Horror is a difficult genre to love. It’s generally reviled – even now, horror movies that are good enough get called “psychological thrillers” instead – and seen as a quick, cheap and easy way for filmmakers to get their foot in the door.
It’s rammed with cliches, and still revels in sexist and racist attitudes that should have died out several decades ago (except now they’re “ironic”, as if that makes anything any better). Yet I still love it, in spite of all its flaws, so I’m suggesting a tiny, tiny baby step that would improve the horror genre immeasurably – the outright banning of the following cliched shots:
The silhouette against the basement door You know the one – someone opens the door to the creepy basement, and suddenly we’re looking up at them, silhouetted against the light, from the bottom of the basement stairs. It’s supposed to imply that there’s something nasty lurking in the basement, and that the unsuspecting protagonist/sidekick/completely expendable token minority character is about to get attacked. What it actually implies is that the filmmaker in question read too many Stephen King novels as a child and hasn’t got an original thought in his or her head.
The spiral staircase A character stands at the bottom of the staircase – the camera moves to the top, and looks down at them, using the spirals of the multiple flights of stairs to frame them. I’ve got no idea what they think this one does, apart from make the viewer think “wow, that’s a lot of stairs, I bet I’d be out of breath by the time I got to the top”, but it turns up in pretty much any horror film not set in a bungalow or a wood cabin.
A mystery shape flits past the camera Oooh, spooky! Something just moved past the camera! But it was dark, so we couldn’t see what it was! Neither could the characters! But there’s totally something out there! Depending on the run time, it’s either the murderer or a random teenager showing up late/playing a trick on his/her friends, but no matter what point in the film this happens at, it always totally sucks. Find a new way to imply that there’s something lurking outside, guys. This one is played out.
The spin-around scare Someone facing the wall will always be dead, mutilated, or the killer in disguise. To the point where, now, if I walk into a room and find the person I’m looking for unresponsive and turned away from me, I’ll just leave the room. This is so, so cliche that it hurts. The point of scares like this is to build suspense, but when you’ve seen the shot in question a million times already, it just becomes boring. Yes, that person will probably have their eyes gouged out. Yawn!
Hand grabbing a tree Can every axe-murderer out there really be that incapable of running through the woods without having to grab onto a tree for support? Maybe the axe throws off their balance.
Driving scenes with unseen dialogue played over the top Look. Conversations between characters where useful information is exchanged are worth watching. Someone driving a car in silence is not worth watching. If a conversation goes along the lines of “You need to go to X place on X street” and then the next scene is supposed to be in X place, it’s a safe bet that your audience is smart enough to realise that the character travelled there somehow. We don’t need to SEE them driving. We do need to see the conversation. Smushing the two things together is senseless. Please stop.
Fucking around with the exposure of the film Okay, I admit that I don’t know exactly, technically, how this is achieved, but I know what it looks like and I know I don’t like it. A lot of bad horror films tend to lapse into this weirdly grainy or hyper-sharp look that’s usually accompanied by manically shaking the camera in order to try and amp up the drama of the scene. (Lost does this a lot, too.) What it actually does – and you can file this along with splashing blood or water onto the camera lens, too – is shake the viewer out of the film by making them notice that you’re fucking around with the film stock. No-one’s eyes see like that. It’s not clever, and it’s not impressive, and you can just stop it now and film properly, okay?
I’m sure I’ve missed some, but if I never have to see any of these tired, old, seen-it-a-million-times-before camera angles ever again, that’ll be quite soon enough, thank you.