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Literature / How to Survive a Horror Movie

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"I'm sorry to the countless people whose lives I've cut short. The characters who've become unwilling sacrifices to my art: The buxom babysitters. The doubting cops. The overbearing parents and well-intentioned boyfriends. Teens with their whole lives ahead of them. Decent, hardworking adults. All sent to an early grave in the name of box-office gold."
— An apology from Wes Craven

You know the handy rules that Scream (1996) provided us on surviving a horror movie? Well, somebody's expanded them into a whole book.

How to Survive a Horror Movie: All the Skills to Dodge the Kills is a 2007 book by horror lover Seth Grahame-Smith (of later Pride and Prejudice and Zombies fame) that details what you should do in the event that you find yourself stuck in a horror movie. In it, you will learn how to perform an exorcism, what to do if you did something last summer, how to persuade the skeptical local sheriff, how to kill a murderous doll, how to survive an Alien Invasion, what to do if you've been dead since the beginning of the movie, how to defeat Satan himself, and many other useful skills. It's divided into six chapters, each devoted to a particular subgenre: an introduction (how to tell that you're in a horror movie, and rules that apply across the genre), slashers, evil inanimate objects, the undead (namely ghosts, vampires, and zombies), aliens and beasts, and finally, demonic and religious evil.

A second edition released in 2019 added a new introduction, new artwork, new rules, and an updated appendix of recommended horror films.

Provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Parody: Of horror movies in general.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: According to the guide, aliens only come to Earth for three reasons: to enslave us, to eat us, or to kill us all just to be dicks.
  • Asshole Victim:
    • The high school section advises you to be nice to everyone because of this trope.
    The Terrorverse abhors an a**hole, and sooner or later, it finds a way of wiping them from existence.
    • In the section covering the Seven Deadly Sins of Horror Movies (specifically sin #2, Machismo), it's noted that being an abusive husband/boyfriend is the worst sin you can commit.
    If you mistreat a woman in a horror film, there's no book that can save you from your well-deserved, imminent, and audience-pleasing death.
  • Auto Erotica: The 7th Deadly Sin of horror movies.
    In the real world, sex and cars make great bedfellows. But in the horror world, when someone asks for a long, hard rod in their trunk, hand them the tire iron.
  • Badly Battered Babysitter: The section "How to Survive a Night of Babysitting" is on how to avoid becoming this, telling how to vet the job before taking it to reduce the risk in the first place, and how to fortify the home just in case. Oh, and never pick up the phone.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: The inverse of this is the root of the 4th Deadly Sin, ugliness.
  • Big Friendly Dog: It's never a bad idea to have a dog around, given that they can sniff out evil and will stand by their masters' side. (Except Rottweilers, which never get a fair shake in horror movies.)
  • Big-Lipped Alligator Moment: invoked These are recommended as last-resort "Ejection Seats" — quick, last-ditch escapes from the "Terrorverse" of horror movies, which come so out of nowhere that the villain (and screenwriters) are momentarily too confused to disembowel you. Awful and mood-destroying Product Placement, Genre Roulette, jarringly good dialogue (via Shout Outs to better movies), and running to a place too expensive to film in are all recommended.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Two of the stock characters named in the first chapter are "The Black Guy Who Buys It 20 Minutes In" and "The Black Guy's Girlfriend Who Buys It 24 Minutes In".
  • California University: Going to college here is a warning sign that you're in a sequel.
    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?"
  • The Cameo: Wes Craven writes the foreword for the book, in which he apologizes to all of the disposable victims who have been killed off in his movies. A sample forms the page quote.
  • Cassandra Truth: Doubt is the 1st Deadly Sin of horror movies.
    There are two types of horror movie characters: those who believe your story and those who don’t. And while believers are by no means safe, at least they’ve taken the first step down the long road toward survival. Doubters, however, can always count on being dead before the end credits.
  • Cat Scare: Clinching proof you're in a slasher movie.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: The 2019 edition says that, in the Terrorverse, cell phones will always fail their users at the worst possible time, whether it's from a Sudden Lack of Signal, a dead battery, someone calling them when they're trying to hide, or them losing their phone and going back to get it (right into the clutches of the killer, who's probably taking really gross selfies with your phone).
  • Chainsaw Good: Highly recommended for fighting monsters. Mentioned as being lightweight and very effective (which they always are in a horror movie).
  • Condensation Clue: A strong indicator that a ghost is of the "Attention Whore" type is if it seriously overplays this trope. Death may use this to accept your offer to do The Grim Reaper a favor if it'll spare you, but only if the writer's run out of ideas.
  • Curiosity Killed the Cast: Curiosity is the 5th deadly sin of horror movies.
    Have you ever been in a theater when the girl (in the movie) hears a strange noise and decides to see where it’s coming from? Notice how everyone in the audience starts tensing up as she climbs the stairs? That’s because they know one of the basic horror movie equations:

    Investigation = mutilation.
  • Dead All Along: The book has a very obvious way of testing whether or not this is you. Just ask very specific questions, not vague ones. To several people, not just one.
  • Defied Trope: The whole point of the book is to teach you how to do this.
  • Depraved Homosexual: The "Mama's Boy" type of slasher is pegged as only interested in men, whether male or female, because their obsession with their mother prevents any sexual attraction to women. Therefore, it's recommended that you hire a male prostitute to get them laid.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The first step in the C.R.A.V.E.N. method for escaping a monster is to take cover somewhere safe, with one of the recommended locations being the top of a water tower. This becomes a problem when the book gets to the third step, gathering an arsenal, where the author realizes that there really aren't that many items one can use as an Improvised Weapon atop a water tower, and that you really should've thought about that before going up there.
  • Disposable Sex Worker: If you're a prostitute in a horror movie, you'll be lucky to get the dignity of an on-screen death as opposed to just scraped out of several dumpsters by the police after the fact.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: A point that is reiterated throughout the book, to the point of becoming a Running Gag. Even if you're in another potentially deadly situation, if the alternative is to go into the woods, you're better off with the devil you know.
  • Drop the Hammer: Deconstructed. The book notes that using a hammer as a weapon is Awesome, but Impractical, "unless you're Mr. T".
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: You're in the Terrorverse, so duh.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Unsure if an inanimate object is evil? Put it in the presence of a dog, and you'll know.
  • Exact Words: The guide is on how to survive a horror movie, not any scary situation in any context, meaning that instead of being forced to find only realistic solutions to problems, you'll also be able to manipulate horror tropes and cliches by bending their rules and exploit Hollywood Style to easily do things that wouldn't work in real life (see Chainsaw Good above, for example).
  • Final Girl: Lampshaded, like so many other horror tropes.
  • Found Footage Films: The 2019 edition says that, if all of your surroundings look like low-res surveillance footage, that's a telltale sign that you're in one of these.
  • Fun with Acronyms: The six-step C.R.A.V.E.N. method for getting out of danger: Take Cover, Conduct Reconaissance, Gather an Arsenal, Commandeer a Vehicle, Make Your Escape, and Head North.
  • Genre Savvy: What this book is supposed to make you be. It points out dozens of horror movie clichés, tells you how to defy and subvert them, what to do if you do make that clichéd choice...
  • Genre Shift: One of the "Ejection Seats" provided is to start acting as though you were in another movie, such as a wacky teen comedy, an artsy foreign film, a Merchant-Ivory work, a romance, or a kung fu movie.
  • Harbinger of Impending Doom: Referred to as "dual citizens". Very often, they're gas station attendants, homeless guys, or barflies. If this person starts talking about local urban legends or giving you a grisly lesson in local history (i.e. providing the audience with some backstory), listen to him and then run like hell.
  • Hate Sink: One of the more common ones is a woman who exists solely to be a bitch who busts everyone's balls, be it a Rich Bitch, an Alpha Bitch, a controlling mother, or an abusive wife. If you ever end up on the receiving end of a woman like this, just move on and let fate sort things out.
  • High-School Dance: It probably won't be the scene of serious mayhem, but even so, you should avoid school functions, as they mean fraternizing with the rest of the school — which makes it harder to fade into the background at school and will get you drawn into the path of something trying to kill you.
  • Hillbilly Horrors: The Half-Retarded Hillbilly is counted as a type of slasher. The way to beat them is to out-crazy them, describing all the nasty stuff you've seen on the internet in order to make them kick you out of their Torture Cellar.
  • Hollywood Homely/Dawson Casting: invoked If all of your friends look suspiciously like cast members from Smallville or Gilmore Girls, then your chances of death have just risen tenfold.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday: There are three months that most horror movies are set in, and this trope is the reason for two of them. October is the month of Halloween, when all manner of dark forces awaken, and December is the month of Christmas-themed horror.
  • Implacable Man: One of the five types of Slasher Movie killers, the book calling them the Strong, Silent Type (SST). They're huge, they feel no pain, they can Team Power Walk faster than you can run, and they like bladed weapons. Unfortunately, their single-mindedness makes them easy to lure into traps.
  • Indian Burial Ground: A sign that your house may be haunted is if Native Americans keep showing up to ask, "Where's our cemetary?"
  • Key Under the Doormat: The vehicular version, in which the keys to start the car are tucked under the driver's side sun visor, is always true in the Terrorverse.
  • Light Is Not Good: There are times when light comes from places that it shouldn't, like keyholes, eyes, mouths, or anything that isn't a lightbulb or a flame.
  • Made in Country X: Objects that come from certain countries inevitably turn out to be possessed, cursed, or evil. Examples given include Egypt, sub-Saharan Africa, the southwestern US, central Mexico, the Caribbean, and outer space. American cars also merit a mention; it's always Detroit steel that turns out to be evil.
  • Money, Dear Boy: invoked How do you tell if you're in a sequel? One of the ways is that you have the oddest feeling that you're only here for the money.
  • Mood Lighting: The quality of the lighting around you is a clear sign of whether or not you're in a horror movie. If the room you're in is bathed in blue light, or has shadowy corners that you should be able to see into but can't, watch out. Also, check your watch, because it's not normal for the night to last 21 hours out of the day. After that, it's also a sign of your movie's budget; flat and harsh lighting indicates that the production didn't have a lot of money to spend.
  • Mr. Exposition: They're "Dual Citizens", people who live somewhere between the Terrorverse and the real world. This is why they themselves haven't been killed by or done anything about whatever evil they're warning about.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Warned against, as horror villains are attracted by breasts; the more of the breast left uncovered, the lower your chances of survival. The breasts being touched reduces your chances even more.
    The only safe boobies are untouched, well-covered boobies.
  • My Car Hates Me: Subverted. While your car's engine will initially turn over repeatedly when you first try to start it, once your attacker starts pounding on the windows, it will start right up without a problem. Played straight, however, if you ever decide to take a detour on a road trip, upon which your car will break down in some middle-of-nowhere Town with a Dark Secret.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The 2019 edition says that this is a very easy way to figure out whether an inanimate object is evil.
  • New Media Are Evil: In the "How to Preform an Exorcism" section, it recommends that you remove all computers before starting — the Internet is a haven for smut peddlers and secularist bloggers.
  • Never Split the Party: Independence is the 3rd Deadly Sin of horror movies.
    "We can cover more ground if we split up." You forgot to add "with blood" between "ground" and "if."
  • No OSHA Compliance: Of a sort. Certain careers are guaranteed to get people killed in horror movies. Working as a gravedigger, a polar scientist, a security guard, a summer camp director, a janitor, or a prostitute may as well be a death sentence.
  • The Nondescript: Recommended for surviving a horror movie high school, as movie writers tend to think in terms of cliques ('funny fat guy', 'slutty goth chick', and so on).
  • Our Slashers Are Different: Slashers are grouped into five categories, the Strong, Silent Type, the Gamesman, the Half-Retarded Hillbilly, the Wisecracker, and the Mama's Boy.
  • Period Piece: Strong evidence you're either in a flashback to whatever caused the curse/haunting, or in a vampire or mummy flick. No other subgenre in the Terrorverse would risk scaring off teenager viewers by asking them to watch a bunch of Outdated Outfit-wearing has-beens in an historical setting.
  • Perverse Puppet: The "How to Survive a Killer Doll" section, which says that being in a killer doll movie is like "winning the horror lottery." After all, if you're getting your ass kicked by a children's toy, then you were kind of screwed anyway, doll or no doll.
  • Quizzical Tilt: A head tilt is likely a warning sign that the person doing it is Not Right, the danger growing the further they tilt it.
  • Rage Against the Author:
    • The books are meant to be a guide for how to escape from malicious horror writers who are trying to get you brutally murdered.
    • Inverted in the preface, in which Wes Craven apologizes profusely to all the fictional characters he's killed off or terrorized in his films over the years.
  • Recycled In Space: A horror movie set IN SPACE! is a sign of one of two things. On one hand, you could be in a crappy sequel to a slasher franchise that's Jumped the Shark, in which case you'll probably survive, since invoked the writers are getting really lazy by this point. On the other hand, you could be in a big-budget alien monster movie, and with those high production values (usually) comes a better script than the average horror movie — and trickier, more inventive writers trying to kill you.
  • Road Trip Plot: Only three things can happen when you go on a road trip in a horror movie:
    1. Your car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and you're 'rescued' by a stranger who promptly butchers and eats you.
    2. You accidentally run someone over, decide to hide the body, and spend the rest of the movie slowly being picked off like scabs.
    3. You safely arrive at your destination... only your destination is a log cabin in the middle of nowhere.
  • Rooting for the Empire: invoked The reason why, out of the five types of slasher, the Wisecrackers are the hardest to defeat — the audience is actively on their side, laughing along with their Bond One Liners.
  • Running Gag: About just how dangerous log cabins and forests are.
  • Russian Reversal: In a Haunted House, you don't gut the interior, the interior guts you.
  • Satan: Defeated by way of Male Frontal Nudity, which doesn't exist in the Terrorverse. Therefore, showing your junk — or finding someone with the right junk to show if you don't have it — will instantly pull you out of a horror movie.
  • The Savage South: The reverse of this is treated as a truism, in that the best place to go to escape from a horror movie is always "north of wherever you are". If you're stranded in the deserts of the southwest, you'll be partying in Vegas before long. If you're in an evil small town in Maine or the dark forests of the Pacific Northwest, you'll be in nice, polite Canada. If you're on a farm in Pennsylvania, you'll be in upstate New York, which nobody knows exists.
  • Sci Fi Ghetto: invoked Lampooned with regards to horror movies. See Wrong Genre Savvy.
  • Self-Deprecation: invoked The general low quality, low budgets, and clichéd writing that show up in many horror movies (especially slashers) are a frequent target of parody. One of the "ejection seats" is great, well-written dialogue, and another is fleeing to a location that's far too expensive for the cash-strapped producers of a horror movie to shoot in.
  • Sequelitis: invoked Discussed and invoked. It's noted that being the main character of a sequel (the later in the series, the better) gives a better chance of survival because of the bad writing.
  • Sex Signals Death:
    • Downplayed. While it's still a good idea to not have sex in the Terrorverse, the only sex that is guaranteed to kill you is sex in a car.
    • On the other hand, having one's breasts being touched increases one's Titsonics, which attracts horror movie villains.
  • Shout-Out: By the boatload, to just about every classic horror movie and to some not-so-classic ones. Some of the scenarios are Whole Plot References to I Know What You Did Last Summer, Snakes on a Plane, Children of the Corn, The Sixth Sense, The Ring, The Exorcist, and (in the 2019 edition) It Follows.
  • Shovel Strike: Recommended against. They're too heavy on one end, and you're handing the screenwriter the old "forced to Dig Your Own Grave" opportunity.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Mortality
  • Summer Campy: The most dangerous place to be in the Terrorverse is at a summer camp. Surrounded by horny teenagers, and in the woods?
  • Teens Are Monsters:
    • Sometimes, if you're in a horror movie high school, your classmates can be as much of a problem as the villain.
    • There's also the answer to "My child slams doors, screams obscenities and says that he or she hates me" in the "Is My Child Possessed?" section. It's "Nothing is wrong with your child." Nothing related to the plot of the horror movie, anyway...
    • The corollary to this is that Teens Attract Monsters. No place in the Terrorverse is more dangerous than in the presence of high schoolers.
  • Terror at Make-Out Point: Car sex is a one-way ticket to hell in the Terrorverse.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: Machismo is the 2nd Deadly Sin of horror movies, whether you're taunting the killer, telling people that "you'll be safe with me", or treating women like garbage.
    Remember, fellow males — in horror movies, testosterone might as well be cyanide.
  • Third Is 3D: One of the signs that you're in a sequel is you're in 3-D.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: Downplayed with the book itself. The very first question it asks is how you came into possession of it, because having a book called How to Survive a Horror Movie is probably a sign that someone's trying to tell you something. Browsing at a bookstore is okay (though actually buying it is a different story), ordering it online isn't (because New Media Are Evil), and receiving it as a gift really isn't. And if you found it in the woods?
    There's only one genre that would allow clumsy, contrived screenwriting like that. Proceed directly to "Slasher Survival School", page 44.
  • Wild Teen Party: If you're invited to one, stay home. The party's probably gonna suck even before your classmates start dying.
  • Working-Class Hero: The reason why, if you're a high school student, you should befriend the shop teacher. His blue-collar virtues will carry through even if everybody else winds up possessed — that, and he has power tools.
  • Wrong Genre Savvy: If you find yourself in a big-budget production (really?), then odds are good you're in a psychological thriller, not a horror movie. In which case, the only advice the book can offer is that your missing child probably never existed, and that your husband is the bad guy.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: A very easy scenario to survive, with death at the hands of a zombie referred to as "the equivalent of a fighter jet being blown out of the sky by a Nerf dart."