How to Survive a Horror Movie

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Death has come to your little town, Sheriff. Now you can either ignore it, or you can help me to stop it.


Those of us who've become trapped in a horror movie have a choice: We can either line up with the other cattle and march into the slaughterhouse, or we can fight back. Yes, it's a long way to the final credits. No, the odds aren't in our favor. But that's no excuse to lie down and let the filmmakers have their way with us. Choose to learn the new rules. Choose to use them in your favor.

Choose life.


Horror movie characters aren't killed by machete-wielding monsters or reincarnated psychopaths-they're killed by ignorance. Ignorance of the mortal danger they're in. Of the butcher lurking in every shadow. Of the new rules.

Ignorance of the fact that they're in a horror movie.

How do you know if you've been sucked into the Terrorverse? Sometimes the signs are unmistakable. For instance, if you're a teenaged babysitter caring for a mute toddler in a remote Maine cabin during a once-in-a-century blizzard while an escaped killer (bearing a strange resemblance to the handicapped boy you and your friends bullied off an embankment and left for dead all those years ago) roams the woods, you're probably in a horror movie.

But unless you've landed in the sloppiest of direct-to-video hack jobs, the clichés are going to be more subtle, your screenwriter more inventive, and your survival less likely.

1. DETERMINE HOW YOU CAME TO OWN THIS BOOK. In movies, things rarely happen without a reason. Therefore, the simple fact that you're holding a book called How to Survive a Horror Movie means someone's probably trying to tell you something. Think hard: How did you end up holding this book?

"I'm just browsing in a bookstore." There's still a chance it's just coincidence. Be warned, though-if you take this thing to the counter and buy it, your chances of being in a horror movie go through the roof.

"I ordered it online." This is not good. Computers can be a gateway to unspeakable evil. Perhaps you were merely enticed by the gorgeous cover and incredibly reasonable price.

"Someone gave it to me as a gift." Yikes. Getting a book called How to Survive a Horror Movie as a gift. That's like giving a young Liz Taylor How to Survive a Divorce. "Oh, I just thought it'd make a nice gift, Liz. I'm sure you'll never need it!"

"I found it in the woods." There's only one genre that would allow clumsy, contrived screenwriting like that. Proceed directly to "Slasher Survival School," this page.

2. TALE A LOOK AROUND. The environment should offer some clues. If you're on a crowded city street in broad daylight, you're probably safe (for now). But if you're anywhere remote-the woods, an old house, an abandoned mental institution in the middle of a blackout-then yes, your chances of being in a horror movie are much higher. How the location looks and sounds can be helpful, too:

Does everything look slightly grainy? This could indicate that you're being shot on film. Or that you're developing cataracts. Either way, not good.

Is it poorly lit? Is everything bathed in bright blue light even though it's supposed to be nighttime? Are there shadowy corners that you should be able to see into but can't?

What is the set decoration like? Can you see children's sidewalk chalk drawings that should've washed away ages ago? Is everything suddenly covered in cobwebs or rust? Is there a thin layer of smoke on the ground for no reason?

Do you hear strange sounds? Do strange chi-chi-chi … ah-ah-ah or metal-on-metal noises seem to come out of nowhere? Does music crescendo every time you open a door?

Are you speaking Japanese? According to the laws of early twenty-first century cinema, anyone speaking Japanese is in a horror movie.

If the answer to any of these questions is "affirmative," then we have to consider the possibility that you've become trapped in a horror movie.

3. TAKE A LOOK AT YOURSELF. Are you or any of your companions wearing a varsity letter jacket? Is there an achingly attractive yet sexually paralyzed female in your midst? Do all of your "friends" look suspiciously like cast members from Smallville and Gilmore Girls? (If so, your chances of meeting an untimely end have just increased by a factor of 10.)

Determine if you fit any of the classic horror movie character stereotypes:

A) "The Nice Guy with the Monosyllabic First Name"

B) "The Slutty Goth Chick"

C) "The Virginal Cop's/Priest's/Richest Man in Town's Daughter"

D) "The Nerd" (or "Nebbish Jew")

E) "The Congenial Fat Guy" (or "Deputy")

F) "The Sex-Crazed A-Hole" (or "Italian")

G) "The Black Guy Who Buys It 20 Minutes In"

H) "The Black Guy's Girlfriend Who Buys It 24 Minutes In"

If these bear an uncanny resemblance to you (or your companions), you're almost certainly in a horror movie. But before we panic, let's confirm the diagnosis.

4. CONDUCT THE M.A.D. TEST. M.A.D. stands for "Motivation And Dialogue," and it is one of the quickest, most accurate ways of confirming the presence of the Terrorverse.

Motivation. If you (or your friends) feel strangely compelled to do any of the following, you're definitely in a horror movie:

• Dig up a coffin to "make sure" something's really dead.

• Harass a hobo or retarded child.

• Play with a Ouija board or read from a dusty old book.

• Have sex in that house where that guy killed his whole family.

• Carve a crucifix into your face with a rusty screwdriver.

Dialogue. Ask each of your companions: "What time is it?" If they answer with the following, you're in deep trouble:

• The A-Hole/Italian: "Time for some pu**y, that's what freakin' time it is."

• The Black Guy's Girlfriend: "Oh no you didn't."

• The Nerd/Nebbish Jew: "Wow, I didn't even think you knew my name."

• The Slutty Goth: "I'm your ex, not your Rol-ex."

• The Fat Guy: "Mmpph hrff rurrph." (Mouth full of lasagna.)

5. CHECK THE CALENDAR. There are only three months in the horror movie year: July, October, and December.

In July, teens are off from school-free to drink, wear bikinis, attend summer camp, and take each other's virginity at will. October is, of course, the unholiest of months-when long-dead serial killers, ghosts, witches, and all manner of beast return to the world of the living to seek revenge.
And December is reserved for Christmas killing sprees, evil Santas, possessed stepfathers, gremlins, and snow-bound caretakers.

If the nearest calendar reads "May," you can relax a little. However, if every Friday falls on the 13th, forget the month. You're toast.

6. CHECK YOUR WATCH. The horror movie day is still 24 hours long, but 21 of those hours are at night. If it's almost always dark, all signs point to a horror movie. Ditto if the moon is always full. But even more telling than the lopsided night/day ratios are the huge gaps in your personal space-time continuum.

If you find yourself asking, "How did I get here?" again and again, it's probably because an editor has lopped out all the boring bits of your daily existence: walking from point A to point B, sitting on the couch watching a COPS marathon, and taking showers (unless you're a girl with spectacular boobs).



You're probably thinking, "Who cares? Isn't it bad enough that I'm in a horror movie?" Well, yes-but knowing whether you're in the first, second, or seventeenth installment is important. The later you appear in the series, the higher your chances of survival. With every subsequent sequel, the writing gets sloppier, the killer's methods more predicable, and the danger zones more pronounced.

EXAMPLE: Let's say you're offered a job as a camp counselor. You go online, do a Google search on the camp's name, and get 370,000 articles about the murders that have occurred there every summer for the last 20 years. Result? You spend the summer flipping burgers and keeping your limbs.

But how can you be sure? Here are a few sequel warning signs:

• You're attending a nondescript college in an unidentified state, and your friends keep saying things like, "Can you believe we're in college now?"

• You have shaky, black-and-white flashbacks of someone else's unhappy childhood.

• Corbin Bernsen is your father.

• You're in space.

• You're in 3-D.

• You have the oddest feeling that you're only here for the money.


You've used all of the diagnostic tools outlined in the last chapter, and you've arrived at the terrifying yet undeniable conclusion: Somehow, you've managed to become trapped in a horror movie. Now what? Just skip ahead a few pages to find the magic cure that'll fix everything? Don't waste your time-it doesn't exist. Saying "I'm in a horror movie" is kind of like saying "I'm in Europe." Sure, you've narrowed it down to a continent, but what language should you use to order dinner? What side of the road should you drive on? Can you take off your top at the beach?

There are many subgenres (and sub-subgenres) in the horror movie universe-each requiring different survival skills. They can be broken down like this:

Slashers. Blade-wielding psychopaths (both human and supernatural ones).

Evil places and things. An evil vehicle, a killer doll, or a haunted house.

The undead. Ghosts, zombies, mummies, and the reanimated.

Fangs. Werewolves, aliens, and vampires.

Satanic. Demons, curses, and the devil.

This book contains the tactics to help you survive each and every one of these subgenres. Now it's time to pinpoint your location.

1. GATHER CLUES FROM YOUR MOVIE'S SETTING. You've already scanned your surroundings for the usual horror movie suspects. Now it's time to take a closer look. Your location can speak volumes about the movie's subgenre, assuming you know how to read the tea leaves:

An isolated/dilapidated house. If you're a young female alone in the house, all signs point to a slasher. If you're joined by friends or relatives, it's a haunted house. If the windows and doors are boarded up, there are about 7,000 zombies outside waiting to feast on your brains.

A summer camp. You're in a slasher movie.

Deep space. You're either in a really well-made alien flick or a nauseatingly bad, late-in-the-series slasher flick.

The Midwestern United States. Hard to tell. This could be anything from a non-supernatural slasher to an evil vehicle rampage. However, if your friend finds a meteorite in the woods, you should probably shoot him in the face and burn his body. Just to be safe.

A constantly overcast city. Urban horror movies are almost always Satanic in nature. Curses and demons should be high on your list of concerns.

Western Europe. You're in a werewolf movie.

Eastern Europe. You're in a vampire movie.

2. DETERMINE YOUR MOVIE'S BUDGET. Subgenres often break down along budget lines, so it can be very helpful to get a fix on how deep the producers' pockets are. Three things to observe:

Location. Are you in the city or the suburbs? (It's much more expensive to shoot a movie in a city.) Do you live in a luxury home or a run-down one-bedroom? (Set construction is costly.) How much freedom do you have to visit different places? (The more you move around, the more sets have to be built or location fees paid.)

Look. Does the lighting seem natural, or are you distracted by how flat and harsh it is? (Could the production afford a talented cinematographer?) How nicely is everything decorated? If you open desk drawers, are there supplies inside, or are they empty? (How big was the art department's budget?)

Licensing. Do you hear any popular songs or watch any real movies or TV shows as you go about your day? (If so, the producers had to pay through the nose for the rights, suggesting a higher budget.)

If everything points to a cash-strapped production, you're probably in a low- or even micro-budgeted horror flick-the most common kind. If you're not exactly sure where your movie falls, it's likely that the filmmakers are working with a modest budget. And if you feel as if no expense has been spared, it's possible that you're in the seldom-seen big-budget horror movie. So how does this help you figure out the subgenre?

Low or micro budget. The photography isn't particularly eye-catching, there aren't more than a few major settings, and you're nowhere near a city. Possible subgenres: slashers, the undead, evil places and things.