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51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches

If spending a lifetime watching horror films has taught us anything, it’s the basic tools for survival that would apply to just about any kind of hellish situation. The only problem is the writers of our favorite flicks see fit to just have characters fall into the same kinds of pitfalls over and over. You know them well, but just in case Dread Central is proud(?) to present the …

The Top 51 Horror Cliches

1. Parents just don’t understand: Yes, no matter how crazy or odd the behavior of their children becomes, these horror parents just refuse to care, say, or do anything about it. In severe cases the statement “He/she must be on drugs!” is often spoken.

2. We travel in packs! Whether monster or slasher, the fodder must consist of a group no smaller than six members of either friends, family, or tourists. Another characteristic of this cliche is that the members must consist of all ranges of gender, race, and stereotypes.

3. Arise ye Baddie! Our beloved baddie has just had a bridge collapse on him and it looks like everything is gonna finally be OK … But wait! A closeup of the rubble reveals an eye opening, a hand rising, or even a weapon thrusting from the ashes! Way to let us in on the upcoming secret “surprise” attack finale, Mr. Writer!

4. Let’s investigate! What was that strange bump in the night? I have an idea! Let’s go stumble around in the dark and check it out. I suppose it could be a serial killer or maniacal slasher or even a bloodthirsty mutant beast, but I’ll bring this flashlight; that’ll scare ‘em away!

5. Bad luck Baddie: This of course is a reference to the inevitable occurrence of a string of miraculous, heaven-sent events unfolding to ensure the demise of our beloved baddies and the survival of the inept heroes. Never mind that until now the guy/monster has been completely unstoppable.

6. Can you hear me now? Oh no! The baddie’s gonna get me! Damn, the phone is out! I’ll climb out this window … It’s jammed! OK I broke it with a chair, now I’ll drive away to safety … Oh, what do you know, the car won’t start! This has got to be the lamest, most unoriginal, overused plot ploy ever! Any writer who even considers using this turd of a script concept should stick to writing commercials and sitcoms.

7. I’m gonna run! Um … Over here? – The baddie makes his presence and intention known and the would-be victim must make a run for his life. Five feet away is a car. Twenty feet away is a house. A quarter of a mile away is a dark, menacing forest. Their choice????? The forest of course! Run, rabbit, RUN!

51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches (click for larger image)8. Hey, I didn’t know MacGuyver was in this flick! Our heroine has exhibited nothing but Paris Hilton-level intelligence throughout the entire movie. But once she’s the only survivor left, she discovers the brains to build an incredibly clever, ingenious, and lethal trap/weapon out of nothing but a rubber band, shoelace, and half-eaten hamburger! You go on with your bad self, Richard Dean Anderson!

9. The Bachelorette: Horror Edition: Ah yes, nothing sparks the mood for romance like seeing all of your closest friends/family hacked to itty-bitty pieces! Somewhere amidst all the blood and guts, our hero/heroine finds the time to make that special connection with that special someone. This guarantees a final scene containing coy looks followed by a long sloppy session of tonsil-hockey. And BTW, it’s purely coincidence that they are the only two survivors.

10. Zoloft saved my life! Our hero/heroine begins and spends the majority of the movie lacking self confidence, popularity, ambition, and is more or less a completely insecure mess. But at the right moment, they discover themselves, believe in who they are, and break out of their self-loathing-basket-case shell to whup some serious baddie ass! Who needs a session with Dr. Phil? Just survive a horrible bloody massacre, and you’ll be fine!

11. Bombs can’t kill the hero/main character: Any time our film involves a bomb, we have one of two things happen:

A.) Bomb time does not run on our time. We will see our hero running from the bomb, they flash to the screen of the bomb. It’s at 3, and our hero still has a long way to go – he must be dead. Then it flashes back to him running for about 5 seconds so by this time we should hear BOOOOOM! But WAIT! What’s this? We are back to the bomb and it still has 2 seconds left. Then they will make the dramatic dive out of the window or door just as the bomb blows up.

B.) Our hero becomes a master bomb technician. Not only does he disarm the bomb, but he will do it with 1 second left on the timer. As if to say “Fuck you, bad guy. Beat that!!

51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches (click for larger image)12. Where are you guys? Similar to “Let’s investigate!” This is usually where we have one or two characters left. All of their friends are either missing or have been brutally murdered by some maniac. Yet, they will still hear a sound or see a figure and keep calling out to their friends, walking deeper and deeper in their own death trap. Your friends aren’t answering you because they are dead. Keep up your idiotic antics and you will be next.

13. The crazy scientist: No matter how many of his friends or people around him he has seen the mutant/monster brutally murder, he will still insist “We must capture it alive to study it”.

14. OK, he’s dead: This is when our hero has finally managed to knock down the bad guy. After having his friends killed and almost being killed himself, it seems that knocking the bad guy down is a victory. Rather than bashing in his brains to ensure death, he will turn the other way and walk away or start running, just asking for the chase process to begin again.

15. Well … I guess we’ll just blow him up: It will always take these geniuses many failed attempts at trying to shoot the monster and use every other method of death before they realize why not just get the military involved and either blow him up, burn him, or freeze him.

16. Uh-oh! Teenagers are bumping uglies! Watch out, viewer, two hormonally charged teens are about to drop trou and have a roll in the hay! One can be sure that a grisly death is on the way when they finish, or in some cases, while they’re goin’ at it!

17. No…that WASN’T the wind: Here’s a great one. We usually have two teens equally as dumb. The guy always wants to get it on, but just as they are about to … there’s a sound!! The girl asks “What’s that??” Now you figure the first thing that comes to mind for both is “Holy shit, that’s probably the maniac that was just chasing us with a knife.” But no … his response is always “It’s probably just the wind”. Sorry, guys, but it’s never the wind.

51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches (click for larger image)18. Don’t ever ask for directions: – You’re better off just driving around looking for where you’re going and running out of gas than asking for directions. But if you must ask for directions, don’t go to some rundown gas station in the middle of nowhere or some house in the middle of the woods. What you are doing then is not really asking directions but rather “Could you demented backwoods fellas tell us the best place to go where you can hunt us down one by one and brutally murder us?”

19. Have I made it clear that this killer is crazy? The grisly/unthinkable acts of violence aren’t enough to prove the killer’s unstable ways. We have to get cheesy/trite commentary from the killer before, during, and after each kill. Can be a good thing if done right, but when done wrong, it just makes the killer seem like a poorly thought out stereotype.

20. No one is going to listen: This one is very similar to “Parents just don’t understand.” No matter what is going on or how crazy it looks, neither the police, your parents, or anyone else will believe you. There can be a body ripped to shreds which clearly not even a group of teens can do; yet, you will still be blamed.

21. Listen to the “crazy” guy: So if you and a group of friends are going camping or something and some crazy looking guy says “Don’t go there” or “You don’t want to stay there,” it’s usually a good idea to listen to him. 99.9% of the time that “crazy” guy isn’t so crazy and knows exactly what he’s talking about.

22. Don’t be a tough guy: This one pretty much speaks for itself. If you act like a tough guy, then you’re dead. You may be able to last a while, but you will be brutally murdered by the time the movie is over.

23. The double twist!!! We all know a lot of movies have been throwing a twist in just for the hell of it. What about the double twist though? This is where we get a twist at the end of the movie which sometimes isn’t even bad. But then we get another twist within the last few seconds that makes absolutely no sense and just seems to be there for the hell of it, usually all but ruining the movie.

51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches (click for larger image)24. My light won’t work?!?!? This is when a character has a flashlight. They may be walking in the dark woods or a dark house, and the light will be working fine. But as soon as they hear a bump in the night or some maniac killer is after them, the light will suddenly decide to stop working, resulting in the death of our character.

25. He’s gonna change: This is where we have a husband/boyfriend beat his wife/girlfriend or abuse her. Yet, she will still go back to him, sometimes even more then once insisting “He’s a changed man”. Once an abuser, always an abuser. THEY DON’T CHANGE.

26. See no evil, hear no evil: A lot of times in a horror flick you’ll get the monster operating from an attic, a basement, a shed, etc., where there are all kinds of people living. Everybody hears the weird noises. Everybody sees the footprints or bloody trail left behind. But they continue to go about their lives and chalk it all up to mice, cats, “house noises”, etc.

27. Why do we own this? This entry refers to the fact that there seems to be a lot of ordinary people who not only own weapons like machetes, but casually leave them lying around just in case a baddie shows up and forgot his at home.

28. I’ll be back! This one’s real simple. No, you won’t. If these lines are penciled in to be read by any actor/actress, it’s curtains for that character sooner, rather than later.

29. It came from outer space: Of course – That’s right, a strange bloodthirsty creature has descended upon a small town. The writers couldn’t think of anything original to explain its methods/appearance/origin, so naturally it must have come from the Last Great Frontier. Ugh!

51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches (click for larger image)30. Fuck leaving, let’s kill it! Sometimes some survivors have a legitimate chance to pack up while they’re still alive and get the hell out of there. More times than not, though, they develop this personal grudge and decide to stay and kill it/him instead. I don’t know about you, but if i just saw 10 or more people savagely killed, I’d give the baddie his/its due and get the hell outta there alive. Besides, local law enforcement can handle the situation! Can’t they?

31. Mommy Dearest: When it comes to slashers/killers, we almost invariably learn later on that issues with Mother played a big part in their going “postal” on the innocents (Friday the 13th, Halloween, Black Christmas, and of course Psycho, just to name a few). It worked for these movies, but after seeing it done so many times, it’s def a cliche now!

32. Stand back! I’m an expert: When dealing with baddies, a lot of the time one of the characters in the group is an “expert” on whatever is killing people in large numbers in the movie. This character’s function in the plot is to basically explain everything not only to the other characters but also to the audience. Occasionally good info, but usually just redundant and something you already knew anyway.

33. Rules are made to be broken: Why is it that 9 times out of 10, when we have a really cool baddie, the writers have to ruin it by inventing some “magical” or “special” way of killing it? I mean, c’mon! There’s no shame in being offed by a simple double-barrel shotgun blast to the head! These rules usually just make the story that much more unbelievable and over-the-top silly.

34. I’m just to damn horny: This is when two teens feel the need to crank out a quick one or go into some long make-out session. Usually there would be nothing wrong with that, but when there’s a killer on the loose and your friends are dying around you, all of your focus should be on not being the next to die.

35. The shoulder grab!!! This is where we have two characters, usually a male and a female. The female will already be scared shitless because there is some type of killer/monster on the loose and her friends/family have died right in front of her. Our genius male character figures the best way to get her attention is to silently sneak up behind her and grab her shoulder. How about you call her name out or even whisper it out? Or at the very least walk a little heavier so she can hear your damn footsteps. That is just one example of the shoulder grab. I’m sure many of you have seen it in other situations also.

51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches (click for larger image)36. Oh, the suspense…or lack thereof: This one happens in all types of horror, be it zombie/monster/killer. I will use zombie as an example. It usually happens early in the movie, well before we get to the action. We will hear some type of bump or knock or scratch. Then the suspense music kicks in, and we watch as the camera follows our main character. As this is happening, we are all going “OK, movie, we have seen this before. You’re gonna get to where you heard the sound and it’s gonna be a freaking dog, cat, or one of your friends, not some zombie tearing apart some hapless teen like we all want it to be.” And what is it when our character and camera reach their destination??? It’s a freaking dog, cat, or one of their friends.

37. Hey, a coincidence…and another…and another: Yes, I think you can figure out what this one is. We don’t have one or two coincidences but an entire movie filled with them. I mean, how many times can the main character just escape death or just happen to run into the right or wrong person or just miss being caught before the director realizes “Wow, this movies just has way too many coincidences to be taken seriously.”

38. I mutated myself!!! This could technically be part of “The dumb scientist” cliche. Why is it that every time a scientist thinks he has perfected whatever he is working on, the dumbass always decides to try it on himself, horribly mutating himself and ruining his life in the process.

39. Good job trapping yourself: (Zombie only) Ah yes, you gotta love how when you have a horde of zombies after you, these brilliant people decide to trap themselves inside a house or some type of abandoned building. Nothing like having a pack of zombies engulf you as soon as they break in. And they will break in, and everyone knows that. As far as i know, zombies don’t climb so why not find the fattest tree and wait those S.O.B’s out.

40. Damn right I’m a sharp shooter: (Another zombie only) Something about zombies just gives everyone an amazing trigger finger. Our people can range from an ex-military guy who has fired many weapons in his life to a ditsy clueless blonde, a nerdy little teenager, or some fat slob; yet, they are all equally as gifted with a gun in their hand. It also doesn’t matter the type of gun. It can be a hand gun, machine gun, shot gun, or a sniper rifle. Our characters will always find it in themselves to not only shoot the zombie but to also make sure it’s a head shot. Pretty fucking good considering you have never shot a gun before or been this scared in your life.

41. I didn’t know this was a PS2 game!! When a director is making a movie on a low budget, he can’t make the monster CGI. Even CGI on a bigger budget movie a lot of the time doesn’t look that great. But I swear on some of these lower budget movies the monster looks like he was cut straight out of a PS2 cut scene. It amazes me that some directors want their names on these pieces of garbage. You’re much better off just sticking a man in a rubber suit. At least that would look decent and give a cheesy 80’s feel instead of a garbage feel.

42. The dream/daydream: The name pretty much speaks for itself. Usually one of our main characters will either have a real dream and wake up in bed or they can be at work or something and having a daydream. It usually will have them getting killed or killing someone. It’s always something really dramatic ,and we all KNOW it’s not really happening and just a dream. So why even put it in? There is no way you can tell me anyone actually falls for the dream.

51 Worst Horror Movie Cliches (click for larger image)43. If they could only hear the music: Hey what do ya know. They’re playing the ominous theme music. I wonder if the baddie is around the current area? Thanks for ruining the element of surprise, writers!

44. Maybe his/its vision is based on movement: We all know about the many cliches characters commit with what they choose to do when the baddie shows up. This cliche is about what they don’t do. I mean, try something. Anything. Run, punch, kick, dance a jig! Just do something besides stand there and scream or sit on the ground and look up at your impending demise.

45. Slow-mo pre-butchering: This one is strictly for the slashers and serial killers. We’ve all seen it: The victim is down/trapped and the killer is moving in for the death blow and…he SLOWLY raises the weapon up over his head. This would be a good time to take some action, victim.

46. Oppressed by “The Man”: Sorry, friends and NAACP members, but if you’re a member of any minority, you’re not gonna make it to the end of the movie. How often does a Black, Latino, or Asian character wind up being the lone survivor?

47. Boo! OK, let me try again. BOO!!!!!! This one really annoys me. It usually happens in the first half of a movie where they will have all these dumb jump scenes. Where maybe a knife will fall or an animal will jump out or something. We always gotta get the spooky jump scene music with it, too.

48. We all know… This is when you know everything that’s going to happen in the movie. Some movies are so predictable, it seems like all we are waiting for is the idiot characters to figure out what we already know.

49. Ominous fog, as per usual! Yep, we’re walking through the forest, parking lot, etc., and a ridiculously thick and visible fog rolls in! Nobody sees it. Nobody worries about it. Nobody even friggin’ mentions it! As a viewer all you can say is, “Gee, wonder if somethin’ bad is about to happen?” Blech!!

50. Chug…chug…chug: The engine to my car won’t start when I most need it to. Like when I’m about to get killed for example. Do car engines have minds of their own and just like to fuck with their owners? They’re probably laughing the whole time as the hapless victim is frantically turning the key and only getting a chug chug chug. Seriously, though, instead of trimming the gore or nudity in a movie, they should be forced to trim the dumb parts like cars not starting.

51. Electricity: Marvel at it and all of its BLUENESS! Noticed this one just the other day. Many a time has a baddie (or group of baddies) been sent back to hell via a nice flesh-searing electrical shock. And although electrocution is a gruesome way to check out, it doesn’t make for a very visibly gory death. So what did the movie makers come up with? Make it BLUE! But why stop there? Along with making it blue, let’s make it course up and down the body for maybe 30 to 60 seconds! And of course there must be a funny dance performed by the one being fried. It’s really quite silly since in reality being electrocuted does not last a full minute, and the current is definitely not visible to anybody who happens to be viewing it as it occurs. Also, if you watch closely, sometimes the person being zapped is either grounded or not in position to complete a circuit. Thus, they would have been fine anyways. But hey, it sure is fun watching ‘em do that funny dance!

Tim Burns and Evil Dave

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.

16 Comments

  1. Well like creepy said alot of sci-fi movies have horror elements so i almost see them as the same thing, and for the guy complaining about the bomb one while its true that it is used more in action movies if you watch enough low budget horror like myself you are bound to see it pop up some time or another, again like creepy said it happens in plenty of monster movies, but thanks to everyone who checked it out!! like it or not me and my buddy had a good time making it

  2. Plenty of Sci-fi flicks are covered here because they’re on the fringe of horror due to some elements, like Event Horizon, Alien, a lot of the classics, etc.

  3. While used more in action films, I have seen the bomb thing used in horror.

    The list could be shortened but I let the authors have their artistic license. It’s always great to hear what fans have to say, and when someone creates something that’s really cool, it’s awesome to be able to give it an official home.

  4. Cool list, I had a lot of fun reading that. But I do have to point out that number 14 and number 30 completely contradict each other

  5. I tend to agree with GD, even though I really like the list. The bomb thing is out of an action movie. And that would have cut the list down to fifty.

  6. Wow, a bunch of these either have nothing to do with horror movies or have nothing to do with ANY movies that Ivever seen.

    And a couple are RIGHT out of Scream, almost verbatim.

  7. Though I do agree with all the clich├ęs, kind of a repetitive list don’t you think? Could’ve easily been cut down to 20 or less.

  8. It’s great you guys put this on the front page. It may have got overlooked in the fourms. Good stuff.

  9. “Something about zombies just gives everyone an amazing trigger finger. Our people can range from an ex-military guy who has fired many weapons in his life to a ditsy clueless blonde, a nerdy little teenager, or some fat slob; yet, they are all equally as gifted with a gun in their hand. It also doesn’t matter the type of gun. It can be a hand gun, machine gun, shot gun, or a sniper rifle. Our characters will always find it in themselves to not only shoot the zombie but to also make sure it’s a head shot. Pretty fucking good considering you have never shot a gun before or been this scared in your life.”

    To this I say: “Dawn of the Dead” 2004!

  10. Hey kiddies, my buddy Tim just let me know our lil’ list was posted here so as the other co-author I thought I’d come check it out. Glad to see a few people got a kick out of it. We started it as a joke topic on Tim’s site and it just kept growing until one day we realized we had a pretty healthy list on our hands, hehe. Pretty cool to see somebody thought it was article worthy. I gotta say though, I noticed a few people really took a fairly serious analytical line when critiquing it and I gotta say I find that hilarious. Guys, this was made to be taken in a laid back, sarcastic humor type nature…..It was never meant to be a “holy grail” of horror/sci-fi rules or analysis, lol. We’re only poking some fun at the movies we love to watch, you know, like when you give someone you care about a hard time in a good-natured tone. Besides, for every 1 cliche you might of disagreed with, you have to admit there are at least 25 others you know are all too true, haha. Anyways, just sit back and relax, take your critic cap off for a few minutes and just have a couple laughs. That’s definitely the attitude we took when writing them up over the weeks. And again, to everyone else, glad you had some fun with this and enjoyed it. Later Gators.

    “Equal Rights for Everyone, Special Treatment for Nobody!”

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