The next big thing in horror...what do you think it will be? I make my guess. Also, a horrible list of horror cliches to avoid, and my better list of avoidable things.

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Summary: I'm confused by a list of horror cliche's to avoid, and felt I should give you my five things I would suggest avoiding in horror. Also, what's the next the big thing? I take a stab at it.

BLOT: (06 Nov 2013 - 09:03:59 AM)

The next big thing in horror...what do you think it will be? I make my guess. Also, a horrible list of horror cliches to avoid, and my better list of avoidable things.

Yesterday, I was looking around to see what people were predicting as the next-big-thing in overused horror sub-genres. The current overused is the haunted house story—and by current I mean "for the past couple of years"—as a direct offshoot of the possessed women stories and the various "real life ghost hunting" TV series, with Paranormal Activity being the gateway drudge. Internet Meme horror combined with "things that only kill you if you look at them" is giving it a go, but without a definite hit outside of the Slender game and the Marble Hornests online series, it is still a subgenre up for speculation. People know about it and talk about it, but the same can be said of mummies. I know a lot of people are predicting Lovecraftian horror as the next big thing, which is wrong, because it has already been a big thing for a bit, in the right circles, and is self-niched by the various troubles of filming it [a requirement for mainstream explosions in horror] and its own complex and philosophically convoluted trope structure.

My guess is that we're going to see "girls with magical powers" horror come up next. With the growing reluctance of relying on disproportionate box-office ratios of low-budget outliers and/or found-footage titles, horror producers are apt to swing a bit towards PG-13 to pick up young-and-probably-female-people viewers. Not only does it help to counter some of the old-horror and new-Torture-Porn misogynies, but it gets into the cusp of Hunger Games and Twilight dollars. The Carrie remake is a potential break-out, but others have been playing around with it for a bit. If there is not a "coven of teen witches" movie coming down the pipe, I'd be surprised. And with the movies will come the books.

Searching around to see what other people were picking as their horse in the race lead me to this article: 5 Horror Story Cliches to Avoid. Seemed like a fun click, even if it is a couple of years old, especially since it is dealing with stories/fiction as opposed to movies, which puts it in the minority of articles-about-horror. Then I read the cliches the article maintains are to be avoided, and I'm having trouble telling what Juniper Russo is trying to say, partially because the article needs a fairly strong edit and rewrite, and partially because she uses a very lose definition of "cliche". Summarized and briefly quoted for those not wanting to click the page, we have:

  1. Be Careful What You Wish For.: "If your horror story involves someone who spends his whole life seeking something that will ultimately destroy his life, you need to re-think your plot."
  2. The Evil Creature. "The creature might be an animal, a ghost or a demon. It might be invisible. It might be disguised as something else. Regardless, it runs around killing people until it is seemingly destroyed. Then, at the end of the novel, the author reveals that it is still alive. Needless to say, you should avoid this plot line unless you've got a radical new spin on it."
  3. The Crazy Person. "Avoid this plot line at all cost. It's fine to include a mentally ill person among your characters; it's not okay to mis-characterize mental illness for the sake of re-writing an aleady-written plot."
  4. The Tables Are Turned. "This cliche plot involves a few hundred pages of an evil character doing evil things. He kills, rapes or vandalizes...In the end, the tables are turned and he is either killed or forced to suffer."
  5. The Scary Place. "A horror story isn't complete without a spooky setting, but the setting is not the plot. If all or most of your story revolves around the setting rather than the action, you need to re-write it entirely."

#1 is a broad trope that borderlines on an overused cliche but, depending on your definition, can be applied to nearly all horror [the kids wanted to have an exciting time on the beach, they got killer sharks!]. #2 is too broad to even be a trope, covering a number of large sub-genres, and would be much like saying "People who don't immediately fall in love but then they end up falling in love!" plots are to be universally avoided in romantic stories. #3 is good advice, and is closest to an avoidable cliche, especially considering the potential harm in having people with mental issues be either go-to bad guys or magical cures for ancient evils. #4 is not a cliche and I don't even know what she wants. #5 (a) is not a cliche and (b) a lot of people don't focus on the setting over plot and it confuses me why she thinks this is a tired cliche. The whole thing is a lot of "do nots" rather than "You can add X and Y and Z instead", so it's hard to see if Russo is attacking broad horror themes outright, attacking specific modifications on them, or simply prefers vampire horror where there are no clear Big Bads and at the end people make out to techno music. It's an odd list, it is.

Anyhow, enough half-ranting, let's take a look at five things (not necessarily cliches) I would suggest people start avoiding in horror plots unless they have good reason to keep them in:

  1. Rape, especially...
    • ...when designed to pretend to show the resilience of the protagonist while really it is to show fetishistic slow motion with a close-up on the victim's terrified face.
    • make the significant other mad [aka, the world's tiredest plot].
  2. Dumb decisions as a plot shortcut.
  3. Moral justification by having protagonist do immoral or dumb things and so have it be his/her fault that it all happens, anyhow.
  4. Authority as the real bad guy, with anyone in uniform soulless and unable to think for themselves.
  5. The broken family trying to rebuild [probably after the death of a son] in the spooky family home [probably left by an aunt].

If my prediction about the next overused sub-genre, and it's PG-13 leanings, is correct, it will be interesting to see what cliches surround it. Bad-guy authority seems really likely, as does moral grandstanding, but I'm not sure what else.



Written by Doug Bolden

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