I’ve been watching a bunch of horror movies lately and I think it’s time to call a moratorium on certain tropes. Most horror films (and books and TV shows) made over the last forty years employ at least one, and usually several of the following set pieces, and now they just make me groan.
1/ The Cat Scare
You know the scene, which I think was probably invented by Ridley Scott in ALIEN. A character is alone and some dim environment. They’re scared, they know the monster is close. They’re searching, searching, the music builds… suddenly, a screech and, probably, a jump cut! Aaaagh!
No, wait, sorry,no monster–it was only a surprised cat. See, now, Ridley Scott made Jonesy the cat a character (he even has a name) and the scare was actually a payoff, and was paid of again later in the film. Every fuckin’ movie since then? Well, they just have a random startled cat. Even though there’s no setup, by this point you can see it coming from a mile away. I admit, I did once in real life happen get startled–and scratched–by a stray cat while alone in a dark place at night, but I assure you that my judgement has been in no way biased by the incident.
2/ The Bathroom Mirror
The protagonist is performing his or her ablutions in the bathroom–probably shaving, but maybe just looking searchingly into their own eyes. A tap is dripping. The music swells. Something isn’t right. Perhaps their very sanity is slipping away… much like my attention.
This one has been done to death in dozens of different ways. Something appears in the mirror behind the hero, who turns away just in time to miss it. Something appears behind the hero that DOESN’T cast a reflection. The mirror cracks. The reflection is distorted. The reflection speaks–usually in a standard-issue demon-growl. Something comes out of the mirror. Something goes into the mirror. Yawn.
This has been on endless repeat since the sixties, but, after Ghostbusters (and its sequel) demonstrated this trope in terms of city-drenching explosions of sticky, viscous fluid, one might have hoped that filmmakers and writers would be embarrassed to continue to exercise it in public. But no, we see it over and over, and every time it’s supposed to be this huge revelation, the Ultimate Secret. Jism explosions are great for selling porn movies. Horror? Not so much.