Horror Movie Tropes That You’ve Seen One Too Many Times

July 20, 2021 | Benjamin Carpenter

Horror movie tropes (similar to cliches) are seared into our brains. The tropes are overused to the point where if we find ourselves walking alone at night and our phone dies, we’ll start getting a little nervous. Not because we believe we are in actual danger but because this is the forewarning that takes place in almost every horror movie.

What is a trope? A trope is an expected use of characters, situations, settings, and time periods within a specific genre. For example, movie tropes can have the main character walk away from an explosion in slow motion or transform from geek to good-looking in a rom com. There are good tropes, tropes that are received positively, and negative tropes otherwise known as cliches.

Horror movies today can feel like they are using a checklist of movie tropes to include and it can get tiresome to watch the recycled characters, situations, and settings in every scary movie. We have created a list of 10 horror movie tropes that you’ve probably seen once or 10 times before.


Common Horror Movie Tropes List

Linda Blair in The Exorcist

10. Creepy But Adorable Child

Any time a creepy child is singing a nursery rhyme, immediately run away. The horror movie trope of the deranged but adorable child has gotten increasingly popular in the modern era and is practically a staple in modern-day horror movies. Children are supposed to be blissfully unaware, innocent, and in need of an adult’s protection but sometimes the children in horror movies are very aware and are the ones adults need protection from. 


Read more: Best Horror Movies That Subvert Your Expectations

Mary Elizabeth Winstead in 10 Cloverfield Lane9. No Cell Phone

The time of landlines has passed. We live in the most interconnected time of human history, yet characters in horror movies will still lose service regularly or refuse to charge their cell phone fully. Usually,  the characters realize this information at inconvenient times, like as they are being chased in the woods. This is one of the most important rules of being in a horror movie, get a good cell phone plan and keep your phone charged.


Kristen Connolly in Cabin in the Woods

8. Running and falling

Horror movies tend to treat women as if they are incapable of saving themselves. Often, the women in horror movies will have ample time and space to escape the killer but suddenly, they forget how their legs work and begin falling. It’s a bizarrely frustrating phenomenon where the characters keep tripping over air. Personally, I’ve never been chased by a serial killer so I can’t say with 100% certainty that I won’t forget how my legs work if I’m chased by a killer but I’ll give myself the benefit of the doubt.


7. Don’t Go In The Bathroom

Bathrooms are some of the most vulnerable places in our lives. We undress in the bathroom, use the toilet, take a shower; the bathroom is in many ways a place of privacy. It only makes sense that it’s also the place movie killers love to stake out their victims. Also, the stall is possibly the worst hiding place for anyone except, of course, the killer. It rarely works out for the main characters to hide in stalls in horror movies.


6. The Expert: The Character Who Knows Everything

This character is usually an older man or woman that is discovered by the main characters. The expert has all of the knowledge on the killer, monster, spirit, etc. After the main characters find the expert, they have a newfound motivation to stop the horror villain and usually a semi-decent plan to survive.


5. The Villain Is Invincible

There’s no better way to kill tension than to make the antagonist unstoppable. This is a bad habit horror movies have fallen into, particularly slasher movies. Many horror villains are unphased by bullets, vehicles, and falls at any height. Nothing stops them from getting their target. Halloween II is the best example of this slasher movie trope. John Carpenter has expressed several times that his script for Halloween II was an abomination and he particularly didn’t like Michael Myers becoming invincible and being unphased by 6 gunshots. This detail was retconned in the 2018 reboot along with many others.


Insidious jump scare with Patrick Wilson

4. Jump Scares

Jump scares are a staple of horror movies. Rarely, will you see a horror movie without a jump scare. Now, I’m not saying jump scares aren’t effective because they are. Even if you know what’s coming you still jump. It can be argued that the modern-day jump scare originated from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The iconic scene in the shower (see number 7) contains all of the elements: the slow music ramp up, the building suspense, and a loud sound at the reveal to top it off. However, modern-day horror movies overly rely on jump scares and now they feel like a cheap imitation of actual horror.


Neve Cambell in Scream 4

3. The Final Girl

Despite women being portrayed as utterly helpless in horror movies, typically it is a woman that is the hero of the story, somehow prevailing over the monstrous villain. The final girl is the last remaining protagonist who is also a representation of innocence. In 80’s movies, you’ll see this slasher movie trope in details like the woman being a virgin or being the responsible character in the friend group. Rarely will you find a man in this role.


The twins and Danny Lloyd in The Shining

2. The Vengeful Spirit

Oh, what’s this? An abandoned house? Why’s it abandoned? Someone was tortured and murdered here? These are all bad signs that point to an aggravated ghost living inside the premises. This movie trope can also exist in a story with a recently bought house that a family is moving into but will soon regret. Of course, after a few mysterious skirmishes with the supernatural, the family reluctantly tries to move out if they try to move out at all. In recent years, it seems that vengeful spirit movies have become more popular than slasher movies. 


A hand rises out of a grave

1. One Last Scare

If you think you killed the villain, you didn’t. Their body may not be moving but once you check their pulse they’ll jump up for a final attempt to attack you. This is the final horror movie staple. The first time the horror movie villain “dies” is never a real death. A lot of the time, even when the horror villain dies a horrible death it’s not a real death. This results in one last jump scare where the villain’s hand emerges from his grave.


The Great Thing About Horror Movie Tropes

Horror movie tropes can get repetitive and irritating to see in movies day in and day out. However, the good thing about horror movie tropes is that filmmakers can subvert them and surprise the audience. Cabin in the Woods is a great example of a film that uses horror movie tropes to enhance the story. Scream is an iconic example of how movies can use tropes to elevate the movie experience. With the horror genre being so new, only time will tell how horror movie tropes will evolve.

Published on July 20th, 2021, updated on March 23rd, 2022


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