The Horror Movie Protagonist’s Pocket-Sized Survival Guide

This guide might be a little superfluous, because if you’re reading it, you’ve surmounted 2020, which means you can handle anything from murder hornets to Mitch McConnell’s rotting zombie flesh suit. Still, one can’t be too careful, so here is a collection of the wisdom I’ve amassed from my extensive research into the ever-reliable source of sound life advice that is horror movies.

Before the Story Starts

Regardless of whether you think you’re at risk of ending up a horror movie protagonist, marry someone who gives a damn about you and believes what you have to say. Don’t marry a psychopath. This isn’t exclusively directed at male/female couples, but your odds of being told you’re just PMSing when you point out that the walls are bleeding and knives keep flying off the table go up a lot if you’re a cis woman and your partner’s a man.

Head off these risks early by asking a few questions on the second or third date: “Hey, if I said our house was haunted by the ghost of a Victorian child who wants us all dead, you’d be down to move, right?” or “Okay, let’s play a game. I’ll go first. Never have I ever had someone close to me disappear under suspicious circumstances.”

Even the best of us can get fooled, though, so don’t beat yourself up if it turns out that the night before your wedding, you have to play a deadly game of cat and mouse with the new in-laws and you’re totally not prepared.

Even with a good partner, a big risk for hauntings is moving house, so do your research before you move. Has anyone died here? How horribly? (This also goes for purchasing antiques. A wardrobe from a nice brown and black concrete buildingMethodist lady who died in her sleep is fine. A meat cleaver from a disturbed butcher whose wife was never found is not. Use your best judgment.)

Even if there’s nothing suspicious in the archives, make sure to bring your dog to the showing. If he doesn’t like the place, you don’t stay. If you’re suspicious of his enthusiasm, check the realtor’s pockets for treats.

Demographic Woes

Unfortunately, sometimes the deck is stacked against you. Men, the patriarchy might actually not help you here, because you often have to die defending your family.

Your odds of survival go up if you’re a pretty, white cis woman, and being a virgin helps, too. Something something, Christian metaphors, something something, deep-rooted sexism in our culture that requires women to be ““pure”” and ““innocent”” to be worthy of surviving.

You’re still going to have to wear a wet, ripped up t-shirt at some point, though. And you’re definitely going to follow a weird noise out of the shower for a side boob shot at least once.

I’m sorry, I don’t make the rules.

Worst-Case Scenarios

man in black suit jacket and black pants

Even the best-laid plans go wrong, and if you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’re hiding in the kitchen with a bread knife while the killer dicks around outside for a bit before shattering more windows, then staring through the glass and waving slowly. You need to know how to survive common plot arcs, and here’s the good news: you totally can. You just have to avoid some classic protagonist pitfalls. (If you’re a sidekick…look, I’m really sorry.)

Figure out the threat and plan accordingly. If it’s ghostly, determine what’s haunted. Moving won’t help if you bring along the specter in your U-Haul, or if your new undead friend is attached to you, not your McMansion. If it’s a killer, get your taser ready and keep your cellphone in your pocket at all times.

I mentioned earlier you’re supposed to get a taser, right?

Fuck it, bread knife’s going to have to do.

Avoiding a Sequel

So you made it. First things first: check to make sure you’re not in a dream, coma, mental hospital, or particularly cruel and twisted Groundhog Day-esque illusion. If pursued by a serial gray road in between trees in grayscale photographykiller, do not assume they’re no longer a threat until you’re sure. Protagonists are notoriously bad at playing dead; villains are great at it. Beheading, bullet to the skull, or burning of the corpse of Mr./Ms./Mx. Professional Murderer should be accomplished before your tearful reunion with whoever (if anyone) is left alive.

Once that’s done, you should be out of the woods, except for one very dangerous possibility: the sequel. Now, by doing away with your antagonist, you might think you’ve eliminated the threat. After all, lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, and getting stalked by one killer or attracting the attention of one demon means you’re statistically safe from doing it again, right?

Wrong. People who experience horror movie phenomena once are 68% more likely to experience it again (, 2021). Furthermore, if you live through Part 1, your chances of getting iced about five minutes into Part 2 rise exponentially.

To avoid placing yourself at risk for Sequel-Induced Demise, don’t visit the campgrounds/ruins/institution where the horrible events occurred. Get closure in therapy, ignore any and all dares, and leave the state, if you can. Witness protection isn’t a bad idea, either, if the serial killer got away or has a mom who’s out to avenge them. Do not be tempted to mess around with any artifacts because, “Hey, last time was a practice run, I’m sure this cursed amulet will be a cakewalk.” Do not buy your kid another doll to replace the one you had to salt and burn. Get them a Tamagotchi or something. No one ever heard of a haunted Tamagotchi.

Try to live your life in relative peace, avoid isolated group retreats, leave weird historical artifacts alone, and look both ways before you cross the street.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go list my house on Zillow. I recently noticed a door that definitely wasn’t there when we bought the place, and if I’ve learned anything from horror blogging, it’s that you can’t be too careful.

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