Attack of the Brain-Dead Horror Cliches

1 – The Pussy Shocker

The hero is alone in his house. He hears a noise in one of the other rooms and goes to investigate. He searches around, but finds nothing, when suddenly, WHAM, a black cat jumps out from nowhere, it’s snarl mixed high in the ÿÿÿÿsoundtrack, giving the hero (and supposedly the audience) a split second shock.

Yep, the brain dead film-makers have pulled the hoary old “Cat Gag” again. Have you ever been jolted by a cat suddenly jumping out at you?
No, I didn’t think so, but going by horror films you’d think that being shocked by your pussy (or someone else’s) was one of life’s inevitable bad happenings. Films as diverse as ‘Stagefright’, ‘The Slayer’, ‘Hardcover’, ‘Psychic Killer’, ‘Alien’, ‘Night of the Creeps’ and ‘Friday the
13th, Part II’ (plus a host of other slashers) have all used variations of The Cat Gag. The moggies involved have jumped out of windows, boxes, cupboards and garbage bins, all for the sake of a
cheap ‘filler’ shock. Of course, The Cat Gag doesn’t always have to utilise a cat, other animals can be used, for instance ‘Something is Out There’ uses a white parrot. It helps if the animal has a loud shriek or snarl – rabbits and gerbils are thus out.

There’s not always a suspenseful build-up to The Cat Gag, but when there is, most horror fans will see it coming well in advance and this anticipation probably makes the shock more successful. It has to be admitted, The Cat Gag is usually effective in making the viewers heart stop for a split second – just as well, because otherwise cats in movies are about as scary as the end sequence of ‘Top Cat’. Need I say more than ‘The Uncanny’, ‘The Corpse Grinders’ or ‘Eye of the Cat’? Even horror stylist numero uno, the giallo god himself, Dario Argento, could only muster luke-warm chills for his cat attack sequence in ‘Inferno’ [ That’s being generous – you can almost see the bloke, standing just out of shot, throwing the recalcitrant felines through the air at the ‘victim’. Hilarious. Ed. ]

2 – The False Point of View Shot

A slasher movie fave, this one. The camera, supposedly rendering the psycho’s point of view, menacingly tracks towards an unsuspecting character, whose gory murder is anticipated by the tension-racked (I don’t think) audience. As the camera finally reaches the character, we discover that it’s actually been the point of view of another protagonist and not the psycho, about to indulge in some slice ‘n’ dice.

The makers of ‘Friday the 13th, Part IV’ must have thought this one was celluloid horror’s magic ingredient for surefire success, as they use it again and again (and again) throughout the film. As a rule of thumb, in a slasher flick, if the camera slowly tracks towards someone POV style, then you can bet your video tape cleaner that he/she will live to be killed off in another sequence.

‘The Unnameable’ contains what is possibly the most stupefying ever variation of this gag [ the entire film was pretty stupefying, I thought. Ed. ]. ‘Burial Ground’ (aka ‘Zombie 3’) has a text book example of how this trick should be done, in it’s earlier sequences, but blows it by ineffectively rehashing it later. When a film uses the POV gag more than once, it’s a sure sign that the director is probably suffering from an acute case of brain death.

3 – The False Capture Shock

This one is usually inflicted on a female protagonist. She’s alone in the woods (usually the male who has been accompanying her has just ‘mysteriously’ disappeared). She suddenly realises that someone is watching her. Scared, she runs and after twenty or thirty yards, she stumbles into a figure whose identity is momentarily unrevealed, causing her to yell in shock. “Oh, no – the killer’s got her”, the audience think as their pulse rate doubles but after a second or two the figure is revealed to be a ‘safe’ character, usually the aforementioned male, who has no desire to cut her life short.

There are various setups to this gag, but the pay-off is always well telegraphed. ‘Pieces’ has an especially hokey version in which Lynda Day George rushes straight into big Paul ‘Popeye’ Smith, who’s wielding a mean chainsaw. Tho’ naturally, he’s just the college caretaker out trimming some hedges.

4 – The Blood Daub Device

A sorry cop-out to a violent murder, this one. The killer, holding a knife (or axe, sword, etc) traps his victim in a room, raises the weapon and violently thrusts is down at the victim. Cut to the wall, as the victim’s blood spatters over it.

This device, used in many a low-budget movie, is nothing but a cheapjack substitute for a real gore effect. When the blood-drenched wall rears it’s ugly head in a movie, I always hope that the blood daub will be quickly followed by the victim’s decapitated head or hacked-off arm being thrown against it. Such Grand Guignol taste/imagination has yet to materialize.

5 – The Triple Zoom Reverse

A cliche of technique. The camera simultaneously zooms forward while tracking back on a close-up of a character, displacing them from the background to accentuate a moment of shock realisation on their part.

Utilised in ‘Vertigo’, purely as a subjective device by Hitchcock (who invented it) to depict James Stewart’s height induced dizziness, this shot became popular when Steven Spielberg used it in ‘Jaws’ in the sequence where Roy Schneider, sitting on the beach, suddenly spots a shark fin in the ocean full of swimmers. Since then, there has been no shortage of exploitation films (not just horror ones) that have had this shot thrown in, adding nothing but a moment of second-hand artisticness to the proceedings – ‘How I Got Into College’ is the latest. Funnily enough, whenever a film does use this shot, it’s almost always shown in the trailer…