Bargin Books, Games, Music, Movies & More

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Horror Movie Rules 101

Rule #1: You can never have sex. 

Rule #2: You can never drink or do drugs

Rule #3: Never, ever, under any circumstances say “I'll be right back”....

In 1996 a little movie called Scream was thrust upon movie goers. Not only were audiences the world over introduced to a new serial killer in Ghostface, but they were also subjected to the 'rules' of the horror genre.

Since then there has been an abundance of movies that have paid homage to the rules that Scream set. There have been countless references to never saying “I'll be right back,” as well as sex, drinking and drugs equals death. 

But how many horror films actually follow this formula? From classics like Halloween to something more modern like Trick 'r Treat, the horror genre has seemed pretty faithful to the rules. And none do it better then Leslie Vernon.

Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon is one of the cleverest movies I have seen in a long time. This great psycho horror slasher is given a documentary twist with the villain allowing a college camera crew exclusive access to his life as he plans his reign of terror over the sleepy town of Glen Echo, all the while deconstructing the conventions and archetypes of the horror genre. 

The film often references the rules, while adding some extras like “If you have a virgin in your group either get someone into her pants or get away from her.” At one point Leslie even mentions that his 'survivor girl' (Sorry – it's an industry term meaning the one who will defeat the bad guy) is downstairs not drinking, smoking or fooling around. Of course that's before the crew catch her “riding the nerdy kids' Johnson like it's a pogo stick.” Then it all goes pear shaped from there.

Behind The Mask provided audiences with a whole new world and view on the typical run-of-the-mill slasher films. And let's face it, Leslie was pretty likeable even when he was slicing and dicing his victims. But the point is, Leslie had rules. Rules that all killers seem to face and abide by. 

This got me thinking. Do all horror movies have a set of rules? Do all killers abide by the rules? The answer was quite surprising.

Now I know I sound like a broken record when it comes to mentioning movie titles as I seem to stick with the same classics like Halloween and Nightmare On Elm Street. However, today I'm stepping out of my comfort zone and tackling some modern day horror like Saw, Paranormal Activity and Hatchet to see whether or not modern day films actually stick the the premise of 'rules'.

Let's begin with Saw. OK, unless the two men trapped in the bathroom got it on with each other while I wasn't looking, I can't say that the sex equals death applies here. For that matter, neither does the drinking or drug rule because the only drug that was used was chloroform and that was administrated by the baddie himself.

As for the line of “I'll be right back,” it never made an appearance. For Saw, it was all about breaking new ground in horror and playing by its own rules. In fact, throughout the Saw series, it is safe to say that the only rules that were applied to the film were the ones that Jigsaw himself set. 

Taking all that into consideration, Saw breaks the rules barrier (and the gore factor) by avoiding the typically followed pattern set by Scream. In Saw, the killer never actually killed anyone (it wasn't until later in the series that Jigsaw became prolific) but rather gave choices. Do you choose to sit there and do nothing and die or do you choose to fight, lose a limb but survive? Make your decision wisely because it may be your last.

Paranormal Activity may be a strange choice to add into this debate, however, despite my dislike of the film, it did gross a considerable amount of cash world wide at box office. So let's jump into the world of spooks and demons and see what 'rules' we can conjure up.

Seeing as our characters filmed all their night time activities, and while they did hug and kiss each other under the covers, there was no sex to be had. And aside from our leading lady pouring herself a glass of wine there was no drinking involved. Now, if Paranormal Activity followed the rules set by Scream, Katie (the leading lady) would be dead due to the wine intake. However, in this film it seems that the rules were merely guidelines and that sometimes a corpse needs to appear in order to scare the bejesus out of the audience.

For Paranormal Activity, despite it's lack of body count and blood, it followed in the same steps as Saw. By creating it's own rules and guidelines, Paranormal Activity broke new boundaries, creating something that hadn't been seen since The Blair Witch Project back in 1999. 

For these two films, by creating their own sets of rules they were rewards with success. It seems to be a programmed reaction that when people see the term 'horror' or even 'slasher' they automatically think of some stupid killer wearing a mask carrying a large knife or weapon of some kind, and some stupid topless girls getting themselves slaughtered. For this reason alone, I applaud both Saw and Paranormal Activity for breaking new ground and creating a new level of horror.

Hatchet, however, is at the other end of the spectrum. Taking a step back from the domination of Saw, Hatchet saw a return to the movies of old. Creator Adam Green invented a new Big Bad to rival Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers. By creating this new juggernaut, Victor Crowley, Hatchet inadvertently reprised the rules set by Scream.

The two girls who constantly flashed their breasts both bit the dust, as did the man who was filming them. Anyone who had been drinking was automatically iced. I was especially pleased by the demise of Mercedes McNab's character who was extremely annoying. It didn't help that I felt she fulfilled another common horror movie rule: “She who is blond acts like a bimbo and shall not live.”

But what surprised me most with Hatchet was the cameo appearances made by 'Kings Of Horror' Tony Todd and Robert Englund. It was also the only reason that I bought the movie to begin with.

Not only did Hatchet follow the rules set by Scream, it also followed another pattern. At the beginning of Scream, audiences were introduced to Casey Becker, played by Drew Barrymore. Twelve minutes later, movie goers were in shock and terrified as Drew was killed. Never before had such a high profiled actor been slaughtered so early on in a horror movie. Main characters have been killed before (Janet Leigh in Psycho comes to mind), but never someone with such star power. Hatchet channelled this by presenting the opening sequence with Robert Englund. Now, admittedly, Robert doesn't have the same star power quality that Drew has, however when it comes to scary movies, no one can hold a candle to the reigning King Of Horror. So to have him gutted almost beyond recognition within the first ten minutes was truly disturbing and shocking. It also left audiences with a trembling fear that maybe there was something worse then the '80's villains that had come before, namely Krueger and Voorhees. (Fun Fact: Victor Crowley was played by Kane Hodder who has also been Jason Voorhees in four Friday The 13th movies.  Kane also played Mr. Crowley, Victor's father)

Hatchet did surprisingly well in cinemas which just shows that audiences aren't ready to let go of the past. By creating a new juggernaut with a haunting back story, people associated with the character. I'd even go so far as to say they felt for him. Not too mention that the majority of the other characters were dismal and too stereotypical. I'm sure that aside from myself, there were others that were willing their demise.

But bad acting aside, Hatchet proved that there was still room in horror fiends hearts world wide for a new Big Bad. And with that new Big Bad came a reprised version of the rules.

To sum up, yes, in all horror films there is a substandard guideline set for the bad guy. Whether or not they follow the common rules set by Scream is another matter, however movie goers can be reassured that the rules don't die with a series. Rules, just like horror itself, can be reinvented to apply to the modern day. With all the twists and turns that film audiences are subjected to, it's nice to know that some things just don't change.

But, in saying that, if you ever find yourself being stalked by a super juggernaut killer and you're stranded in the middle of no where with a group of your friends, please, I beg of you, don't have sex. Also make sure that you never have even a single sip of beer. Don't touch that joint. And most of all, never, ever, under any circumstances say “I'll be right back.” You know, just in case...


  1. So basically, all horror movies have some set of rules which they follow? Hmm, I never knew that.
    As for the last sentence, was that a subtle hint never to say or do any of those things around you? ha-ha

  2. I'm with Paige. Never doing anything like that around you :-P Nice arguement though. Going to find a horror now that has no rules.

  3. So, I need to put in my two cents here seeing as how you mention movies I love but you hate :) Paranormal Activity is a film I love and enjoy (both of them). They are creepy and without massive gore, sex etc. Something I truly adore about the series is you never see the demon itself and that is scariest part. As for Hatchet, Rhi, you know I love the Hatchet films! One thing you forgot in regards to Kane Hodder, he is also the only person to play Freddy and Jason (at the end of Jason goes to Hell the gloved hand of Freddy comes from the ground and grabs the mask, that was Kane). Another thing, Drew Barrymore was not a huge star at the time of Scream. She had fallen off in Hollywood and it is Scream that revived her acting career. Yes I give credit that Mercedes was dumb in Hatcher, had the token black guy, crazy asian, dumb girls, hero in Joel and Tamara, and Director/Writer Appearance ala Hitchcock with Adam Green, but it is a fun movie. It is one that I truly love and adore and can sit and talk to people about due to the horror icons that appear. Yes, there are rules in horror movies, and movies that break those rules and create their own are fun and exciting. I love that you are passionate about your films as am I and sorry I called you out on a few things but it's because I had to, to defend the love of my Paranormal Activity and Hatchet Series :)

  4. I'd like to point out that circa 96 Drew was big down under so I have no problem with Rhiannon's arguement there.
    I agreed with most things. I too thought that PA was shit. If that was scary then I weap for the future of horror.
    You made some good points Rhiannon, but what happens when something comes along that breaks all the rules before it? Does that mean it sets a new standard for horror rules?
    BTW on a completely unrelated note, I would love to see you do another Q&A. The first one was so popular.


  6. I love how you mention 3 films you hate and yet make no indication that you hate them. That shows how much of an amazing writer you are.

  7. Yet another great article, need to see The Rise of Leslie Vernon, sounds like the perfect horror film. Disagree of Paranormal Activity, i thought it was a breath of fresh air to the genre, should have left it as a one off though in my opinion. Another rule that seems to apply, thou shall make copious amounts of unnecessary sequels if the original is successful.