You already know never to say “be right back.” And that sex is a no-no. But what other rules apply when you’re trying to make it out of a horror movie with your life, limbs, and sanity intact? With Halloween approaching at the speed of a headless horseman, and horror movies on the mind, we trawled through decades of frightening flicks to develop an ultimate Survivor’s Guide to Scary Movies. They could mostly boil down to one: be smart (make sure your tech’s all working well, try not to end up alone, be suspicious of everyone). But where would the fun be in that? So, if you plan to be the final guy or girl, study up. One wrong move and you’re not getting near the sequel.
Assuming you manage to get to your vehicle alive – having already dropped your keys three times – and that you manage to enter said vehicle with those keys still on your person – and not in the clutches of some cocky maniac just outside the driver’s-side window – you’re going to want your car to actually start.
Curiosity didn’t just kill the cat. It killed the hell out of Tina (sorry, “Teeeeena“) in A Nightmare on Elm Street and all of the fools who followed in her investigative footsteps. Hear a strange noise? Blast your Spotify, lock the door, and call the cops.
Remember when you used to run away every time a gaudily made up harlequin bent down to give you a balloon giraffe? Five-year-old you was onto something.
Look, we get it: We would have invited Billy Loomis into our bedroom for a bit of action, too. And we probably wouldn’t have been able to resist the alluring sophistication of Count Dracula – feast away you thickly-accented dandy! But in your soberer moments, it’s always good to remember: He probably wants to gut you. Block his number and ghost him.
So many stabbings/hookings/enhanced-shark chompings could be avoided if good people who did bad things confessed early. It negates the audience’s need to see you get your moral comeuppance all those years later, and a killer’s need to avenge his or her dead relative, or themselves.
Attention all nefarious business folk/unscrupulous government agencies in the hazmat game: read up.
New neighbors? Going to curse you. New girl at school? Probably body-snatched. New vacation buddies? Going to drug you. Then sell you.
If it’s dark and used to store things you don’t often use, best to stay out.
Find yourself in a horror film? Then chances are physical coordination isn’t your strong suit. Flo-Jo you are not. You already know that you’re going to run in zig-zags and, for whatever reason, you’re probably going to run with your arms flailing about you rather than tucked into your side, sprinter-style. So make life easy on yourself and watch where your feet are going. Tree root? Cord? Not-nailed-down rug? Avoid. Oh, and don’t over-polish your wooden floors – you never know when you’re going to need a bit of grip.
Of course, if it’s a killer doll you’re dealing with, even that might not be enough.
Especially if said stranger looks suspiciously like the thing that’s been trying to kill you for the last 30 minutes or so.
A lot of horror-movie victims think it’s a good idea to hide in a corn field – how can whatever is chasing you see you right? But the key word here is “victim.” These kids never survive because, as much as they can’t see you going, you won’t be able to see them coming.
File this in the same drawer as “Service your car.” In fact, just make sure that all technology that could help you call for assistance/escape a psychopath is in tip-top working order. And invest in a Mophie.
In the real world, most gas station attendants along remote roads are either delightful or too busy playing Candy Crush to acknowledge your existence. In the movies they are, as a rule, dentally challenged and hungry for your sweet, sweet flesh – or, at least, related to folks who fit that description. Bring a few gallons with you in the trunk.
Blueprints will help you avoid surprise secret passageways/burial grounds; Google – or, if you’re in a pre-2000s horror movie situation, a quick spin on the microfiche – will help you avoid surprise historical mass murders.
This rule has sub-rules. Do not open and close the mirror-cabinet; do not bend down to rinse your mouth out when brushing; do not stand in front of said mirror and say anything three times in a row.
Just because someone creeps you out doesn’t mean they’re not worth listening to. Take the Final Destination series’ Mr Bludworth: The deep-voiced mortician may scare the bejesus out of you, and look a little like that guy who killed those kids in Chicago back in the 1990s, but take notes when he talks if you want to cheat Death.
There is a reason your small town just issued a curfew: Your classmates keep dying. Mostly at night. Often while drunk. So when that text comes through asking you to go to the big secret kegger – full of your classmates, breaking all the other horror-movie rules, at night – just say no. Similarly, if you ever bullied someone in high school, best to skip prom.
Pay keen attention to the news – if something mysterious hasn’t cut the power at your house/in your neighborhood. Pay particularly keen attention if you find yourself in a zombie movie or in a town in which psychopaths are prone to escaping from the local asylum. It’s rarely, if ever, fake news.
Bonus rule: If, in the course of you reading a passage out loud, you start to notice strange things – say, a pickup in wind, a drop in room temperature, or the emergence-from-hell of multiple demons – don’t finish the passage.
If it’s not true, you look like an idiot, and if it is, you’re dead. Stay curious.
If there’s something a little “off” about the kid, the likelihood is there’s something very majorly “off” about the kid. It’s probably a psychopath, the devil incarnate, making friends with the dead kids who lived here before you, or, in rare cases, a 33-year-old prostitute. (No, really.) Lock him or her in a room and call in the professionals.
The idea of the psychotic mom has long had appeal for horror filmmakers since the earliest days of the genre – there’s something just so terrifying about the woman who’s meant to care and nurture you suddenly turning against you. If mom starts acting a little strange, best give her some space.
Splitting up to try and find someone/something is perhaps the most groanworthy horror-movie move there is. And for good reason: Loners are easily picked off; groups give you a chance to fight back – or at least use someone with you as a meat shield.
Crazed psychos, zombies, and other nasties are drawn to rundown cobwebbed cabins like moths to a flame. Or like forest witches to a tent. Splurge on something a little fancier (or heck, just get a hotel) to ensure your back-to-nature moment doesn’t end with you pushing daisies.
It’s the Rosemary’s Baby rule: If someone is telling you there’s something weird going on – like that your neighbors might be part of a cult – you should believe them. As of 2018 it might also be the Hereditary rule: poor disbelieving Gabriel Byrne.
Just like knowing where your nearest exits are on a plane, you should know where your nearest exits are in your own home. Hint: It’s probably the front or back door, not up the stairs.
That book over there: Is it gilded? Does it require some sort of lock to open? Is it super-dusty (like, I’ve-been-waiting-around-here-for-centuries-to-be-opened-and-unleash-hell dusty)? Is it making noises? Is it… a pop-up? Then just put it down and watch some TV. Reading isn’t always good for you.
Your friends are jerks, but they’re probably not big enough jerks to play a prank in the middle of your town’s latest murder spree. Take any potential threat at face value and run – the worst outcome is you’ll get laughed at. Don’t run and the worst outcome is getting squished in your buddy’s garage-door pet entrance.
Big houses have: a) More places for killers to hide; b) more rooms for dead folks to haunt; c) more corridors to get lost in on your way out; and d) more possibilities of secret compartments/basements/burial places. Small apartments – particularly studios – are just a safer option. Downsize, it’s a rough market now anyways.
Group bathing? Multi-person showers? Sound gross? Sure, but it’s grosser to be slashed into pieces with an eyeful of suds. So, if you’re in a strange hotel, being stalked in your dreams, or camping, try to make a bonding moment of it.
Representative photo credit: Scream, @ Dimension/courtesy Everett Collection