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10 May 2011 @ 09:50 am
Moratorium  
Folks,

I've been watching a bunch of horror movies lately and I think it's time to call a moratorium on certain tropes. Most horror films (and books and TV shows)  made over the last forty years employ at least one, and usually several of the following set pieces, and now they just make me groan.  

1/ The Cat Scare
You know the scene, which I think was probably invented by Ridley Scott in ALIEN. A character is alone and some dim environment. They're scared, they know the monster is close. They're searching, searching, the music builds... suddenly, a screech and, probably, a jump cut! Aaaagh!

No, wait, sorry,no monster--it was only a surprised cat. See, now, Ridley Scott made Jonesy the cat a character (he even has a name) and the scare was actually a payoff, and was paid of again  later in the film. Every fuckin' movie since then? Well, they just have a random startled cat. Even though there's no setup, by this point you can see it coming from a mile away. I admit, I did once in real life happen get startled--and scratched--by a stray cat while alone in a dark place at night, but I assure you that my judgement has been in no way biased by the incident.

2/ The Bathroom Mirror
The protagonist is performing his or her ablutions in the bathroom--probably shaving, but maybe just looking searchingly into their own eyes. A tap is dripping. The music swells. Something isn't right. Perhaps their very sanity is slipping away... much like my attention.

This one has been done to death in dozens of different ways. Something appears in the mirror behind the hero, who turns away just in time to miss it. Something appears behind the hero that DOESN'T cast a reflection. The mirror cracks. The reflection is distorted. The reflection speaks--usually in a standard-issue demon-growl. Something comes out of the mirror. Something goes into the mirror. Yawn.
 
3/ The Crotchety Old Timer
This one goes all the way back to Bram Stoker's DRACULA. A supersititious old local--invariably male--warns the protagonists, but do they heed him? No! He's just a senile old fool. Sometimes this character will also turn out to be a wizard or a guardian--because he's old, liek all wizards outside of Harry Potter. In a small town, this character is usually an old mariner. If the film is set in an urban environment, look for a creepy janitor.
 
4/ The Magic Negro
This trope at least goes back to Stephen King's novel, THE SHINING. There's this old negro, right? A nice and unthreatening guy who is probably a (non-creepy) janitor or a gardener or has some other menial job that is ripe with metaphor. This character will also have, like, has Magical Negro Powers... because, well, because he's an old negro and they often do, right? The Magic Negro has an idea that something is going wrong and will always wind up sacrificing his life to so that the white people (or at least their innocent  children) can live.
 
5/ The Power of Love
This has been on endless repeat since the sixties, but, after Ghostbusters (and its sequel) demonstrated this trope in terms of city-drenching explosions of sticky, viscous fluid, one might have hoped that filmmakers and writers would be embarrassed to continue to exercise it in public. But no, we see it over and over, and every time it's supposed to be this huge revelation, the Ultimate Secret. Jism explosions are great for selling porn movies. Horror? Not so much.
 
6/ Superhero Monster Fight! 
The monster is evil and vicious and supernatural, as monsters tend to be... how can you fight it? Well, an increasing number of movies have taken the power-up option. Give the hero powers of his own, and let him go at it with the monster, WWE style. Uh, no. when the hero is physically more powerful than the monster (often because he's pumped full of Love Juice, see 5 above) the viewer's sense of jeopardy goes out the window and we're no longer watching a horror film, we're watching dues in costumes wrassling. It's not the WWE, folks. 
 
Also under consideration for moratorium: the Dripping Pipes, the Thump on the Car Roof, and the Fake POV shot.
 
-- JF

 
 
 
 
librarygorilla on May 10th, 2011 01:54 am (UTC)
I will, of course, be using every one of these in my next script.
jasonfranksjasonfranks on May 10th, 2011 03:35 am (UTC)
For comedy purposes, I hope.
def_fr0g_42def_fr0g_42 on May 10th, 2011 04:09 am (UTC)
Good list, though I wasn't aware that love power was a factor in defeating Gozer. Much less the jism angle.

Also, what the dude said on Facebook about loud music stings. I could do without those as well. Also, the old "turning around to see nothing there, then turning around to see something unexpected there, whether a monster or yr friend who gets yr attention by grabbing yr shoulder in a way that no one ever does except in scary houses".
jasonfranksjasonfranks on May 10th, 2011 04:30 am (UTC)

There's also 'lumbering monster moves really fast while off camera in order to surprise the hero'...

Shawn RichisonShawn Richison on May 10th, 2011 07:31 pm (UTC)
And the killer with the slow walk, as the victim runs and stumbles away. Also, um, surprised at the use of the n word in there, but I'm in N. America - is that still common down under?
jasonfranksjasonfranks on May 10th, 2011 11:39 pm (UTC)

There's the 'N' word and then there's the 'n' word. We don't hear much of either in Australia but we have learned that the capital N word is offensive and should not be spoken unless one is acting in a Tarantino movie.

I wasn't aware that 'negro' is offensive, just sort of archaic--but that is basically how these characters are treated. Also, I shhould probably admit that I am not the first one to identify or complain about the Magic Negro trope--I think that was Spike Lee.