A while back, I talked about my 13 Rules Of Horror. Less of a while back, I also talked about what I called Victim Zero. I also recently delved into Roger Ebert’s shrewd and funny Bigger Little Movie Glossary. All of this led me to start keeping track of my own brand of movie terminology.
Some of these are new. Some were pulled from the 13 Rules Of Horror and a couple other posts. For me, they apply specifically to horror movies, but a few of them, like the Myth Of The Special Day and the Doomed Father, can be applied to non-horror movies as well.
Cabin Of Death
Cabins obviously, but this can extend a bit to include rural dwellings in various states of decay or disrepair. Evil Dead is iconic obviously, but really you can start with Spiderbaby and work your way forward from there.
Character whose wife or girlfriend has a baby while he’s involved in whatever he’s involved in at whatever far-off place he’s involved in it. Often this is space. Often there’s a video of mother and child. This guy almost always dies. A recent example is the fairly awful Life.
They are rarely, if ever, benevolent. Alien clearly, as well as “To Serve Man” from The Twilight Zone, but even Michael Rennie comes to give us a “shape up or else” warning in The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Self-explanatory from Devil Doll (1936) to Barbarella to Trilogy Of Terror to Puppet Master to Dolls to Dead Silence to…you get the idea.
Evil Manchild Or Womanchild
First of all, children are always creepy. When they dress, talk, and/or act like adults, run. See Children Of The Corn, Village Of The Damned, The Omen.
Myth Of The Special Day
In Bigger Little Movie Glossary, Roger Ebert defines The Myth Of The Seemingly Ordinary Day. This shows a protagonist doing run-of-the-mill stuff just before some big event occurs. The flipside of this is showing a protagonist who has just experienced/is about to experience something important/significant/out of the ordinary. This is A) offset by the Big Event that follows, B) is interrupted by the Big Event, or C) is merely a ruse to get the protagonist into the hands of the baddies. A) John Cusack sells a graphic novel just before the signal makes people violent in Cell. B) The innocent road trip/vacation/reunion that leads to doom as in Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Cabin Fever, You’re Next, etc. C) Meeting the parents in Get Out is a ruse to get Daniel Kaluuya into the clutches of the Armitage clan.
Kuleshov Effect Movies
I discussed The Kuleshov Effect in connection with Calvaire. Knowing what you know about Leland Palmer changes the effects of his face the second time you see Twin Peaks. Knowing where Calvaire is going changes the meaning of Marc touching up his make-up in the first scene. Same thing happens in The Sixth Sense, The Stepford Wives and an amazing scene in Get Out where Betty Gabriel’s veneer momentarily slips then wordlessly gets clamped back on.
Occult Rule Of Three
The Pagan Rule Of Three is that whatever energy you send out, positive or negative, returns, also positively or negatively, threefold. The horror movie version, when people mess with magic, anything you send out returns at least threefold. The catch is regardless of what you send out, positive or negative, the return is always negative. Good examples are The Craft, Pumpkinhead, and any movie involving a Ouija board. This is also a good corollary to The Uncaring God below.
I’ve talked about this at length here. Briefly, this is any movie where a slug, worm, mollusk, or some kind of slug/worm/mollusklike creature, often alien, often parasitic, infects a human body and proceeds to wreak havoc as only parasitic alien slug/worm/mollusks can. Night Of The Creeps is, of course, a high water mark.
The Uncaring God
God in horror movies either doesn’t exist or, possibly worse, doesn’t care about us, as evidenced by innocent enough events accidentally summoning/releasing/leading to a disproportionately unspeakable evil. Again, Ouija boards are often standard vehicles for this, as are finding a doll (Heidi), going for a swim (“The Raft” from Creepshow 2), or buying a car (Christine).
Discussed more fully here, this is the victim who starts off whatever plague is ravaging the town, village, region, country, continent, world, etc. Often it’s a farmer, redneck, or dude-bro who finds the mysterious object/creature (often a meteor), and pokes it or at least has to get a closer look. Happened in The Blob, Alien, and Creepshow’s “The Lonesome Death Of Jordy Verrill.”
That’s it for now, but there will almost certainly be more coming. Feel free to add your own or terms and/or examples in the comments!