Every now and then, a random fact picked up very unceremoniously and unintentionally along the way can come in handy — for example, I once got a free cup of coffee because I knew what the capital of South Dakota was. It’s a fleeting but magnificent feeling of vindication when all that seemingly superfluous knowledge pays off when least expected.
I could take that notion even further with all those horror film hyper-sensibilities that have hovered over our conventional biases, opinions, and stereotypes for so long. I know I’m not treading new ground here — some of this stuff has actually made it into collective cultural zeitgeist.
Thanks to films like SCREAM, even the uninitiated know not to have sex in the woods, go investigate a strange noise, walk by a killer who seems to be unconscious, or travel with a virgin to anywhere wooded or desolate.
Since the “virginal factor” is a wildcard at best, maybe some more solid horror-trope survival skills would prove more useful… so I thought I might provide, for lack of a better term, a brief tutorial on surviving a potential real-life horror movie situation.
The Easy Hookup is Too Good to Be True
I just can’t say enough about this one — in horror, ignorance of this axiom almost always leads to certain and agonizing death. Typically the males are the most vulnerable — a single beautiful woman (or a group of them) plying the unsuspecting men with copious amounts of alcohol and a free walk to third base are surely up to no good. If said women are “exotic,” then the danger factor doubles. You could find yourself tortured, drained of blood, your internal organs harvested, or horribly ingested to fuel the immortality of some dude who made a deal with the Devil (or any other lower-level Hell minion).
I’d like to say that the ladies are far more astute in avoiding this trap — because they usually are. I mean after all, the term “Final Girl” wasn’t coined for nothing. However, in this case, the strategy is a little different — the men may offer cultured romance, above-average conversation, or unconditional understanding. But Regardless of gender, the cold reality is that things are going to get about 50,000 shades darker if this rule is not applied.
The Party Animal Will Slow You Down When Things Go Bad
Road trips and outings with friends are fun — especially when you’re with someone witty, carefree, and ready to get their drink on. The friend who brings the beer, supplies the condoms, or wants to go to that out-of-the-way spot not on the trip itinerary (see the next item for more on this) may seem like just the spontaneity the trip needs… but all this does is make your whereabouts unknown, and gives home turf advantage to anyone homicidal, mutated, or some combination thereof.
The out-of-town cousin in JAWS 2, who talks Mike Brody into the sailing trip that wise old Chief Brody strongly advised against, is the most glaring example that comes to mind… but there have been many others. The worst part is that if this person doesn’t get eaten, turned into a vampire or zombie, or become a host to an alien parasite, they can simply become a burden on everyone else due to their lack of survival skills. The life of the party can quickly become the death of everyone else.
Assume the Locals Hate You (and Are Hiding Terrible Secrets)
This rule is just good policy, really; it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be nice… just be cautious. It also can’t be narrowed down to one socioeconomic stereotype, either. I know “local yokel” stereotypes are easy targets for suspicion — but it also could be middle class townies, the wealthy elite, or modern-day Druids with charming accents.
Locals are typically a little stand-offish anyway when it comes to intruders on their turf… but the signs are too ambiguous to make any sound judgements, so it’s smart to play it safe. Even if everyone you meet is nice at first, they all may be bound by the solidarity of a terrible evil — devil worship, mind control, or maybe cannibalism. Look for examples in classic films THE STEPFORD WIVES, THE WICKER MAN, or ROSEMARY’S BABY.
If one or more local folk make conversation, they could actually be the bait for your misplaced trust – or, conversely, a litmus test for the current danger level. If they die horribly because of being too chatty or curious, high tail it out of there; however, while they are still human or breathing, they can be excellent sources of vital information involving the local cult, a mad slasher, or wealthy elitists that hunt, torture, kill, sacrifice, inseminate, or brainwash outlanders. (Crazy Ralph from the original FRIDAY THE 13TH and the local drunk guy from HALLOWEEN III are surefire examples of this.) That old dude at the gas station who provides directions is pretty much the angel of death, as we know from THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE or WRONG TURN. Their advice will likely leave you bloody, disoriented and needing a new set of friends… if you’re lucky, that is.
Uncharted Locations + Creepy Local Folklore = DEATH
Seriously — strange, off-the-path sites shrouded in mystery are reserved for paranormal investigators and people on the Discovery Channel. In this age of GPS and Google Earth, anywhere you go is usually somewhere on the grid. I know I’m being a bit overly cautious here, but haunted houses, forests, deep caves, lakes, or oceans could harbor demons from hell, or monsters of mythic lore. It’s true that most of what we know now is thanks to explorers we read about in History class — but you have to realize that travelling was much more harrowing then; it wasn’t uncommon for a traveler to die on a routine journey to visit a relative in another state or territory. Surviving was a bonus, not an expectation.
Diving, spelunking, or even camping out with a sleeping bag in the front room of a haunted house might be exhilarating — but it’s for people without dependents. I prefer the last image anyone sees of me not be shaky footage from a bloody cell phone or GoPro that turns up a year later.
So there you have it. Okay, maybe this advice seems a bit paranoid, but frankly all that film subject matter we gleaned throughout our lives — those wild and fleeting thoughts about demons, monsters, slashers, and vengeful spirits — had to come from somewhere in reality, right? Better safe than sorry.
Stay scared, my friends…