The seven deadly sins of horror

James Moran, the screenwriter behind 2006's Severance, outlines some rules for horror filmmakers. Er, and you wouldn't like him when he's angry...

Severance: a horror movie that doesn't rely on cliche?

Okay. I tried to play nice. Said I wouldn’t slag off other movies. But enough is enough.

No more bad horror movies. I won’t stand for it.

It is not the 1950s anymore. It’s 2007. There are things you can NO LONGER DO. You don’t see UFOs on wires in science fiction movies anymore, so why should we put up with the horror equivalent? We’ve all seen a lot of horror movies, we don’t fall for the same shit that we used to. And yet writers and directors persist in treating us like fucking kids who’ve never seen a slasher movie before.

Come on. We’re adults. We’re not stupid. So today, I bring you the Seven Deadly Sins of Horror, the sins that must never be committed again. I know, I know, there are many more horror movie sins than these, ones you really shouldn’t be doing – but the ones here are the absolute worst of the worst, sins that there can be no excuse for.

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Filmmakers, consider yourself put on notice – you are all now expressly forbidden from putting ANY of the following in a horror movie:

7 – The grabbing hand: How many times have you sneaked up on a friend, walked silently right up behind them, and then suddenly grabbed their shoulder? Without intentionally trying to freak them out? And then been surprised that you scared them?


And yet it happens in horror movies all the time. There are no deaths coming up, but it’s been 7 minutes so they have to insert a fake scare. Oh my God! A killer! Oh, wait, it’s just his friend grabbing his shoulder. It’s ridiculous.

Same goes for the cat scare, although I really shouldn’t have to say that in this day and age. Sure, sometimes we still need the fake scare trick, to build up the tension, keep the real horror off screen for a while, but you’ve got to do something different.

6 – Sudden attacks of deafness: If you’re in a building with someone, and they wander out the door, they will still be able to hear you if you call out to them. Especially if you then go wandering around, panicking, and screaming out their name at the top of your voice.

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They *won’t*, however, completely fail to hear you, then suddenly appear out of nowhere and make you jump, usually by grabbing your shoulder (see above). Unless they’re deliberately trying to scare you. If someone vanishes and doesn’t respond to shouts, then they’d better be dead or unconscious.

5 – Magic, psychic killers: Oh thank goodness, the large breasted girl has managed to put some distance between herself and the killer. Oh look, she’s found a car – and it’s unlocked! And the keys are in the ignition! And the engine has started, first time! Hooray! She’s going to escape!

I hope that the killer hasn’t somehow magically teleported into the back seat, where he will suddenly pop up to stab or garrotte her. I’m sure that won’t happen though, because he’d need the aforementioned teleporting skills, plus the ability to psychically predict which car she would choose. And it would make no sense to hide in the back seat, wait until she starts driving, and *then* attack her. So he probably won’t do that. Oh. He did.

4 – Cars that get scared: Oh dear, the car suddenly won’t start – how inconvenient, being that I am, at this very juncture, being chased by a monster. Yes, the same car that drove me ALL THE WAY UP the fucking mountain, and has been working for YEARS, has chosen THIS PRECISE moment to break down, just as I’m trying to escape – as opposed to, say, Act One, for example.

How come the car never breaks down just *before* the horny, doomed teenagers leave for their road trip? If a previously healthy car suddenly won’t start, it had better be because the killer has mangled it, or stuffed a dead body into the engine.

3 – Sudden attacks of clumsiness: Run! Run like the wind! Run from the killer! Oh, you fell over. Well done. Because able-bodied adults fall over ALL THE TIME, don’t they?

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Yes, I know you need the killer to catch up for the sake of the plot, but do something else. Throw a locked door, a trap, a speeding car in the way, anything. Just don’t have them fall over. It’s lazy and stupid.

Same goes for someone hiding, trying to stay quiet, who just happens to knock over a display stand filled with 500 metal plates. If I ever need to hide from a killer, I’m going to be as careful as I possibly can, thanks. If the character who falls over is female, you lose even more points. If she is subsequently helped up by a male character, then your bus to the 1950s is leaving shortly, be on it.

2 – Miraculous recoveries: Can we please retire this one? Please? “He’s dead… oh no, he’s alive!” Having the killer pop back up was a genuine surprise when Michael Myers did it in Halloween, but guess what? That was nearly 30 years ago. It’s finally time to end that tradition, it’s been done way too often. Come on. We need a new thing. Just leave it alone. Right, I’m finished with this paragraph.

No I’m not! Booga booga booga!

Okay, I am now.

And the NUMBER ONE thing that you must NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER use in a horror movie again, ON PAIN OF DEATH:

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1 – Characters who don’t kill the killer when given the chance: I really, really thought we’d laid this one to rest, but apparently not. Imagine you’re in a real life situation, and some crazy guy has repeatedly tried to kill you. It’s terrifying, your life is in danger, he WILL kill you if he can, probably torturing and raping you beforehand, perhaps wearing your skin, perhaps eating your internal organs.

But oh happy day, you get a lucky break and manage to knock him out, or immobilise him. When he wakes up or frees himself, he will continue trying to kill you, and will probably succeed.

But right now, you have a few minutes. Do you (a) kill him, or (b) run away, giving him a chance to come after you again? The answer is, of course, (a). You kill him. By ANY means necessary.

Your gun’s out of bullets? Smash his face with it. Gun too small? Sharpen it and stab him with it. No gun? Hit him with a chair. Drop heavy objects on him. Set him on fire. Run him over. If you have nothing nearby, just fucking jump up and down on his head until the skull cracks, then keep jumping until it splits all the way open, then keep jumping until it’s a bloody stain on the ground. You’re fighting for your life, wouldn’t you do whatever you could to save yourself?

Sure, the killer can have the upper hand all the way through the movie, more weaponry, traps, that’s fine. But if a character gets a chance to kill the killer, they had better fucking kill him, and make sure he’s dead, preferably by decapitation, head-smashing, dismemberment, or exploding. No excuses. None. End of story.

This is an INSTANT movie destroyer, because it yanks you out and makes you realise that it’s just a plot contrivance to keep the story going for longer, while the whole audience is screaming “kill him!” in frustration. But some filmmakers are under the mistaken impression that it’s okay, that we won’t notice the glaringly stupid thing the main character has just done.

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We will though, and the second you do it, I’m walking out, and there is NOTHING you can possibly say to me to explain yourself, so I don’t even want to fucking hear it. If you think I’m that much of a fucking retard that I’ll sit there and happily accept your sloppy, slapdash, half arsed piece of shit of a movie, then you can Go. Fuck. Yourself.

And there we have it. If you have the gall to allow any of these in your movie, then you obviously have no respect for us or yourself, and we will be within our rights to hunt you down and gut you like a fish. People like you are responsible for horror’s bad reputation, for review quotes like “of course, we don’t go to horror movies expecting a sensible plot”.

Don’t think to yourself “oh, it’s only horror, it doesn’t matter”, or “it doesn’t need to make sense”, or “only horny 12 year old boys will see it” – it DOES matter, it DOES need to make sense, and although the audience is made up of a wide variety of people, young and old, even the horny 12 year old boys won’t fall for your shit. Times have changed. You’d better change with them, or make romantic comedies instead. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Read our full interview with James Moran here.

Read more from James Moran at

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