Hi friends! 👋🏻 Horror may be a wonderful genre that tells all sorts of different stories from different parts of the world, but it is not perfect or without its faults. We all have things that we don’t want to see in our favourite genres whether that’s tropes, cliches, character archetypes, or even technical things that don’t have much to do with storytelling. Sometimes we even look back on stories from our favourite genres and see how far they’ve come and we’re glad that some tropes have died out over time. These are some of the things that I’m tired of seeing in horror and some that I’m glad to have been phased out!
As always, it’s important to remember that a trope is not an inherently bad thing, it’s just a storytelling tool. What I list here may be something that another person likes, so this is all completely subjective.
disability = bad guy
My usage of ‘disability’ here is very broad because so many different disabilities have been used as ways of ‘identifying’ the villain to audiences. It could be things like scars, congenital abnormalities, learning disabilities, mental illnesses, and so on. Sometimes it feels like horror writers try to avoid being accused of ableism by giving a character a disability or illness that is much rarer and therefore not seen very often in society, like Jason Voorhees having hydrocephaly in the first Friday the 13th movie.
There is still a lot of work to be done regarding how disability is depicted in horror as while we have come a long way from disabled people being used for shock value in Freaks (which resulted in the movie being banned and heavily censored) we do still have stories where a disabled person is depicted as dangerous and homicidal. Inspiration porn is still a problem too since there are stories where characters “overcome” their disability or it becomes a superpower for them.
death by sex
We all know that scene in Scream where Randy is explaining the ‘rules’ of how to survive a horror movie and this is the very first one. Personally, I think it’s a very tired trope for people to be killed just for having sex but thankfully we’ve come very far since the slasher craze of the 80s where it reigned supreme. And while we see couples being killed during sex scenes, the focus usually goes on the female characters, not the male. There can be an argument for misogyny here since the promiscuous girls don’t often get to be survivors in the end.
There are instances where horror has been a metaphor for STDs or AIDs, it’s just so prevalent that it’s become stale to see. Not to mention it can give off a weirdly conservative and puritanical message which is simply ‘don’t have sex or else you’ll die’.
only men can be cannon fodder
A wee statistic about the horror genre is that men generally die more than women, but violence against women is something that the genre gets criticised for frequently. The reason for this is when you look at how characters are killed, men are more often than not cannon fodder while women get the more graphic kills. There is a big difference between Quint getting eaten by the shark in Jaws and a girl getting cut in half through her genitals in Terrifier (yes, that really happens). I’ve seen so many kills in horror (that’s almost 400 movies but not as many books) and the only graphic kills I can think of off the top of my head that involve male victims are in Day of the Dead and the original American Psycho novel (not the movie, curiously).
Is it a little weird that I want to see more men get graphically killed in horror? Probably, but I think it’s only fair to even things out because it disproportionately happening to conventionally attractive women is boring.
indigenous burial grounds
I couldn’t point out the last time I saw this trope be used (Poltergeist springs to mind but that movie is from the 1980s so it’s not recent) and I’m glad that it’s fallen out of favour because it’s pretty problematic. I’m not from the United States so I can’t comment on issues that Indigenous Americans face, but I can recommend the Dead Meat Podcast episode where they discuss the trope with their friend who is part of the Cowlitz tribe.
There was a time when meta-horror was the big thing, thanks to Scream. I love Scream but it, unfortunately, paved the way for a lot of poor imitations and annoying characters. I don’t want the characters to be movie-smart and know exactly what to do in a bizarre situation just because they’ve watched a lot of movies, I want them to be clueless and prone to thinking on their feet.
If every horror character was an expert on what to do in a real-life horror story, we would have very short stories.
This is exclusively a visual thing since it’s not really possible for books to have strobe effects (and I hope they never do), but I’ve found that as I get older, my tolerance for flashing lights gets lower and lower. I’ve taken to covering the screen with my hand when watching movies at home and even going as far as to cover my eyes in the cinema while having my eyes closed to begin with. I had to do that while watching a scene in Halloween Ends and while I do appreciate that cinemas are now putting flashing image warnings on the screen before the movie starts, it’s still very intense.
The worst example I have of this is the movie In The Earth which I had no choice but to listen to with my eyes closed and covered for the last fifteen minutes. To make matters worse, I was the only person in the cinema screen when I watched it and I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I were epileptic and took ill. I understand that strobe lights can be relevant to the plot and are effective to the mood, but not when it causes people to become ill.
Zombies haven’t always been my favourite thing, but I have been watching a lot of older zombie movies and it’s not very surprising how racist some of them can be, considering that they’re often set in the Caribbean (especially Haiti). Zombies did originate in African voodoo and hoodoo folklore and spread to the Caribbean with slavery and white filmmakers making stories about them came with a lot of unfortunate implications. White Zombie is especially egregious because when I watched it on Amazon Prime, blackface was listed as a content warning.
These days zombies are a lot more gruesome and have become their own thing and I’m mostly glad for that because the old racist ones have been forgotten, but there is a part of me that would want to see voodoo zombies done right by Black writers and directors so that they don’t focus on white characters being surrounded by Black caricatures.
dangerous mentally ill characters
I want to think that this trope is very slowly dying since there will always be writers out there who will fully delve into this. Studies have shown that mentally ill people – especially those with ‘scary’ illnesses – are more likely to be victims of abuse and violence and also hurt themselves rather than other people.
comically awful villains
This is something that I have encountered while watching Rob Zombie’s movies, and it’s especially egregious in his Halloween remake. When a writer has to make the bad guys in their story constantly drop F-bombs and slurs, it feels like they’re spoon-feeding the audience and going ‘See, these are the bad guys, because they use bad words!’ For me, it just feels like too much. I already can see that these are the bad guys, and I don’t mind swearing but the bad language in those movies just became excessive to me. Not a lot of things bother me these days, but that makes me want to grab a bar of soap.