There’s usually an element of fantasy in horror movies, but part of what makes them so scary is the fact that they feel at least a little bit grounded in reality. That’s why it’s especially hard to watch when the characters — both victims and survivors — do things that no logical person would do in real life. More often than not, that ends up leading to more terror, death, and dismemberment.
No subgenre is immune to this. From alien invasions to zombie apocalypses, every type of horror movie introduces us to characters that will commit acts of complete stupidity. Even as horror have evolved over the years and become increasingly more self-aware, the heroes and heroines of even the best scary movies always seem to end up making the same crappy decisions time and time again. Here are our picks for the 16 Stupidest Things That People Do in Horror Movies.
16. Hang out in the dark
As a general rule, it seems pretty safe to assume that if you’re being chased by a terrifying creature from the netherworld or an insane axe murderer, you’ll probably want to stick to heavily populated, well-lit areas. For some strange reason, though, people in horror movies seem to prefer hanging out in dimly lit hallways or dark rooms. Over and over again, we’ve watched our horror movie heroes and heroines fall victim to their killers because they failed to realize they were right there with them. It’s especially perplexing in films like Lights Out, when the characters are aware that the vengeful ghost stalking them can only get them in the dark, yet never seem to actually try to stay in the light. Just how many innocent lives could have been saved if horror movie characters remembered to flip on a light switch or at least bring a high-powered flashlight with them into the uncertain darkness?
15. Have sex
If there’s any genre that’s hammered home the dangers of sexual activity, it’s horror. From slasher flicks to supernatural mysteries, we’ve seen so many people suffer terrifying, violent consequences from getting it on that it’s become a well-known horror cliche. Still, it’s worth repeating: basically the worst thing you can do in a horror movie is have sex. Almost everyone that does either ends up dead, or forever traumatized because the person they had sex with was probably actually trying to kill them. Just ask every horny teen couple that snuck off into the woods or their friends’ parents bedroom and ended up impaled on a knife. Or take a look at a truly classic example: the titular mother from Rosemary’s Baby, who ignored the weird cultish behavior of her husband and eccentric neighbors because she was so focused on getting pregnant and ended up giving birth to Satan’s son. Sex will always be a part of horror — but when it comes to the characters trying to survive, it’s never a good idea.
14. Hide in the vicinity of the killer
It’s hard to say what anyone would do when faced with the prospect of being slaughtered by a deranged killer. However, there’s one thing that probably wouldn’t end up on anyone’s list of “Ways to escape being axe murdered”: and that’s hiding, like, five feet away from where said killer is. Yet time and again, horror movie protagonists endure watching their friends die and narrowly escaping a grisly end themselves, only to crawl under a bed or flatten themselves up behind a door and hope for the best. We get it – grace under pressure is never easy. It probably doesn’t seem appealing to run out into the open when you don’t know where that deranged serial killer is. Slightly better hiding skills, though, would really help us horror fans cut back on our eye-rolling — and help Laurie Strode avoid Michael Myers’ traumatic knife-slashing at the back of a closet in Halloween.
13. Skip the safety check before getting in a car
You know there’s a killer on the loose. You’re walking to your car alone at night. What’s the first thing you do before you actually slide into the driver’s seat? If you have any shred of common sense, it’s check underneath the car and in the backseat, right? If you’re in a horror movie, then you’d probably be wrong. You’d also be dead — because of course, that’s exactly where the killer is hiding. There was no excuse for Interview With the Vampire’s vampire-interviewing Daniel Molloy (Christian Slater) to completely flake out on checking to make sure Lestat hitch a ride — but he did, and the vamp ended up having him for dinner. And don’t get us started on terrified women who’ve already escaped danger losing their lives to some maniac in their backseat in movies like Urban Legend and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning. If these movies have taught us anything, it’s that safety precautions are a must if you want to arrive alive.
12. Go into an obviously unsafe house
Has anyone in a horror movie ever heard of stranger danger? It would appear that the answer is no – because more often than not, the horrors in said movies begin when one or more of the characters decide that it’s a perfectly reasonable idea to enter some random person’s house. Sometimes, like in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, they’re looking for help. Others, like in Don’t Breathe, they’re being asshole teenagers and trying to pull off petty larceny. Most of the time, the kids in these movies know something weird is up already — they’ve been told they’re dealing with an unhinged recluse, or they’ve already encountered carnage and violence nearby. Apparently none of this is enough to make them wary of the dark, decrepit abodes homes they enter. Of course, these forays into breaking and/or entering always end in murder and mayhem — and the easily avoided kind, to boot.
11. Get trapped somewhere really dumb
We’ve already ragged on horror movie characters that freeze up and hide in plain sight — so it might seem a little unfair for us to also pick on the ones that really try hard to get away. Sometimes, though, characters’ attempt to escape their killers are so poorly thought out that they probably would have been better off just standing in the middle of a room with their hands over their eyes. Take Scream’s Tatum (Rose McGowan), for example. When cornered in a garage by Mr. Ghostface himself, she somehow came to the conclusion that the only way out was through a pet door that some toddlers probably couldn’t even fit through. All he had to do was hit the automatic door button and she was a goner. All she had to do was realize that no one would ever be able to fit through that small of a space, and she might have had a fighting chance.
10. Be as noisy as possible while trying to escape
When we were children, our teachers told us to yell “fire!” if we were in trouble. A lot of horror movie victims get the yelling part down — but unfortunately, that usually ends up leading their killers straight to them. It’s understandable that if you’re on the run and desperate, you might go looking for a good Samaritan — or better yet, an armed police officer — who can try and save you from the knife-wielding dude in a mask. Having said that, if you’re like Helen (Sarah Michelle Gellar) in I Know What You Did Last Summer, screaming loudly for help and pounding on empty storefront windows probably isn’t your best option if you’ve only got moments to get away. The same principle applies to the dozens of other characters that do have the presence of mind to hide, but then see it fit to whimper or cry and lead their pursuer right to them. If any of these characters had just kept their cool — and kept it down — they might have made it to the final reel.
9. Do the thing they know is incredibly deadly
Human nature often compels us to do things we know are bad for us, like sneaking an extra serving of ice cream, or dating someone we know won’t make us happy. For some reason, though, a lot of horror movie characters seem to take that compulsion to walk on the wild side to dangerous and inane extremes. Take Ash and Scotty in The Evil Dead, who are fully aware that they could be unleashing evil when they play the Naturom Demonto incantations — but do it anyway because, hey, why not. Then there’s the characters in The Ring, who respond to warnings about watching a videotape that will kill you by immediately watching the tape. In both cases, the characters seem absolutely shocked when they encounter the terrifying creatures they just carelessly unleashed. It’s one thing to unknowingly walk into danger — but it’s entirely another to willingly invite it into your life just because you want to see if it’s really there.
8. Forget how to run
The “frantically trying to get away” sequence is a time-honored tradition in horror movies — one we’ve already touched on multiple times in this list alone. It’s also one that someone always seems to go poorly for the victim, even if they can manage to stay quiet on the run and avoid hiding in stupid places. That’s because for some very bizarre reason, they seem to just plain forget how to move. It seems like almost every horror movie out there features at least one character that trips while on the run from their potential killer. Even if they don’t suddenly transform into the clumsiest person alive, horror movie characters have a really hard time getting the lead out of their pants. Take the young girl at the beginning of It Follows, who decided the best way to break free from the menacing entity was to jog away slowly in heels. Or Kristen, the terrorized protagonist of The Strangers, who seemed to think that the best mode of getting away from her captors was to crawl through the front yard. You’d think that someone inches away from losing their life would move with a sense of urgency — but you’d be wrong.
7. Assume that an obviously crazy person is totally fine
You know that feeling you get when someone’s personality rubs you the wrong way? That’s an important instinct — one that can keep you from hanging around people that might be bad for you. It’s also an instinct that people in horror movies apparently lack. There’s Crimson Peak’s Edith (Mia Wasikowska), who’s blinding love for her new husband made her completely unaware that her new sister-in-law Lucille (Jessica Chastain) was trying to murder her. Then there’s Psycho’s Marion (Janet Leigh), who somehow felt comfortable enough to stay alone in a motel run by Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), even though he was open about his love of collecting dead things and basically told her he was mentally unstable. Plenty of horror movie killers do a great job of hiding their inner monster — but when they don’t, it’s especially frustrating when their victims don’t pick up on some pretty obvious red flags.
6. Keep living in a haunted house
Buying a home is a dream come true for so many people — so it would understandably be devastating if it turned out your home was crawling with malevolent spirits. For some reason, though, the homeowners in many horror movies decide to stay under their obviously haunted roof, even though they’ve been thrown around the room, possessed, and nearly killed. The Lutzs and Perrons, of The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring fame, are prime examples of families with questionable priorities — because when your kids are in serious danger, digging your heels in and refusing to cut your losses definitely isn’t the right choice. Katie and Micah from Paranormal Activity are even worse — because they not only stayed in their increasingly dangerous condo, they egged on the ghost that was tormenting them by setting up a camera to document the whole thing. Maybe if they’d used the money they spent on around-the-clock surveillance on a hotel room for a few nights, things would have turned out a bit differently for them.
5. Split up from the group
There’s safety in numbers — that’s a pretty basic tenant for most of life’s endeavors. Yet more often than not, characters in horror movies forget this, and forge off on their own without a second thought. It’s a decision that makes zero sense on any level — whether you’re dealing with a paranormal entity, like the titular villain in The Thing, or an unknown killer, like in The Cabin in the Woods, there’s almost no scenario where taking it on solo is the best option. Yet in both of these movies — and many, many others — the hapless protagonists choose to split up, instead of sticking together in one place to make sure they all stay alive. Do none of these characters recognize the value of having someone around to watch their back? Have none of them considered that it’s much easier for any baddie — monster or man — to take out one person at a time than take on several at once? Regardless of their rationale, this ill-conceived method has led to more untimely deaths in horror movies than just about anything else.
4. Hide the zombie infection from everyone else
In just about any zombie movie, there’s always that guy (or girl). The one that gets bitten by an undead foe, but decides they’re going to hide it from their friends and family. Eventually, they get too sick to keep up the ruse, or worse yet — they die and come back, reanimated, to chow down on their unsuspecting allies. Not only is it a stupid and dangerous move — it’s insanely inconsiderate. Even if they think they’re trying to help protect their loved ones from pain, or that they’ll magically be saved by a cure before they become zombified themselves, it never goes their way. Usually, they end up doing more harm than good. That was the case in 2004’s Dawn of the Dead, when the survivors in the mall ended up having to kill a zombie baby because Andre (Mekhi Phifer) couldn’t handle the fact that his pregnant wife was infected. If he — and all other infection-hiders out there — had just accepted the inevitable and been straight with his friends, it would have saved lived and heartache.
3. Try to make contact with an unfriendly spirit
If we’ve learned anything from horror movies, it’s that nine times out of ten, ta ghost that’s gone out of its way to haunt you probably isn’t friendly. It’s usually obvious pretty early on, when it leaves marks on you or torments your child until they’re out of commission. Yet for some reason, the characters in many movies about haunted houses seem to think the best way to resolve the issue is to try and talk it out. It makes sense, in theory — understanding why something is haunting you could — and sometimes does — result in figuring out how to get rid of it once and for all. But opening up a line of communication to another dimension usually entails inviting some serious supernatural mayhem in, as evidenced in movies like Poltergeist and Insidious. It’s safe to say that if some creature has already exhibited violence toward you and your family, it’s not ever going to be in your best interest to basically invite them in for more.
2. Investigate the creepy noises
Most terrifying events in horror movies seem to begin with some weird, unexplained noise somewhere off in the distance. Chances are, they’re immediately followed with some moron deciding that they’ll go and see what it was. It’s one of the oldest tropes in horror movie history — an easy way to keep the story moving and build tension. It’s also one of the most infuriating, especially when the characters in question already know they’re in danger. In The Sixth Sense, Cole wandered around his house trying to find the source of some loud sounds, even though he knew he would probably run into one of the many dead people he could see. In The Blair Witch Project, Heather and her friends left the safety of their tent to investigate rustling in the woods in the middle of the night. In both cases, the characters ended up in serious danger — and we’re left to sit and wonder why they didn’t just stay put and wait for the creepy noises to go away.
1. Assume the killer is dead
Despite countless characters committing at least one of the aforementioned cardinal sins of survival, there’s always at least one person left standing at the end of a horror movie. They’ve managed to overpower the killer and he or she is lying in a bloody pool on the ground. Then, instead of, say, taking their knife away and getting the heck out of dodge, the survivor usually just sort-of hangs out, wandering around dazed, until the killer inevitably regains consciousness and tries to murder them one more time. Spoiler alert for all future horror movies: the Freddys and Jasons and Michael Myers of the world never die. They will always come back — and it can be painful to watch someone who just fought so hard to stay alive make such an easily avoidable mistake. Especially because it usually means the killer will escape, and live on to stalk a new group of woefully unprepared victims in the sequel.
What’s the stupidest thing you’ve seen someone do in a horror movie? Let us know in the comments!