Top 10 Worst Horror Movie Cliches

Ugh. As an avid watcher of horror films, the amount of overused tropes and cliches continuously bug me. Of the hundreds of cliches out there, these are my 10 least favorite:

A scene from the Conjuring.
The Conjuring (image credits: Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.)

Based on “True” Events

Let’s face it: how many times have you Googled a horror movie stating it was “based on true events,” only to discover the reality is nothing like how Hollywood portrayed it?

This trope has not only become meaningless at this point, but even led to the recent Conjuring lawsuit.

A cliche involving a deer is included in Train to Busan.
A zombie deer, Train to Busan (image credits: Pan Media & Entertainment)

Oh Deer, I Hate This Cliche…

I’m surprised this one isn’t talked about more, because more than any others on this list, this is the one I hate the most.

The first ten minutes of most recent horror movies have a deer jump in front of a driving car… and I can’t stand it! Does it provide a cheap scare? Sure. But the artificial suspense is even less effective because of how overused the trope is.

Even the perfect movie Train to Busan had a deer get hit in its opening scene (though, that was technically a zombie deer, and no movie can have too much of that).

Helen explores Cabrini-Green in this Candyman scene.
Helen explores Cabrini-Green, Candyman (image credits: TriStar Pictures)

Sudden Shoulder Grabs

Sudden shoulder grabs are arguably the dumbest of the tropes and cliches on this list, yet are still overused in the genre. Turning around and unexpectedly seeing your friend (accompanied by a loud sound effect, of course) is a pretty close second.

The "it's all a dream" cliche appears in Midsummer.
Dani has a nightmare, Midsommar (image credits: B-Reel Films)

The “It’s All a Dream” Cliche

Even the best dream sequences are ruined by the fact that they’re dream sequences. There has to be a more creative way to let the audience know the protagonist’s subconscious fears, right? (I’m looking at you, Midsommar).

The Orphan contains cliches.
The Orphan (image credits: Dark Castle Holdings, LLC)

Same Old Locations, Same Old Cliche

Catacombs, asylums, orphanages and boarding schools are just a few of the locations I want to see the horror industry try to veer away from.

Location is everything in a movie, especially horror, but I want to see directors get creative with where the stories are set. Make the mundane scary. There’s horror in everything.

A scary mirror scene in Evil Dead II.
Evil Dead II (image credits: Renaissance Pictures)

Scary Mirrors (Aren’t Scary Anymore)

Within the specific locations that are overused, there are a few places that horror movies just don’t seem to know what to do with.

One of them is the bathroom. It’s almost a rule at this point that when a character opens a bathroom mirror, someone or something is going to appear behind them when they close it.

A frightening basement is featured in The People Under the Stairs.
The People Under the Stairs (image credits: Universal Pictures)

Don’t Go in the Basement

Another cliched place within pretty much all of the overused locations is the basement. I feel like everyone is naturally a bit uneasy about their basements (especially as a kid), but horror movies play on this fear a bit too much.

The lights always go out. It always gets silent. It’s never a good time in the basement, and that’s the problem with this trope.

Cole sees dead people in The Sixth Sense.
Cole sees dead people, The Sixth Sense (image credits: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution)

Creepy Kids Cliche

I know. Kids are annoying. Vivarium knew this (the movie is best watched on mute), but horror movies in general like to make their kids nightmarishly horrifying instead.

Friday the 13th is a good example of the "final girl" cliche.
Friday the 13th (image credits: Paramount Pictures)

The Final Girl

This is such a big topic that we’re going to devote an entire post to it… but a brief mention is necessary to complete this list of top 10 horror cliches and tropes.

“The final girl” is a term coined by author Carol J. Clover in her 1992 book Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Though the term has since broadened, it was created to describe the last female character in a slasher film that is left to get chased by the villain and then kills or escapes the villain in a final battle. The movies typically use this last remaining female to say something about her implied “moral superiority” because of her lack of drug use, sexual activities, etc.

Unfriended is riddled with horror tropes and cliches.
A glitch in Unfriended (image credits: Universal Pictures)

Not Dead Yet

If the deer in front of the car was my least favorite cliche on this list, then this is a close second. You know the drill. A horror villain is killed… or are they? They suddenly open their eyes or spring back to life, accompanied by a loud sound effect.

The cliche is even worse when used as the final shot of a movie, which does nothing but use a cheap scare to hint at an eventual sequel. Most horror movies that resort to this cliche as a final shot, though, don’t need or deserve a sequel…

Those were my top 10 least favorite cliches. What are some of yours? Let us know!

By Ben Goldman

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