Horror films thrive on spooking their audience in a variety of ways. For example, the recent tech horror Countdown tapped into our anxiety about our mortality with an app that predicts the time you’ll die, down to the second. The central conceit being, how do you avoid death?
Well, today we’re counting down seven reasons characters die in horror films. Avoid these things to ensure your safety.
1. Taking drugs/having sex
Let’s get the obvious reason out first. Now many tend to overstate the significance of not taking drugs and having sex in horror movies. There are many iconic horror movie survivors who didn’t die after taking drugs (Laurie smokes marijuana and survived Halloween (1978)) and having sex (Ginny in Friday the 13 part 2, Sidney in Scream and Jay in It Follows).
But generally, it’s best to play it safe. For every iconic horror survivor who disproves this claim, there are slews of iconic horror victims that prove it. Just see Tina in A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) who had sex moments before her tortuous slicing by Freddy Krueger.
And Palmer in The Thing (1982) definitely shouldn’t have gotten high with a shapeshifting alien creature running around.
2. Mocking conventions
Something less widely recognised is the fact that knowing genre clichés can also be a death sentence. How many times in horror movies have you heard someone mock their compatriots, by saying, “haven’t you seen a scary movie before?” only for them to die soon after. Unless you’re part of the Scream series self-aware characters rarely live to the end credits.
For a great example of how self-awareness kills, look at the character of Lizbeth from Friday the 13th Part 6: Jason Lives.
3. Heading into the unknown
A word of advice, if you’re heading somewhere and find that it’s abandoned, rundown, has measures in place to keep people out, contains weird items or you don’t know much about it, just leave. You don’t know what may be lurking around.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) typifies this. Two of our leads wander onto a property with a drained swimming pool, blacked-out windows, and teeth are found on the porch. When they don’t leave there are very unfortunate consequences.
4. Going anywhere alone
Following on from the last entry, while it’s a bad idea heading into the unknown it’s even worse to go anywhere without bringing someone with you. It’s a good rule of thumb, when you go off alone you’re easier to stalk, terrorize and kill because no one’s there to keep you grounded and out of harm’s way.
No series exemplifies this trope better than the Friday the 13th series. The first movie, in particular, features several effective reasons for why you should never go anywhere alone.
5. Being generally unpleasant
As in life, don’t be unpleasant to people. Don’t insult, belittle, harm or be rude, it just makes everyone hate you. And when everyone hates you in a horror film you can rest assured that you are going to die.
Look no further than this scene from Silent Night for proof of that.
6. Ignoring warnings & premonitions
I get that sometimes it’s hard to accept warnings from strangers, close friends, relatives or even your subconscious (in the case of dreams). It may feel patronising or like you aren’t personally in control. But these warnings are for your safety. It’s so baffling that horror film characters continually ignore them, as it usually leads to someone biting the big one.
Again Friday the 13th shows that warnings should be heeded. If the kids listened to Crazy Ralph, they’d still be alive.
7. Cheating death
The final irony of horror movies is that you’re seldom truly safe. There was a time when good people survived and lead happy lives after the credits rolled. But besides the odd exception, that’s not the case nowadays.
If you’re in a self-contained movie maybe, one or two survivors will live to tell the tale. But if you’re a returning character from another film (and you aren’t Sidney Prescott, Ash Williams, Tommy Jarvis or Alice Johnson), you’ll more than likely die. So, if you survive, avoid sequels.
The master of dying in sequels is Laurie Strode. Originally dying in an off-screen car crash between Halloween 2 and 4, she was brought back in H20 (which continued from Halloween 2), only to die again in Halloween: Resurrection. She also died in the director’s cut of Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 (the second film in the reboot timeline) before being brought back in Halloween (2018). It seems the universe has a fascination with reviving and killing Laurie.
So there’s our list of seven reasons why characters die in horror movies. Just avoid doing these things and you’re sure to live to see another day.