late that more violent and progressive horror movies, specifically certain directors such as Rob Zombie and Alexandre Aja, are beginning to break these tacit truisms of terror.

Again, these are just the basic rules that I personally have picked up on most horror movies following.  Not all rules hold true for all movies.  Nothing is ever 100% true, especially not in a world of ghosts, demons, witchcraft, and psycho killers behind every corner.

Horror Buff’s List of Rules:

1.  The kids are alright.  Going into any basic plot where a family gets lost in the wilderness or enters a strange town, house, etc, I am always reassured that although everybody may suffer a terrible fate, the children will come out alive – not necessarily sane, or well – but alive.  This rule is especially true for babies, and then still very true for children under the age of 15.  Even in the movies where the child or gang of children is the bad guy, spawn of satan, possessed by aliens/ evil spirits, etc they are pretty hard to kill themselves, and may come out cured in the end, or merely having disappeared.

2.  Premarital sex for adolescents is a no-no.  If horror in the ’80s taught us anything, it is this simple rule.  Jason, Freddy, and all their friends pretty much wait around their creepy joints for some drunk/ high teenagers to come in and get it on.  They are almost 100% as good as dead.  Likewise, the virginal character has much higher chances of living.  The [female] virgin archetype in horror movies is usually smarter, friendlier, and generally purer, which gives her a much better shot at surviving once the sun rises at the end of the movie.  In fact, more often than not the virginal character is wanted/ needed by the bad guys for a ritual, sacrifice, partnership, etc., so their survival is essential, at least for the time being.

3.  No sexual violation.  This is the one rule I hate to see broken most of all.  Any inclusion of this in a “scary movie” before the late 90’s early 2000’s would have been a huge no from [American] society and the MPAA.  Unfortunately, as horror movies progress over time I think they are beginning to take on a more actually-terrifying approach, that is to say, what actually scares us to our core as humans.  I guess I can respect that, as it was handled in the first season of American Horror Story, but I have to fully disapprove of any sexual violation simply being thrown into a movie to disturb us, such as in Rob Zombie’s remake of the original Halloween.

4.  Wait for the happy ending… kind of.  Even most horror movies still need to do well financially, which means they can’t completely depress and disturb 100% of critics and movie-goers.  That being said, in your typical horror movie at least 1 innocent will usually survive the terrors of the night, and the bad guys will typically pay the price.  OBVIOUSLY this isn’t always true, and innocent and guilty mean nothing given a knife-wielding psychopath, but nobody likes a movie where everyone ends up dead in the end.  It’s too boring.  Either we’ll be led to think a good guy is dead until their triumphant return in the last scene, or we can expect a surprise twist in which everything seems okay until the final second of the film – horror movies especially love that tactic.  Then again, evil murderers are just as likely to pop up in the last instant.  Remember: horror movies are all about franchises.  They are shameless.  So just remember, don’t give up all hope.

5.  Don’t do stupid.  This is my final rule for now, and outside of the realm of horror I hope you adapt it into your every day life.  We all know the stereotypical plot for a trashy horror film: dumb kids enter ‘abandoned’ house and start poking around, big shot developers begin building on an old cemetery, teenage girl in a creepy situation decides to go into the dark basement to find her friends (because obviously that’s where they all are).  If characters just stopped doing dumb things, they would have a peaceful night’s sleep and be on their way in the morning.  If that really happened, however, the horror movies business would be dunzo.  Stupid characters never stand a chance in horror movies.

Along the same note, I think the scariest form of horror is when something truly terrifying happens to people who are completely undeserving, who have a chance at stopping whatever is haunting, attacking, or plaguing them, but have to fight for their lives to do so.  When people follow my rules for horror movies, but the bad things still happen.  Now that is scary stuff.

So follow these rules, and soon, understanding horror movies will be a piece of bloody cake.  You’ll know who’s good, who’s bad, who’s alive, who’s dead, and even when to expect a big scary “jump” moment.  Good luck and feel free to share any other rules you may have picked up over time!  I’ll post more if they come to mind.

Stay scary.