The Rules for Surviving a Horror Movie


No matter how loudly we shout “don’t go in there!” it seems the ill-fated characters in slashers always learn the hard way, seemingly drawn to the unsafest route they could take. Luckily, we’ve learned a thing or two from their repeated mistakes.

In the Scream franchise, Randy Meeks (Jamie Kennedy) tried to educate everyone about the tried and true rules for surviving a horror movie, but when has anyone at risk of being slain by a masked killer ever heeded sound advice?

Never Say “I’ll Be Right Back”

Did you leave something valuable in the woods? Leave it there. Do you need a cold one but the fridge is in the basement? Stay parched. What was that noise? Let it go. You’re probably better off wondering than investigating any strange sounds. And if you absolutely must go somewhere, do not say “I’ll be right back” before you leave. These famous last words almost always seal someone’s fate in the worst way possible.

Frankly, of all the things silly characters in horror movies do, this has to be one of the silliest. Nine times out of ten, it’s everyone’s biggest mistake, even if they somehow don’t die. It’s also one of those behaviors that makes you wonder if anyone in a horror movie has ever actually seen one. Of course, the brilliance of it is we’re all on the edge of our seat, terribly afraid for the hapless dope the moment they say “I’ll be right back.”

Turn Around

Drew Barrymore on phone with killer in Scream
Youtube/Dimension Films

When people are looking for the killer, they make a lot of interesting choices. Are they under the bed? No. Are they in the shower? No. Where could they be? The answer most often lies in where the would-be victim has already looked. According to the rules, the killer is probably right behind you or they’re about to be, especially if you’re looking any and everywhere else.

Let horror victims past be a lesson to us. How many times have you seen someone searching their house for a killer they just knew was there? Meanwhile, the crafty killer was sneaking around in the background, lurking in the shadows, and finding the perfect spot to pop out and kill them? Too many times to count all of those bodies, I’m guessing.

Take Your Car in for a Tune Up

jeepers creepers car chase with Justin long at wheel

Let’s say the character actually made it out of the house without getting killed. Where do they go next? Much of the time, they sprint to their trusty car, fumble with the keys for too long, and attempt to get the heck out of there. But there’s one problem: the car won’t start. Imagine that. They should’ve gotten that tune-up when they still had the chance, but it’s too late now.

Unfortunately, cars are not always reliable, especially in horror movies. Batteries most often die when someone’s life is at stake. What might be deemed an inconvenience on any other day is now a oneway ticket to toe-tag town. And nothing good can come of being stranded during a zombie apocalypse. If you find yourself in a horror flick, always keep an extra set of keys nearby and pay a visit to a mechanic ASAP.

Invest in Comfortable Shoes

When the car won’t start, it’s time for plan B: Start running. When you do, let’s hope you’re wearing combat boots or sneakers and not stilettos. When a deranged killer is chasing you, it helps to wear comfortable shoes. Also, if you’ve been receiving threatening phone calls or someone’s been creeping around your best friend’s yard at night, keeping a pair of running shoes with you at all times is just smart. After all, killers in horror movies heavily rely on the element of surprise, but they also give ample warning, finding countless ways to say “you’re next.”

Don’t ignore these signs scribbled in blood. If you’re going out, be mindful. Remember Sarah Michelle Gellar’s impressive attempt to escape the hook-wielding fisherman in I Know What You Did Last Summer? She proved that no matter how sassy or strong you might be, if you’re dressed up for a beauty pageant, you’re not going to make it. Plus, the killer came prepared, so he’s likely wearing sneakers. Here’s a classic example of how proper footwear saves lives, compliments of The Shining.

Youtube/Warner Bros. Pictures

Don’t Split Up

The buddy system exists for a reason. We’ve been warned all our lives that splitting up only leads to trouble. Think back to spooky cartoons. We knew exactly what was going to happen when Shaggy and Scooby ventured off on their own while the rest of the gang went to work solving mysteries. The bad guys and ghouls came for them faster than you can say “zoinks!”

No matter the scenario, there’s safety in numbers, so don’t split up. Even if the killer is secretly one of the gang, they’re less likely to kill you in front of everyone. And when everyone dies in a horror movie, they’re typically snuffed out one by one. So let’s learn from their mistakes.

Keep Your Pants On

scene in woods in Jennifer Body where she seduces classmate and then kills him
Jennifer’s Body/Fox Atomic

When Randy laid out the rules in Scream, he mostly got it right. However, the movie itself wound up flipping the ole horror script on its head with this one. In a well-played plot twist, Scream subverts the “don’t have sex” idea that once was deemed the golden rule. When Sidney (Neve Campbell) has sex with her boyfriend Billy (Skeet Ulrich), we all expected the worst. Horror of horrors, he turns out to be one of the killers. Not only that, Sydney doesn’t die.

It’s true, the “final girl” who survives is typically the most modest, honest, and virginal. But having sex in a horror movie doesn’t automatically equal death. Furthermore, not having it no longer guarantees safety. For instance, the killer in Cherry Falls exclusively targets virgins. But do avoid sex with the undead. Abstinence remains one key way to stay safe, especially when there’s a psycho killer running around, seemingly killing off teens having too much fun, which brings us to the next rule.

Dont Drink or Do Drugs

In a horror movie, it’s important to stay clear-headed, for all obvious reasons. Historically, slasher movies are mostly morality plays, toying with a lot of rebellious teenagers and the idea of consequences. The more teens misbehave and cut dangerously loose, the more likely they are to wind up brutally murdered when they least expect it. Not to mention, surviving during a murderous rampage is that much harder when your motor skills are diminished.

There are some exceptions. The main loophole to this rule involves firsts. If someone innocent tries something for the first time, they might be okay in the end. For example, when Jamie Lee Curtis tries a doobie in Halloween, she doesn’t wind up doomed. Also, when things get tense, stoner characters are often employed for comic relief. In turn, they sometimes escape potentially grim fates, even winding up in the sequel.

Avoid Public Gatherings

Getting lost in a crowd often leads to the same thing as splitting up. Whether you’re at a parade or the prom, if there are fireworks going off or loud music playing, your chances of being killed off increase exponentially, and no one will hear your cries for help.

This is perhaps most true at parties. No matter what, there will always be one unwanted guest show up. And considering multiple horror movie rules are already being violated at shindigs, throwing a “school’s out for summer” blowout might as well be an invitation for the killer in itself.


Pay Attention to What’s on TV, but Turn It Off

Is the scary movie you put on starting to strangely mirror your evening? Sounds like it’s time to turn on the lights, turn off the TV, and remember that buddy system. You’re probably in for a night of terror. But make sure you’re aware of what’s going on in the news first.

Any recent reports of asylum breakouts? How about strange sightings in the sky? In horror movies, never take television too lightly. In fact, steer clear of it altogether. Remember what happened in Poltergeist and The Ring? And they had sequels.

Never Assume the Nightmare Is Over

You know what they say about assuming… And in the horror genre, people’s assumptions lead to their demise more than any other act. Of the most deadly assumptions out there, assuming the killer is actually dead is by far the most foolish.

In other words, never let your guard down for a second. The moment someone thinks there’s nothing left to fear, the killer comes back for one final and fatal blow. Those that make it to the sequel usually have one key thing in common: they wise up. This doesn’t mean they stop being scared, but they know the nightmare may not end.

GIPHY/Warner Bros. Pictures

Anyone Can Die in a Sequel

Randy explains rules of a sequel in Scream 2
Youtube/Dimension Films

If you’ve been lucky enough to make it this far in a horror franchise, don’t get too comfortable. Remember Randy’s home video from beyond the grave in Scream 3? He warns his friends that no one is really safe in a sequel (as proven by his death) and everyone is now a suspect. But now we’ve crossed over into an entirely new set of rules.

While it’s considered poor form to kill off lone survivors at the start of a follow-up flick, it happens all the time, even with franchises we thought we knew everything about. Remember Friday the 13th part 2? How about Halloween 4? These movies are painful reminders that anyone can die in a sequel, for better or for worse. So above all else, be careful who you trust.

Read More: The Rules Every Good Horror Sequel Must Follow