Mainstream Monday: Learned Behaviors


If you think Passion of the Christ is a foreign language film…If you think a Carey Mulligan is something you mark on a golf scorecard…If Domino is your favorite Quentin Tarantino movie, Mainstream Monday is the place for you! In Mainstream Monday we leave the “art” to the critics and discuss what the “other” 90% of movie fans are watching. It’s a celebration of the modern, the mainstream and far too often, the mediocre. This week we’re discussing…habits formed by watching horror films.

A few days ago I read a tweet directed at “people who check their showers for murderers”. It belittled those of us who prefer our shower curtains open and pushed all the way to the wall, asking us what we would do if we ever actually encountered a murderer behind our curtain. Well guess what, I don’t know what I’d do! All I know is this: I have to check. I always have to check. It’s just a force of habit. That realization forced me to trace the habit back to it’s source, and that investigation led me to conclude that I’ve formed many habits of self-preservation because of horror movies. Maybe I’m just weird, or maybe I’m a coward, but there are quite a few things that I do on a day-to-day basis that are more grounded in the fictional world of horror films than in real necessity. What follows is a list of behaviors I’ve learned from watching scary movies.

Because of Horror films I………….

Always check the shower.

The Film Responsible: Psycho

Might as well begin with the one that started it all, right? I’m the guy that doesn’t really feel comfortable in a bathroom at night unless he’s checked the shower. I know it’s ridiculous, and it’s not something that bothers me during the day. But at night I must admit, it does. But beyond that, I also keep an eye on the curtain when I’m in the shower, looking for shadows. It’s pretty easy to guess which iconic horror scene inspired this odd behavior. Let’s move on.

Check my food before eating it.

The Film Responsible: Arachnophobia

I don’t go over it with a fine-toothed comb or anything, but I definitely give my snacks a once over before I pop them in my mouth. Especially popcorn. As a kid I was deathly afraid of spiders, so my parents let me watch Arachnaphobia. Maybe as a way to face the fear, or maybe they were secretly sadists, I’m not sure. Either way, there is a scene in which a couple sit down to watch Wheel of Fortune and munch on a bowl of popcorn. They keep their eyes locked on the screen long enough for a spider to crawl it’s way into the bowl. We watch one chubby hand capture it in a fist full of popcorn and then the scene changes. A few minutes later we return to the living room and they both sit there dead, a spider crawling out of one of their noses and a half-eaten bowl of popcorn slowly sliding from their lap. Yeah…so just check your food, that’s all I’m saying.

Check the back seat of my car at night.

The Film Responsible: Urban Legend

I’ve managed to work this one out in a way that doesn’t make me look like a complete idiot. I’ve made a habit of glancing into the backseat of my car before I get in at night. I do it nonchalantly as I walk by, that way no one on the street realizes what a weirdo I am. But if you’ve seen the opening scene of Urban Legend (one of the coolest “first scares” in horror film history, if you ask me), how can you blame me? Michelle Mancini is just a normal girl, caught in a rainstorm, in desperate need of gas for her car. She stops at an innocent-looking station. She gets freaked out in a hurry, however, when the full service attendant, played by the always-creepy Brad Dourif, goes into a panic, stuttering a warning and backing her into a corner. She gets around him and “escapes” to the car, peeling out into the night, finally safe from the weirdo attendant. That is until the real killer sits up in the backseat and lops her head off with an axe. It’s bloody, it’s brilliant and it sticks with you. If only the rest of the film had lived up to it.

Keep drinks away from electronics.

The Film Responsible: Final Destination

This isn’t really something you have to be careful about anymore, seeing as most of us have abandoned the giant computer monitors of the nineties for the sleek modern designs. However, when I saw Final Destination as a teenager, it definitely caused me to be a little more cautious with open liquids around my electronic equipment. All Miss Lewton wanted to do was kick back with a drink and her favorite John Denver (gulp) record after a long week of student deaths and apparent suicides. But she made the mistake of setting an old cracked mug on top of her computer monitor. Death, ever the trickster, splits the crack a little wider and lets the liquid trickle down into the machine, which shorts and launches into a full-on death strike against the poor teacher, exploding the glass screen into her neck and shooting out flames across her living room. She ends up on fire, her throat cut, with knives sticking out of her chest. And then her house blows up. Not a good day for Miss Lewton, and more than enough reason not to mix liquids and electronics. At least not when death is chasing you.

Check the Caller ID before answering.

The Film(s) Responsible: Scream, When A Stranger Calls

I’m the kind of person that doesn’t answer their phone unless they know who the person on the other end is. That’s not a fear thing, it’s more a “if we’re not close enough for me to already have your number, you can leave a message and I’ll decide if I want to talk to you” sort of thing. But I’d be lying if I said there isn’t that momentary twinge of doubt that arises whenever a call comes across from a number I don’t recognize. There’s always that thought, what if I pick up this phone and it’s that weird Kiefer Sutherland character from Phonebooth? Or Dish Network?! Which is worse?! Either way, it’s just safer to let voicemail get it. If it’s really that important to Ghostface to find out what your favorite scary movie is, he’ll leave a message.

Check underneath the bed.

The Films Responsible: Friday the 13th, Poltergeist

I don’t do this anymore, but I did for a long long time as a child. As I touch on in the next entry as well, the scene in Poltergeist where the kid is dragged underneath his bed by a killer clown scarred me for life. But Friday the 13th is even more painful. And not just because the killer offs Kevin Bacon. [It’s Kevin Bacon!!!] A bed is supposed to be a place of peace and rest, not a place where an unsuspecting person can be held down from below while a drill makes it’s way through the cushions and ultimately your neck. Way to ruin bedtime for everybody Mrs. Vorhees.

Don’t leave out human toys.

The Film(s) Responsible: Child’s Play, Poltergeist

Here’s another one from childhood that’s not a concern anymore. I didn’t have many stuffed animals or dolls, but my sister had a collection of china baby dolls that just sat on a shelf and stared at her every night. I could never imagine how she could sleep in that room, especially after she watched Poltergeist for the first time the same night I did. After the scene with the clown doll, there wasn’t a loose toy in my bedroom when I closed my eyes to finally go to sleep. And you can bet any doll bearing any kind of resemblance to Chucky (I’m talking right down to the jean jumper) had no place in my room. Or my house. Or neighborhood.

Treat other drivers with courtesy and respect.

The Film(s) Responsible: Jeepers Creepers, Joy Ride

I’ve always been a pretty courteous driver. I try to keep in mind that nobody’s perfect, and that there have been times when I wasn’t paying attention and missed a light turning green. Or times I didn’t check my blind spot as thoroughly as I should have before merging. Hey, it happens. But after you’ve seen the kind of road rage that the nameless demon of Jeepers Creepers engages in with poor Justin Long and his sister, or the dreaded game of cat-and-mouse that occurs when Paul Walker and Steve Zahn decide to tease a trucker, it makes you all that more patient when dealing with fellow drivers. You never know where someone is driving from, or where they may be driving too. And if one night you watch a news report and realize that place turned out to be a murder dungeon, maybe you’ll be happy to know you didn’t honk your horn at the weirdo who cut you off in that green pickup with no license plates earlier.

Never make eye-contact with hitchhikers.

The Film Responsible: The Hitcher

Now I could never really decide if it was because they didn’t pick him up that he decided to terrorize the travelers, or if it was a sadistic game he was hell-bent on playing with someone, whether it was them or not, but either way it’s just generally not safe to pick up a hitchhiker. You don’t need a horror movie to teach you that.

Keep one eye on the bathroom mirror.

The Film Responsible: Every horror film ever.

Besides “random cat”, “scary object in mirror reflection” has got to be the number one, go-to jump scare of horror screenwriters everywhere. How many times has a character bent down to spit out toothpaste, wash their face, open their medicine cabinet, etc. and then something evil was staring back at them? Or, in keeping with our Poltergeist theme, there’s something staring back at them that might rip their face off? Or, as in the case of Mirrors, might just rip their face in half? Whatever the case may be, I always try to keep one eye on the mirror so that I’m not surprised by what’s looking back at me when I get done brushing my teeth. It makes flossing kind’ve awkward, but that’s the price you pay.

Keep a close, yet undetectable eye on the neighbors.

The Film(s) Responsible: Rear Window, The Stepfather, Fright Night, Disturbia, etc.

This is the easiest paranoia for a film to exploit: distrust of the people who live right next door. There’s nothing quite as sinister as noticing your neighbor carrying something big and heavy in an unmarked black bag. But the key to this is to watch them without looking like you’re watching them. In every “neighbors are evil” movie there’s always a moment where the bad guy looks right into the lenses of someone’s binoculars, and you don’t want to be the guy holding them. So keep them under surveillance, but keep it subtle. And if you see something red splash across the window, it’s probably just better to pretend it was ketchup or something. Nothing good ever comes from further investigation.

Turn the TV off when it’s time to go to bed.

The Film(s) Responsible: Poltergeist, White Noise, The Signal, The Pulse

As you can tell Poltergeist was pretty much the defining horror movie of my childhood. Nothing was ever the same after seeing that movie. This included my television habits. That screen was off before bedtime. Sure, during the daytime I’d feign bravery and make jokes about them being “hhhheeeerrrrreeee”. But at night, nope, not time to joke around. The screen goes off before the national anthem plays. Period. As an adult the broadcast day has given way to 24-hour entertainment, but there’s still that nagging sensation in the back of your mind, having seen films like White Noise, The Pulse and most disturbingly The Signal, that steers you towards the general wisdom of shutting whatever “connections” there are out there down when you go to sleep at night. Why run the risk of subliminal murder messages creeping into your dreams? Not worth it.

Don’t sleep with my back to an open door.

The Film Responsible: The Paranormal Activity franchise

Every single film. All three of them (so far) feature people sleeping with their backs to an open (or at least slightly ajar) door. Even after they start to expect something evil is IN THEIR FREAKING HOUSE. At the very least close the door so the sound of it opening gives you a half-second reaction time, right? I mean that just seems like common sense. Or am I just over-thinking all of this? You know what, don’t answer that.

What about you? Have you developed any precautionary habits from horror films? Or am I just a weirdo? Maybe both?


About Author

Host of Next Projection's ongoing Mainstream Monday series. I enjoy the occasional film, but most of the time I just watch movies. I'm no film student; just an old-fashioned homemade addict of cinema.