When it comes to surviving a horror movie, we all know what the deal is. Scream taught us all to be wary of sex, drinking, drugs and saying “I’LL BE RIGHT BAAAACK!” and it’s safe to say that, as an audience, we’re a little bit savvier than we used to be. However, there are some situations where the above does not apply. You can’t survive Trick R Treat by knowing that the body count is going to be much higher in a sequel. You need to get a little bit more specific.
For example, the excellent It Follows gave its heroine Jay (Maika Monroe) a very important rule: Never go anywhere that doesn’t have more than one exit. While this is crucial for the film, we can all agree that these are just words to live by if you find yourself in a horror movie.
So, with all due to respect to Wes Craven, Kevin Williamson and Randy Meeks, here are 13 rules to make sure you get through whatever horror film you find yourself in. Spoilers ahead!
1. “Whatever you do, don’t fall asleep” from A Nightmare On Elm Street
As far as rules go, this one is pretty crucial. Craven’s classic slasher movie and the sequels that followed it required its characters to break this golden rule over and over again. As simple as it sounds, there’s no way to avoid drifting off. All you can do is postpone the inevitable, because at some point you’re going to shut your eyes and one two, Freddy’s coming for you. The only way to survive is to find a way to beat him before he does. Still, if you’re given an instruction this clear, it’s really best to follow it for as long as you can. Looking at you, Glen.
2. “Always check your candy” from Trick ‘R Treat
Michael Dougherty’s modern classic of the season gave us a fair few important rules to follow, all enforced by the adorable but decidedly deadly Sam. However, it’s this one that packs the most visceral impact, as pumpkin-smashing Charlie gets his comeuppance courtesy of Dylan Baker’s Principal Wilkins. A tainted candy bar causes Charlie might not teach him to show a little bit more respect for Samhain in future, but it does cause a gruesome Stand By Me-level of vomiting before he dies on the porch. So. Always check your candy, and don’t trust anyone. Especially authority figures.
3. “You can’t get rid of The Babadook” from The Babadook
This persistent reminder from young Samuel (Noah Wiseman) in Jennifer Kent’s recent superb The Babadook takes on powerful emotional resonance for his mother Amelia (Essie Davis) as the film goes on. Just because you deny its existence, it doesn’t mean it’s not there. It’s only going to grow more powerful…It’s an important reminder in a broader horror context too. How many slasher films have made its heroes think that the boogeyman is down for the count, before they jump up for one last scare? They’re never dead, it’s never gone, and you can’t get rid of The Babadook.
4. “If you look in the mirror and you say his name five times, he’ll appear behind you breathing down your neck” from Candyman
These instructions for making the Candyman (Tony Todd) appear might not sound like a rule in themselves, but if nobody said the words, he wouldn’t have come. Clara might think it’s all fun and games, but when she turns out the lights, there he is with his hook for a hand. Helen Lyle (Virginia Madsen) thinks it’s just another urban legend, but her disbelief, and her insistence in telling everyone that he’s not real, leads to her life becoming a living nightmare. So whether it’s saying “Candyman”, or watching the tape from The Ring, you’re given instructions for conjuring a monster, don’t take them lightly. In fact, it’s best not to take them at all. Because they’re very, very real.
5. “You mustn’t go down into the basement” from The Innkeepers
Ti West’s brilliant slacker ghost story finds Claire (Sara Paxton) working the last weekend of the Yankee Pedlar Inn’s existence, desperate to prove that the ghost stories about the place are real. When she asks medium Leanne Reese-Jones (Kelly McGillis) to try and contact the spirit of Madeline O’Malley, she gets a chilling message from beyond that ends with “They tried to warn her. You mustn’t go down into the basement.” Naturally, there wouldn’t be a story if Claire didn’t ignore this warning and she’ll wish that he hadn’t. The lesson here: If you ask for advice in a horror film, take it.
6. “OK, I’m drawing a line in the fucking sand here. Do not read the Latin!” from The Cabin In The Woods
Drew Goddard and Joss Whedon’s love/hate letter to the horror genre was in many ways a direct successor to Scream, as our five leads find themselves trapped in a classic horror movie setting. When they find that their cabin has a basement filled with strange and obviously creepy objects, stoner Marty is the only one sensible enough to try and stop them. If you find something creepy in your basement, for god’s sake, leave it alone. Don’t open the box, don’t touch the diary, don’t look in the mirror, and do not read the Latin!
7. “Beware of bathrooms” from Zombieland
Now, admittedly Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) is a textbook worrier, but his rules for surviving Zombieland serve him very well. He’s made it this far by making a list of dos and don’ts and following them to the letter. While cardio and seatbelts are certainly crucial to surviving Zombieland, “Beware of bathrooms” has a certain ring to it. There’s no way to keep your guard up in there and only the cruellest monster would think to come for you in your most private moment. Which is why, in a horror film, something terrible is definitely going to happen there. So…, y’know, just beware.
8. “Listen to me” from Saw II
We all know that Saw II isn’t the best Saw movie, and not even the best Saw sequel, but Jigsaw’s instructions to Detective Eric Matthews (Donnie Wahlberg) find everyone’s favourite not-technically-a-murder-but-definitely-is-though at his most anally retentive. With each film, Jigsaw hands out dozens of instructions for his victims to follow if they want to get out alive, but all Matthews has to do if he wants to find his son is sit and listen to the man he despises ramble on. Naturally, Jigsaw knows he won’t, and Matthews pays the price. The lesson here? If you find yourself going up against someone who has made rules their thing, it’s best to follow them.
9. “If you can’t find a friend, make one” from May
As a young girl, May found it difficult to make friends, so her mother gave her this valuable piece of advice. In Lucky McKee’s film, this advice is taken literally, as Angela Bettis’ loner puts her stitching skills to questionable use. This rule is admittedly somewhat less applicable to horror movies in a broader sense, but it’s important to remember that the shy loner should not be laughed at or shunned. They need human contact and understanding just as much as the rest of us.
10. “Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors” and “Beware the moon, lads.” from An American Werewolf In London
American tourists David and Jack make the mistake of stopping in for a bite to eat at The Slaughtered Lamb, where their casual movie referencing and knowledge of lycanthropic lore gets them kicked out to make their way across the moors on a full moon. However, if they’d listened to the locals’ warning, they might have made it back home in one piece. Holidaying in horror films rarely works out well, and John Landis’ classic drives this point home. If you’re told to stick to the road, stick to the bloody road. And beware the moon, lads.
11.”Never forget what he is” from The Silence Of The Lambs
Jack Crawford’s warning to Clarice Starling before she goes to interview Dr Hannibal Lecter is a crucial reminder of what she’s getting herself into. She’s dealing with a monster, pure and simple, who will manipulate her, get under her skin, and will use any piece of information he can to get what he wants. Of course, Starling’s far too sensible to ignore this advice and establishes a healthy Quid Pro Quo relationship with the good Doctor through the bars of his cell. Others in the film are far less fortunate. So remember, just because the monster seems to be contained, don’t ever let your guard down, not even for a moment. Otherwise you might end up on the menu.
12. “Get out! Don’t go up there! Don’t go upstairs, Jess!” from Black Christmas
At the end of Bob Clark’s classic horror, John Saxon’s Lieutenant Fuller has finally figured out that the calls are coming from inside the house, so he instructs Sergeant Nash to call Jess and calmly tell her to just get out. When Nash lets it slip that the killer is upstairs, he gives her a very clear instruction, which Jess chooses to ignore. This is truly one of horror’s golden rules. Don’t investigate. Don’t go upstairs. Just get out. Just leave!
13. “There are still rules, but the rules have changed. The unexpected is the new cliché” from Scream 4
So, in essence, just ignore everything above. If there’s one thing a good horror movie should do, it should surprise you. As Robbie (Eric Knudsen) and Charlie (Rory Culkin) point out in the underrated Scream 4, horror in the new millennium has to try and outsmart its genre-savvy audience. So you might think you know how to survive, but who can say? We wish you the best of luck. Happy Halloween!
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