Last week I watched The Shrine. As is my custom, I put up a link on Blogferatu’s Facebook page. I included the comment “Horror Rule #6: The locals know what they’re talking about.” Later that week, I re-watched Children Of The Corn and posted “Horror Rule #3: Children are creepy. Always.”
I was enjoying this and thought it might be fun to write up some Horror Rules. The original idea was 31. I mean come on, 31 days in October, new Rob Zombie flick, Baskin Robbins. But I wanted to comment on these rules and thought 31 might go a bit long.
Turns out I couldn’t really come up with 31 either, so I settled on 13. One, it’s 31 in reverse, and two, it’s my favorite number.
1) People are dumb.
I don’t mean ignorant. I don’t mean naive. I don’t mean unaware, idealistic, inexperienced, or overly trusting. No. I mean straight up, flat out, I-don’t-even-know-how-I-got-here stupid. I’m-gonna-go-find-a-fuse-box stupid. It’s-okay-I-have-a-flashlight, Everything’s-gonna-be-fine, I’m-not-leaving-without-you stupid. Especially in groups. They get curious and far too willing to follow the dope who decides to defy common sense and investigate. People are also selfish and self-involved, qualities which should go a long way toward self-preservation. Ironically they are almost always outweighed by dumb. Almost always. If you’re dying or marked for death, I’m totally leaving without you. Consider yourself warned.
2) Every cabin is a death trap.
See Rule 1. This is otherwise self-explanatory.
3) Children are creepy. Always.
There are two corollaries to this. First, children in horror movies are rarely innocent. In fact, the more innocent and helpless they appear to be, the more evil they probably are. Second (and possibly more important), because they are rarely innocent, they can’t be trusted. When in doubt, play the odds. Winsome little girl says, “Follow me,” run the other way. Little boy in tattered overalls says, “Wait here,” get out. Sure, the kid may just be a kid, but it’s statistically unlikely.
This amps up exponentially when the little angels do anything even remotely unchildlike. On a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being “Almost but not quite benign” and 10 being “Don’t stop running until you collapse,” children speaking and/or dressing like adults comes in at about a 2. Kid gutting someone with a trowel? A hard 10.
4) Things associated with childhood are also creepy.
This could be another corollary to Rule 3, but I feel it warrants its own space. While children are always creepy, this isn’t always true of all the accoutrements of childhood. It’s all about context. A music box sitting on some kid’s dresser can be all adorable and crap, but put that dresser in an attic, cover it with cobwebs, and have the music box randomly pop open and play. And make the music just a tiny bit out of tune or off tempo. Nope. See ya. The exception to this out-of-context rule is:
5) Dolls are evil. Always.
It probably goes without saying, but this includes puppets, mannequins, human-looking robots, and ventriloquist dummies (especially ventriloquist dummies). All of them are out for vengeance and, almost always, blood. I had this nightmare once. I walked up a staircase into a room full of puppets, dolls, and, yep, ventriloquist dummies. I woke up in a cold sweat.
Some time later, I was in Pittsburgh with some friends. There was this great three-floor toystore. I forget the name and doubt it’s still around. I went up the stairs to the third floor. Naturally it was a room full of dolls.
My speed was impressive.
6) The locals know what they’re talking about.
And yet, nobody listens. Ever. Not in Deliverance, not in The Ruins, not in The Shrine, not even in Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil. Sometimes this is subtle. A harmless sounding question like, “Why would anyone wanna go up there?” really means, “You’re on your way to certain death.” Other times subtleties are dispensed with altogether. When a guy holding a cleaver says, “There is nothing for you here,” what’s not to believe?
7) Animals know more than people do.
Again, nobody ever listens, and again, see Rule 1. To be fair, I’m guilty of this too. My cat has developed a new habit of scratching on the wall near the head of my bed. She has never done this before. I’ve read Lovecraft’s “The Rats In The Walls” more than enough times to know this must be the start of something I don’t want to be part of, but have I moved out? Not so much. Do I wanna see what’s in the basement of this place? Little bit.
8) God does not care about you.
I’ve read elsewhere that in horror movies, there is no god. It’s worse than that. The horror premise in general centers on evil in some form. This form is often supernatural, implying the existence of evil forces. If there are forces of evil, there must be forces of good. Legend, right? If there are forces of good and evil, something must have created both, so in the horror world, god must exist (I hasten to point out this is my own brand of “logic,” a class I admittedly failed in college). The god of the horror world, however, has lost interest in the trials and tribulations of beings as insignificant as the human race. Lovecraft knew this. It’s the major underpinning of cosmic horror. Speaking of things spiritual:
9) Religion is not the opiate of the masses.
It’s usually a thinly, not so thinly, or completely not veiled front for some cult or bizarro branch sect that’s involved in some kind of sacrificial rite and/or outright murder. This becomes significantly more chilling when it’s believable and close to home. Anachronistic pagan rituals in some far flung agricultural community are weird enough, but really, what’s Red State other than the Westboro Baptist Church with guns?
10) City folk don’t belong in the woods.
Ever notice how damn many found footage films use the “intrepid band of film makers” ploy? The problem is, the film makers are usually not the woodsy, outdoorsy types. They get lost and don’t know what to do, like stay put. Build a fire. Get your bearings. Instead they blunder ahead. More often than not, they stumble onto a cabin. See Rules 1 and 2 then watch Severance. And Rituals.
11) Technology is not your ally.
Computers, smartphones, cars, radios, flashlights, it will fail. The greater one’s reliance on technology of any kind is in direct proportion to one’s disregard for Rule 1.
12) Magic is not your ally either.
Ouija boards, cursed tomes (ahem, Evil Dead), magical items, deals with the devil, séances, voodoo, black magic. They all have unintended consequences. Every time. As surely as technology will fail, magic will backfire. The odds of something going horribly wrong increase dramatically if you’re messing with the supernatural (ahem, Evil Dead) in some remote cabin (AHEM! Evil Dead) where there is no electricity, nobody’s cell phone has a signal, and the car won’t start. Yet again, and I can’t stress this enough: