2) No Character Development. A movie (or book) isn’t made scary by the dude in a mask with a knife. He certainly helps, but what is really terrifying is the poor, helpless victim. The better we know the victim (or prospective victim), the scarier the movie will be. If I know Sally and like Sally, then I’ll be terrified when Mr. Knife Happy starts creeping up her stairs. If she’s a total stranger to me, I may be a little worried for her sake, but I won’t be standing on my couch shouting, “Sally! He’s behind you! Turn around!” (Not that I do that… very often…)
3) The Immortal Villain. Mr. Knife Happy shouldn’t be easy to kill. After all, he represents evil. And in a scary movie, we see the all-out assault of evil on good. Good must either rise to the occasion and overcome, or else die. If Mr. Knife Happy died easily, the movie would be over all-too-quickly. Would you pay ten bucks to see Friday the 13th opening credits, a Camp Crystal Lake counselor whack Jason over the head with a shovel, and then “The End”? Would you drive to Blockbuster to rent a movie in which Laurie Strode does the five point palm exploding heart technique (from Kill Bill Volume II) on Michael Myers, and then Michael Myers drops dead? (Okay, I might pay to see that.) But while Mr. Knife Happy can’t die immediately, he also shouldn’t be unstoppable. If evil cannot be overcome, what hope is there? Eventually, Laurie Strode kicks it, but Michael Myers lives on. What sense does that make? Good will perish, but evil will endure? No, thank you.
4) Creative Weaponry. I have nothing against creativity when it comes to weaponry. But the weapon wielded by Mr. Knife Happy ought to enhance the story and add to his character. It shouldn’t detract or steal the show. In Halloween, a young Michael Myers sees his older sister kissing her boyfriend and then go upstairs with him (hanky panky is implied). When the boyfriend leaves, Myers kills his sister with a butcher knife, a classic phallic symbol in the scary movie genre. That really does tell us something about Michael Myers. In Nightmare on Elm Street, Freddy Kruger is a child murderer who likes to terrorize his victims. He uses homemade claws – made of gloves and blades – to kill them. He wields multiple knives, and he uses his hands. That tells us something about Freddy. On the other hand, the killer in Midnight Movie uses a big corkscrew to slaughter everybody. It’s just weird and doesn’t really work right. He uses it to stab, but then somehow, it gets screwed in and…. It just detracts. We’ll leave it at that. Instead of rooting for the teens or being scared of Mr. Knife Happy, I’m left wondering how on earth a corkscrew could ever inflict that kind of wound. It’s nonsensical. It's just too creative.
5) Wimpy Girls. Ladies, if you ever find yourself in a scary movie, please don’t start throwing pillows or ketchup bottles at Mr. Knife Happy. Learn how to box. Invest in a sword. Or at least carry a big stick. In so many scary movies, it seems every female is a completely inept, helpless ditz. Granted, the main character may have some talent, but I firmly believe that even the side characters who exist for the sole purpose of being knocked off ought to be useful. It really doesn’t take a powerful bad guy to kill a wimpy girl who just screams and then trips on her own stiletto heels. The females – all of them – ought to be thinking, fighting individuals, or at least girls who can run really fast. Give her a fighting chance. Let us root for her instead of rolling our eyes. Be Sidney Prescott, not Sarah Darling. (From Scream 3, if you were wondering.)
6) Jerky Guys. All men are not pigs. But when it comes to scary movies, you might not know that. I think part of the reason so many male characters are jerks in this genre is to keep the audience wondering, “Is he really the killer? Or is it that other guy?” Still, I love it when the occasional scary movie depicts good, honest men. In The Crazies for example, Sheriff David risks it all to save his wife. He’s a good man, and so is his deputy, who willingly sacrifices himself and does all he can to keep from harming others. The audience cares about these men, and that makes the movie more terrifying, because we want those men to survive. Our hearts race when that survival is threatened. And what’s more, characters like that – regardless of the genre – give us something to strive for. I want to be the person who can be counted on in a crisis. I want to be the loyal friend who won’t let their buddy die. I want to be willing to sacrifice myself for others. I’m not arguing that scary movies are “deep” and philosophical, but I do love a character that I can look up to.
7) Torture. A lot of people would disagree with this one, but to me, it is the ultimate sin in scary movies. I want to be scared, not seriously disturbed and haunted by the sickening image of someone being put through excruciating pain. I want the chase, not gruesome torment. It’s one thing for Mr. Knife Happy to shoot or stab victims who are unbound and free to fight back. It’s something else entirely for him to become Mr. Sadist partway through the movie and to start hacking off appendages just for the fun of it. At that point, I don’t even necessarily care if the main character lives; I want her to be out of her misery, one way or another. And I’m not thinking about how I want good to triumph. I’m thinking about how I want Mr. Sadist to die, and that’s not really the point of a good, scary movie. On the contrary, a good, scary movie ought to get us thinking about the protagonist, about good prevailing over evil, about how the world is a better place because of the good guy. Torture takes the focus off of the battle between good and evil, and instead puts it entirely on cruelty and suffering. Plot doesn’t (and cannot) move forward if the main character is bound to a table or chair. Story isn’t developed. We don’t learn about characters. (Screaming in agony is pretty much the same from character to character.) Torture is simply an excuse to “push the envelope” and try to get away with more disgusting, more disturbing and sometimes more perverted brutality. (Please note: I'm not referring to interrogations in spy movies. That's a different conversation best left for another day. I'm talking specifically about torture for torture's sake in scary movies.)
And those are the Seven Deadly Sins of Scary Movies. Thank you for reading. What’s the eighth deadly sin, you may ask? I leave that to you. Please post your sins below. That is to say, please post what you think ought to be added to the list of sins below. Please do not post your actual sins. That could get awkward.