11 Of The Best Gimmicks In Horror Movies
There are a number of reasons why A Quiet Place became such a huge hit in 2018. It was extremely tense and scary, anchored by great performances, and released during a time when critically acclaimed horror movies can break through and become major blockbusters. But just as importantly, it had a simple gimmick that both supported the story and characters and helped deliver some quality scares
A Quiet Place's main concept is that the world is now overrun with big and terrifying alien creatures, which are blind but use their incredible hearing abilities to locate their prey. In other words--make a sound and you might die. It worked brilliantly, but the film is just the latest in a long line of horror movies that use similar concepts to generate scares.
At their worst, these gimmicks can seem silly and end up undermining the filmmaker's attempts to make their movies scary. In recent years, terrible films such as Bye Bye Man (don't say his name!), Countdown (don't download the app!), and Make A Wish (don't make a wish!) have tried to use gimmicks to make up for the lack of scares and tension, and have failed badly. A good horror movie needs more than just a gimmick, especially if it's just recycling it from other, better movies.
Luckily, there are many great examples too. Like A Quiet Place, these concepts allow the filmmakers do something interesting with the story, whether it's play with perceptions of reality, presents moral dilemmas, or create a sense of claustrophobia. And sometimes, when put in the hands of a great horror filmmaker, it can simply make for terrifying viewing. So with A Quiet Place: Part 2 hitting theaters later this month, here are some of the best horror movie gimmicks ever devised.
11. Don't Turn the Light Off
Movie: Lights Out (2016)
As the title suggests, the monster in Lights Out only appears when the lights are turned off. Director David Sandberg first used the idea in a terrifying viral video, and subsequently expanded it to feature-length. Like many horror gimmicks, the novelty wears off after a while, but there are some highly effective scenes as the creature slowly advances under a flickering light towards its prey.
10. Don't Take Your Blindfold Off
Movie: Bird Box (2018)
Bird Box got some criticism when it was first released for the similarity of its plot with that of A Quiet Place, but in fact it was based on a 2014 novel that predates John Krasinski's film. It's set in a post-apocalyptic world where people are driven insane when they look at the strange supernatural entities that roam the earth and take the form of your worst fears. The key is to keep yourself blindfolded, which is obviously easier said than done if you want to go anywhere, as Sandra Bullock and two children discover as they attempt to find a group of survivors.
9. Don't Make A Sound
Movie: Don't Breathe (2016)
Don't Breathe has the same basic concept as A Quiet Place, except it's not terrifying monsters that will kill you if they hear you. The movie centers on a trio of young criminals who break into a blind old man's house to rob him. Unfortunately for them, he's a mean and dangerous Gulf War veteran, scarily played by Avatar's Stephen Lang, who knows every inch of his home. With the doors locked and the house plunged into darkness, he sets about picking off the unlucky intruders.
8. Don't Push A Button On A Box
Movie: The Box (2009)
Based on the story from Twilight Zone writer Richard Matheson and directed by Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly, The Box has a wonderfully weird concept. A man (Frank Langella) arrives on the doorstep of a married couple (Cameron Diaz and James Marsden) carrying a box. He tells them that if they press the button on the top of the box, they will receive a million dollars--but someone they have never met will die. The button is pressed. A million dollars is handed over. Bad things happen.
7. Don't Speak In English
Movie: Pontypool (2009)
This gripping Canadian film puts an ingenious spin on the zombie movie. The virus that creates Pontypool's ravenous creatures is manifested by the English language, with certain words turning ordinary people into terrifying zombie-like aggressors. The first sign of the infection is the loss of the ability to communicate properly, with the virus spread by repeating specific words and phrases. The film's main character is a DJ trapped at the radio station, who is torn between wanting to help his terrified listeners and knowing that doing so might kill them.
6. Don't Find Yourself Near A Horrendous Mass Accident
Movie: Final Destination series (2000-2011)
The gimmick of the Final Destination movies is so good that it was repeated in four sequels. Each film starts in the same way: a group of people avoids a huge disaster that should've claimed their lives, and then spend the rest of the movie trying to escape death. The fun of these films is seeing what accident kicks off the chain of death (in order: plane crash, car pile-up, roller coaster derailment, speedway accident, bridge collapse), as well as the increasingly ludicrous ways that the survivors are picked off.
5. Don't Take Possession Of A Cursed Parchment
Movie: Night of the Demon (1957)
This classic British movie was hugely influential and set the template for some of the more recent films on this list. The story involves the investigations of a skeptical doctor into a devil worshipping cult, and features a cursed parchment that causes impending death to anyone it is passed to--a curse that can only be lifted by passing it to someone else in time. It's still an incredibly effective and eerie movie, stunningly directed by Jacques Tourneur.
4. Don't Fall Asleep
Movie: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
Wes Craven's classic 1984 horror hit introduced the world to one of the genre's great villains: Freddy Kruegger. The blade-fingered demon stalks the dreams of the kids of Elm Street, killing them in a variety of gruesome and inventive ways while they sleep. The key is to stay awake, but that's easier said than done, night after night. Craven has great fun playing with different layers of consciousness, ensuring that it's often unclear if Freddy's potential victims are actually awake, or just dreaming about being awake.
3. Don't Watch A Sinister Cable Show
Movie: Videodrome (1982)
David Cronenberg's film is a media satire, conspiracy thriller, and masterpiece of body horror all in one. The plot focuses on a sleazy cable TV boss Max Renn (James Woods) who stumbles upon a sinister and mysterious channel that broadcasts footage of seemingly real rape, torture, and murder, and attempts to track down its producers. Unfortunately for Max, there is a signal hidden within the broadcast that induces a tumor in his brain and triggers terrifying weird and gloopy hallucinations.
2. Don't Say "Candyman" Five Times Into A Mirror
Movie: Candyman (1992)
Candyman has such a simple gimmick that anyone can easily and safely do it, but hardly anyone who has seen the movie would dare to. Simply stand in front of a mirror and say "Candyman" five times. Not hard, right? Unless you're scared of a vengeful ghost with a hook for a hand and an interest in bees appearing behind you, that is...
1. Don't Watch A Cursed Video Tape
Movie: Ring (1998)
The Japanese horror wave of the early 2000s featured a number of movies with creepy gimmicks, but the film that started it remains the most effective. Ring's concept is simple and effective: if you watch a cursed video tape, you will die within seven days. That's it. The scares come from not knowing how and when this death will occur--it could be a heart attack, a traffic accident, or a terrifying ghost girl crawling out of your TV. In all cases, it's not good.