11 Nov 2013


There list  of rules that you regularly see online:  Horror Film Rules or Slasher Film Rules.  They are rules about films in which a small group are killed off one-by-one and who (if anyone) will survive.  The apply to most Slasher films and a number of other non-Slasher Horror films (especially animal and alien attack films) and even Action and Disaster films.  I've chosen to call them Slasher film rules, but will look at other Horror and non-Horror films from time to time.

These are not intended as survival guide but rather as genre rules to explore.  If you're really just trying to survive a real-life slasher film situation, the following this footage will help you survive (ignore the spelling of "sequel"):


A Warning Will Come From…

Behind the Mask:  The Rise of Leslie Vernon
While parents/the authorities may seem a good source of information in horror films they are generally unreliable (see below).  As such what seems like the worst sources for information are, ironically the best.  This is for 2 reasons:  The stories are true (no matter how crazy) and animals, children and the mentally absent have a special sense about these things.  The warnings will often come in combined form: a Doomsayer, a crazy (1c) old (1b) man spouting local legends (1a).
1a.         Local Legends – as stated, the stories are true.
1b.         The Elderly – remember these true stories because they are old.  Plus with age comes dementure (and thus a special sense), err, I mean wisdom.
1c.          The Insane – may be insane because they know something or know something because they are insane.  Either way… they know something.
1d.         The Mentally Handicapped – have that special sense.
1e.         Children (especially spooky looking ones) also have that special sense.
1f.          Animals – have that sense, but can’t express it except as barks and growls.
If all else fails:
1g.         The Stoned – Getting high will connect people with that special sense.  Although, this will mean they will require punishment (see 3b below).
1h.         Newspaper clippings - If all else fails, there's newspaper clippings (a type of local legend, I guess).
1i.         Any Other Source Easily Dismissed – Child?  The Insane?  Local legends?  Do you believe that shit?


There will be T&A.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
As outlined below (3a & 3b):  sex and nudity are important will need to be punished.   There are always ways to imply these things without actually showing naked women.  But the audience doesn’t want that.  (See also 10a.)

Death will be a punishment for...

Saw II
...Transgression.  While this seems obvious that death is a punishment, it includes the fact that all those dying deserve punishment.  Obviously most of the “crimes” don’t really deserve death the characters still are being punished for something.  Sometimes the killer is deliberately punishing for this actions, other times it is a more subtextual thing (The characters are being punished by the writer, not the killer).
3a.         Sex - It is the most known rule, you can probably recite it with me: if you have sex you will die.  Woman are being punished for being slutty and men for being undeserving of the sex they get.  Bonus points for death during sex or while naked.
3b.         Nudity  - However,  nudity is punishable by death.  This goes hand-in-hand with sex=death in a lot of cases, but also just nudity itself can be punished.  The more “unnatural” the nudity the bigger the punishment.  Skinny dipping, for example, will be more likely to result in death then showering naked.  Note, however, even a shower is unsafe and it often said that showering=death.  Whether sex or nudity is punished or not, the final girl is unlikely to participate.  
Screen Nudity vs Real Life Nudity:  Even the good girls must get naked sometime.  If she isn't showering she would probably begin to smell, you know?  Just because it isn’t shown onscreen doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen, however, it is what is shown on screen that is punished.
3c.          Drinking - An adult having a strong drink may get away with it.  Even an alcoholic adult may be given a free pass.  But underage and especially underage binge drinking is certainly punishable by death.  
3d.         Drugs - Drugs are even worse, drinking is far more socially acceptable than drugs. The altered state of being drunk or stoned may, of course, lead to unknowingly walking directly into their death. 
3e.         Hitchhiking - Accepting a lift, even with someone you know, will get you killed.  Giving someone a lift can almost be as bad.  There are entire films built around the premise.
3f.          Other Criminal Behaviour - Pretty obvious and direct.  The set-up may require all the participants to be committing a crime, but the main perpetrators are the one to be punished.  If they are breaking into a haunted house, the person who suggests it and who does the actual breaking are doomed.  The Final Girl will counsel against and only enter grudgingly.
3g.       Being annoying/being cowardly/being a sleazy guy - Sure these aren’t actual crimes, but it is satisfying for the writer, audience and possibly killer to see an annoying person die.
3h.         Being a bystander.  Following the rules, an innocent shouldn’t be killed, but sometimes they do, just to make up numbers.  Also, if someone doesn’t break an above rule, perhaps there is another reason they were punished.

People will die when they go…

4a.         Down to the Basement - Once again, this is one of the best known rules.  Dark, dangerous, seldom used and few easy exits.
4b.         Upstairs - The exit to multiple story buildings are on the ground floor.  Going upstairs limits escape routes to dangerous window and roof exits.
4c.          For a Shower - Showering requires being naked (3b) and in most cases alone (4f).  If the character is not alone, (3b) counts double.
4d.         Into old sheds or out buildings - Think of these as outside basements.
4e.         Running off to the “safety” of the forest - The forest isn’t safe, and the character is probably alone (4f), being cowardly (3g) and in danger of tripping and falling (6d).
4f.          Anywhere alone - Splitting up is bad.  Going anywhere alone just allows the character to be picked off one-by-one.
4g.         Anywhere Remote, Isolated or Confined - Cabins in the woods, spacecraft, anywhere that you are in a small pick-offable group.

The Order of Death

Deep Blue Sea
There is a rough order that makes when deaths occur predictable to a certain degree.

5a.         The First Person on Screen - There are claims that the first person on screen is the first to die.  It is certainly the case that there can be a set-up death, a death right at the beginning of the film to establish that a killer is out there.  However, the Final Girl or extreme close-ups of the Killer’s hands, feet may be the first character on screen.
5b.         The Black Man dies First -  One of the standard clichés is:  The black man (or other minority if no black man is available) will die first (or very early) in the film (discounting, possibly, the set-up death).  Even the minority characters don’t die first, they have little chance of surviving the film.
5c.          The Stoner - The slow dopey stoner usually die fairly early as a punishment for using drugs (see 3d).
5d.         The Bimbo - Dumb, blond and female equates to slut and thus, rule (3a) is involved.   However, more than just being sexually active she is most likely to be dumb and blonde.  And probably with the biggest breasts.  Will be usually killed soon after the stoners (as they will be having the death-causing death while the stoners are being killed) but can be killed before the stoners.
5e.         The Nerdy/Funny Guy – These characters are somewhere in the middle of the kill-list (unless he is a funny stoner – then all bets are off).  However, the more annoying/cowardly/sleazy the character is, the sooner he dies.
5f.          Macho jerks - Are either killed off with (or instead of) the blonde woman or last until near the end.  The more bullying they do, the sooner they will probably be killed, the more sensitive they are the longer they last (and may become (5h))
5g.         The Protector - This is usually an older male character.  Possibly (1b) or (1c).  If the character is too crazy they may die early, maybe even as the set-up death.  If not they may last until near the end or even survive.  Despite rule #1 they may in fact be or become a father or father-figure for the Final Girl and/or be in a position of authority (a policeman or doctor) contradicting (6e).  He may appear near the beginning of the film, and only reappear when needed near the end.  While he will save the character, it will be at great expense and may be killed, appear to be killed or be very badly injured defending her.  If surviving and injured will need to be defended/saved by the Final Girl.  The character may not appear in all films.
5h.         The Sensitive Guy - This character will act as a possible love interest for the final girl.  His chances of survival may be directly related on how much he hits on her.  He will protect her for much of the film, but while not being absent as much as The Protector (5g) he will probably have a similar end-game, with injury/death and needing to be saved.  As such may or may not die.
5i.           Children and animals – These purely innocent characters will usually survive.
5j.           The Final Girl - The name sums it up.  The character will last until the end and (usually) “kill” the killer.  Other characters will survive, but will not necessarily be active in the final kill.  While the Final Girl is usually looked upon as a survivor, they may end up the Final Victim in an everyone dies scenario.  The final girl will either die early in or survive the sequel (or sequels).  See Rule #7 for further details on The Final Girl.

Especially When They Are Most Needed, The Following Things Cannot Be Relied On…

Evil Dead 2
...Anything.  But especially:
6a.         Communications devices - Phones, Radios, and Mobile Phones, these are usually the first things to fail.
6b.         Lighting - First the lights will go.  Then the flashlights/torches and candles.  Banging on the flashlight may or may not fix them briefly.
6c.         Vehicular Transport - Any vehicle that does not break down getting you into this situation, will in the most cliché way possible fail to start when needed.
6d.         Your Own Legs - Stumbling and falling will happen when being chased.
6e.         The Authorities – Unless they are The Protector, the police and other authorities will not believe the crazy claims of the heroes or The Doomsayer.  If they do arrive during the film they will probably be killed.
6f.          Weapons – Obviously, weapons will break or fail in a crucial moment during the showdown.
6g.          Escape Routes - Especially Bridges and tunnels.

The Final Girl
There's been a lot of legitimate research done on the phenomena of The Final Girl, so let's just throw together a few random ideas:
7a.        Final - Often thought to be the only survivor, although sometimes there will be others, especially the love interest or children and there are times when there are no survivors and the “final girl” is the last to be killed.  However, the Final Girl will usually be the only one active in the final show down with the villain.
7b.         Girl - Usually, as the name implies, a female, but not always.  However…
7c.         Boyish.
i.                 Often has an uni-sex name.
ii.                Often dresses the most masculinely.
iii.               Often the most flat-chested (or dressed to appear that way).
iv.               Short-haired.
7d.         Well Drawn - She will be the least 2 dimensional of the characters, rather than being dumb, she will be:
i.                 Intelligent.
ii.                Curious & vigilant.
iii.               Talented.
iv.               Have a dark past.
v.                Have/gain inner strength.
7e.         Virginal & innocent - Either explicitly stated as a virgin or assumed so by refusing sex.  Will also show refuse to participate or be reluctant to participate in the other “crimes” of Rule #3.
7f.          Will be reborn - During or just prior to the final showdown she will go from being a frightened girl to a masculinised killing machine.

The Killer has a Connection to…
Child's Play
...Something.  Everything has a reason no matter how deranged or tenuous.  The reason the killer does what s/he does will be connected to (one or more of):
8a.         The Location.
8b.         The Final Girl -  Often a family connection.
8c.         The Protector.
8d.         The Other Victims.
8e.         Feminity - The villain, they say, is often a male who has been feminised in some way.  (As opposed to the masculinised Final Girl).
They may also be associated with:
8f.          A Specific Look.
8g.         A Specific Weapon.
Evil Never Dies
Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives
9a.         You Always Have to Kill the Bad Guy Twice - In Horror and Action films the Bad Guy will be down and defeated, clearly dead.  And, while then when everyone feels safe they will attack again.  In Horror films this may occur a number of times, including the final scare (9b).
9b.         Even then the Bad Guy lives on - After all is said and done there will be a final scare for the audience (that the characters may not be aware of).  This is often accused of being a sequel hook, but is in reality to create a lingering fear in the audience.  In some cases this will involve the death or apparent death of the survivors of the film.
9c.          Evil is Immortal – Either the initial set-up or increasingly as a series progresses the villain will be or become an unkillable supernatural entity.

RULE #10
The Sequel Will Be Bigger/More Formulaic
There are really two reasons that there's the old adage about sequels never being as good as the original and that is that the films either revisit the say idea and are unoriginal or they try to change-up too much.  Either way the they will be bigger and more formulaic as the makers try to target the things that they think the audience liked from the previous films.
10a.       They will follow the rules more.  Especially than earlier films, before the rules were established.
10b.       They will be more formulaic.  Not only will they follow the rules more but they will follow their own internal rules more.  However, some films will try to avoid their own formula and go new places, this usually leads to a cycle of changing-up followed by returns to formula (which sometimes ignore the change-up).
10c.       There will be more T&A.  Because that's one of the things the audience likes.
10d.       There will be more and bigger deaths of the victims.  See 10c.
10e.       The killer’s death will be bigger.  This may be necessitated by 9b & 9c.
My plan is to watch, review and analyse a Slasher film, or another horror film that may fit the rules and to see how well the rules hold up.  My current plan for viewing is:
  • Halloween (1978) - First of the big three slasher franchises.
  • Friday the 13th (1980) - Second of the big three slasher franchises.
  • Silent Night, Deadly Night (1984) - You know, for Christmas.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) - Third of the big three slasher franchises.
  • Wolf Creek (2004) - An example of modern "gorno"/"torture porn" films.  (Also an Australian film just prior to Australia Day.)
  • Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) - An example of a sequel for Rule #10.
  • Psycho (1960) - More a serial killer than a slasher film and with few deaths.  However, it's thought of as an influence on them, so it's worth seeing how close it follows the rules (and which it may have invented)
  • Alien (1979) - An alien/animal killer.  (Plus it's a film in the Alien series.)
  • Night of the Living Dead (1963) - Zombie film, small group killed off one-by-one.
  • Leprechaun (1993) - an example of a lesser franchise.  (For St Patrick's Day)
  • Scream (1997) - An example of post-modern "aware" or homage/parody films.
What do you think of the rules?  Are they fair?  Any obvious omissions or glaring mistakes?  Any rules that you know don't work or predictions of rules that will fail or succeed?
And what of the film list, any that *need* to be added beyond the ten?  Any "categories" that need to be added or tested?  Any films that shouldn't be there?

UPDATE:  The analysis of these ten films is finished.


  1. Neat concept. Slasher rules, as part of our general understanding of how these films work, are largely based on (and leaked from) Carol Clover's 1992 book entitled Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in Modern Horror Film. I'm sure you would enjoy it.

    1. Thanks.
      I've never actually read it, but I have been influenced by it obviously.
      I'm also doing Rom Coms. It's an interesting juxiposition.