We’ve heard it thrown around before that modern horror films are simply too cliché and predictable. It’s as if the horror audience have grown all too familiar with its films that they’ve come to a point where they need more from their movies other than cheap jump scares and basic storylines. Today we’re taking a look at some of these “clichés” and see whether having them present in a movie makes them bad or in the contrast, simply have nothing do with the final outcome.
Before we continue, it’s best if we first define the term “cliché”. According Merriam-Webster, a cliché is a hackneyed theme, characterisation or situation. Basically, what that means is when something lacks originality and borrows elements from other films that are often overused and repetitive. In all honesty, this is very apparent in a lot of horror movies today but this is not to discredit those movies but rather to state the obvious. Partially I think this is due to how horror films are written and have to go through the motions in order to deliver the perfect scare.
See, the scares in modern horror movies are usually built this way: it first introduces us to the threat, then it builds up the tension by letting the threat taunt on the protagonist, usually by showing us the after effects of something this entity has done, giving us a sense of how powerful this threat is and finally have the threat do something to the protagonist – frequently done by using a jump scare. To most people, this formula has been overplayed to death and is now known as a cliché.
1. THE JUMP SCARES
One of the first pieces I’ve ever written was called The 7 Cardinal Sins of Horror and I wrote this after seeing the 2017 film Rings. I did this because I reached a point where I was tired of seeing the same mistakes horror movies have been making and never rectifying them – I had to vent and that was my way of doing it. Anyways in that article, I talked about jump scares and how they’ve been overused without delivering a payoff. Jump scares used to be a method used in horror movies to tease a much larger scare. It was treated as the cheapest form of thrill a horror movie could have while having the bigger scare as the final payoff. However, most modern horror films today completely ignore the bigger scares and treat jump scares as the final payoff – this is a problem.
If jump scares are now a cliché and this piece is deciding if clichés make a horror film bad, then yes, jump scares do bring down the quality of a film. Especially now, when every horror movie out there is using this and only this as part of the scares in their “scary movie”. Loud noises are not scary. Someone randomly barging into a room to make his presence known is not scary. These things startle you, they completely take you out of the film for a brief moment as if someone suddenly slid ice cubes into your shirt – it surprises you for a bit, then you go about your regular day. Horror movies are made to invoke fear even after you leave the theatre and yes, they used to do that. Do you remember coming back from a horror movie and being too scared to turn off the lights? THAT is what these movies were built on. Jump scares simply don’t do that.
2. ANNOUNCING YOURSELF TO THE KILLER
Commonly seen in home invasion movies, this is one cliché that is fairly overused to a certain degree. We see this all the time in those films where the protagonist hears something coming from another room and instead of leaving the place, they decide to announce themselves – exposing their location to the killer. This cliché is not as infuriating as the jump scare because it actually serves a purpose in the narrative of the film.
When the protagonist decides to go investigate the situation instead of getting the heck out of there, it creates tension. We would have no movie if they leave, therefore this cliché is somewhat necessary in a horror film. Calling this is a cliché is accurate but it doesn’t make for a bad movie. Movies do this to advance the plot, while it may be the simplest way to do it, it’s still a way regardless. When the protagonist in a film does this, it usually builds up the tension leading into a chase sequence or a kill. Normally, this happens after the group decides to split up, which is poked fun at in 2012’s Cabin In The Woods. This bring us to the next point…
3. WHEN THE TEAM DECIDES TO SPLIT UP
Why do they do this? It always frustrates me when I see this happen on-screen. The team stand a better chance at survival if they decide to stick together but instead, they do the complete opposite. Now this most definitely does not make a horror film bad – in fact, it makes it more interesting. This gives the killer a chance to get creative with his kills giving us some pretty intense moments. With each character broken up at various places, it allows the killer to asses his attacks as they’re left vulnerable.
This cliché is present in almost every slasher and in all honesty, I think filmmakers should come up with better reasoning for the team to split up other than simply having it happen. Perhaps maybe have the characters draw out some kind of plan as to why they need to split such as in 2011’s You’re Next .That being said, I really do understand this cliché because without it, we wouldn’t get slasher movies therefore this can stay in my opinion.
4. THE KILLER IS IMMORTAL
Once again within the realms of the slasher genre, the killer is somehow inhuman. Unless mentioned otherwise, the killer is almost always a regular human being – okay maybe not regular but you get what I’m saying. Throughout the entire film, we see the killer being beaten by the protagonist as he takes some pretty hard hits. Sometimes even, we see him fall and become unconscious temporarily. However by the end of the third act, the killer is defeated either by being run over, stabbed, decapitated or even burned alive! Then as the film draws to a close, he somehow comes back to life.
This cliché has pretty much fallen victim into the classic case of the sequel cash-grab. Studios need to make money and would rather bank on a successful film than making something original. This is why the killer ALWAYS comes back alive towards the end of the film so that they could make more movies. Even if the killer dies, he doesn’t. Just like the previous two, this cliché doesn’t bring down the quality of a horror movie as more often than not, it’s only seen at the very end of the film.
5. CONVENIENT POWER OUTAGES
Ah, the convenient power outages that occur to amp up the spookiness! This cliché is notorious for being used in tons of horror films that at this point seem to be something that we can see coming from a mile away. This is most commonly seen in possession movies and is something that most definitely we can do without. The filmmakers nowadays use this as a cheap cop-out for a scare that makes the film lack creativity and drive.
The power outages simply have got to stop happening. I mean, there’s a million different ways to introduce a scare in a film besides turning off the lights. It’s boring, predictable and we’ve had enough of it. This is because we’ve seen this time and time again and it seems like a lazy way to progress the plot. Bring back tension, introduce new creative ways besides having the power cut off. This cliché most definitely brings down the quality of a horror film.
All in all though, I think most horror movie cliches do not make a film good nor bad. They exist because they’ve been proven to work by existing films. However, some of these cliches have been so overdone that I think it’s time to bury it. If filmmakers can come up with great stories, I’m sure that they can also come up with new ways to scare the audience. We deserve better movies and that will never happen if no one ever addresses the issue at hand. Studios are listening to its audience now more than ever and the new Sonic the Hedgehog film is a testament to that. The horror community is one that is supportive toward new entries to the genre and I think that it’s high time that the genre gave us something new.
Do you think clichés can impact the quality of a horror movie? What are some of your most hated clichés in a horror film?
Do Clichés Make a Horror Film Bad?