How to Survive a Horror Movie (or 25 Tips for Living in the Scary Adult World)

At the end of every school year, I give my current AP English Language students a Last Letter. Normally, I sprinkle in a bit of humor, wax nostalgic, and end with a life lesson and declaration of compassion and/or love. However, after getting to know my current students, I decided to take a different route. This year I wrote about survival… because, holy crap, they needed it.

As most of you know, I love horror movies. And since I’ve grown older, I’ve realized that more than any other genre of film, Horror can actually teach some important life lessons. You just have to pay attention.

We all know that most unfortunate souls in horror films aren’t around celebrating their decisions as the credits roll. It’s the ultimate life metaphor. For most characters, it’s too scary, too bloody, too real and they just give up, give in, or in most cases, do something incredibly and irreversibly stupid — and that’s the end. It may not lead to death, but sometimes death is a metaphor too. So here are a few tips that will keep you alive, literally and metaphorically:

  1. Don’t make out with your significant other in public. In horror movies, this will get you killed. In real life, it will make people want to kill you. Wait till you get home or you’re alone. Just because you feel the urge to swap spit with your beloved (or that stranger you met in third block, on the street, at the Apple Store) doesn’t mean we want to see it. We may not be wielding an axe or a chainsaw, but you can be rest assured the words we are whispering behind your back are just as cutting.
  2. When, for all intents and purposes, it appears you’ve killed the monster, never go back and check to see if it’s dead. In every horror movie, it’s not dead. It’s never dead. And then you have to start over; battle it again; get bloodier, sweatier, sleepier. Basically, you have to do every single thing you did once a second time. It’s pointless, stupid, and harder than the first round. If you’d just left well enough alone and gotten out of there… well, you’d probably have made it. And maybe your monsters aren’t real. Maybe a demon with razor sharp teeth isn’t lurking around your corners ready to maul you, but you will still have demons. We all do. Every bad decision leads to bad a consequence, and demons are born from those consequences. Deal with your demons. Kill them. And let them be. Don’t go back and check on them. They aren’t worth it. And it’s much harder to kick a habit, break a cycle, end a relationship, kill a monster the second time around.
  3. If you’re running for your life, expect to trip and fall down a few times (more if you aren’t dressed appropriately.) Always note that even though you are running your butt off and whatever is chasing you is just ambling along at a snail-like pace, it is still moving fast enough to catch up with you. The monster, killer, rabid dog always catches up to you. In horror films, it’s because that killer, or monster, or rabid dog knows what it wants. It knows its purpose. It has a clear goal. It’s played the game before and it’s won every single time. If you aren’t prepared, it will eat you alive (or chop you into little pieces). Be prepared for life. It never stops coming. No matter what happens, no matter what excuse you make, it never stops. How many times you fall down depends on how ready you are to deal with it. Always know what’s behind you, but stop turning around to look. It never gives up. You can’t give up either.
  4. If you are the annoying, whining, screaming one, know this — everyone wants to slap you. You are drawing unwanted attention, distracting the rest of us, luring the killer near, and generally making us hate you. Ugh. There’s always one. That one character that cries and screams and normally just annoys the bejesus out of everybody else. When she finally bites it… most of us actually cheer. Don’t be the drama queen/king in life. We know your life is tough, that you’re scared, that you feel alone. Guess what, Einstein? So do the rest of us. If you are always screaming for attention, we may give it to you, but it will never be the way you want it. Stop talking. Shut up. Listen.
  5. Take heed of all warnings from children. They usually know more than you do. In horror films, children are creepy. In real life… well sometimes they are still creepy, but they are also honest. Adults, most of them anyway, will tell you what you want to hear. Children haven’t learned that manipulation tactic just yet. If they tell you you’re mean, or you stink, or you’re boring, etc. it’s probably true. Want a real judge of character — ask a child.
  6. …and so do animals. Much like children, animals are great judges of character. If a dog doesn’t like someone, chances are you shouldn’t either.
  7. Always check the backseat of your car. In a scary movie (or that whole gas station Urban Legend) there’s a killer with a machete in the backseat. In real life, you might find your groceries, your dog, your baby. Basically, take a moment to make sure you’ve taken care of everything before you get out of the car (i.e. move on to the next task). A few extra seconds and a little reflection will often save you a heck of a lot of heartache.
  8. If on a stormy night you find a window open which you thought was previously closed, do not close it. It may be your only way out when whatever has come through it is chasing you. Leave all your options open. Don’t close doors and windows (or relationships, jobs, opportunities) until you are beyond certain you don’t need them.
  9. Nothing is ever over if its still nighttime. Nothing changes overnight. Don’t assume that it will. Be patient. Wait. At some point, the sun will rise.
  10. Never run to the top of a building if something is chasing you. Your only way out will be to jump. There comes a point when you realize, often really quickly, that you have no way out. You said something you shouldn’t have, lied about something, failed to fulfill an obligation or a request, or painted yourself into that metaphorical corner. Just remember what happens when you do… when you manipulate, you leave yourself very few options. And then you have to jump. And jumping from the roof of a building hurts like hell.
  11. Never publicly announce your plans for the future. It guarantees you will have no future. People who brag about all the awesome things they’re going to get look mighty foolish when they don’t get them.
  12. Remember that these people never survive horror movies: the bully, the bimbo, the idiot, the greedy, the selfish, the vengeful, the stoner, the smartass, the bad guy, the racist, the sexist, the homophobe. And they rarely survive real life either.
  13. Be forewarned that a gun is good only for ALMOST killing the monster, never for COMPLETELY killing it. Be sure to have an extra weapon, preferably one with a “flair.” Creative situations call for creative measures. If a gun didn’t work the first time a giant hell-god attacks someone, it’s probably not going to work each subsequent time. When he attacks you and you shoot him, you can bet we’ll be attending your funeral soon. Or you can do like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and invest in a rocket launcher. Not many things can survive that. You want your monsters (your problems) to disappear, learn from what didn’t work and try something new.
  14. Silver works, garlic doesn’t. In horror movies — to kill monsters. In real life — to gain friends.
  15. Listen closely to the soundtrack, and pay attention to the audience, since they are usually far more intelligent than you could ever hope to be. — Don’t ignore good advice. There actually are some people who have gone through it before. Trust an outsider’s point of view. They lack bias. And even though you might not hear spooky, ominous music when you’re about to make a decision, there are always warning signs in life — a honking horn, a stern reprimand, blue lights in your rearview — it’s best not to ignore those things. If you ignore the warning, the reality will probably suck. A lot.
  16. When you have the benefit of numbers, never go it alone. Nothing in life is easier alone. When someone offers help, take it. It’s good to be independent, but it’s more important to understand the value of others.
  17. If you assist the villain, do not expect gratitude in exchange for your services. In fact, do not expect anything other than death. There are those people… you know the ones. Maybe they’re more popular than you. Maybe they have more money. But they also have something else. Something different. Something mean. You know it. I know it. Don’t expect them to change. They will never care about you. And every time you choose one of them over a true friend, you become the villain too.
  18. The self-righteous are always proved wrong in some horrible, nasty, painful way. Be a humble believer. You don’t have to question everything all the time. But ask for clarification, take a stand, develop your morals. Trust yourself. Don’t let someone tell you what to feel, believe, think. Come to those conclusions on your own. Remember there is a world outside of you and your self-righteousness.
  19. Always ask “why is this house so cheap?” or “why are you giving me this cool, antique puzzle box, free vacation, demon-summoning book?” or “Why does this amazingly out-of my-league girl/guy all of a sudden want to date me?” If it seems too good to be true, then it is too good to be true.
  20. Pack a survival kit. Put everything in it that you think you even might need to survive. Think of all possible contingencies. Plan, plan, plan. And then realize that just like in horror films, you will never fully be prepared for anything. There will always be a surprise. You can get through it though. You just have to remember that no matter how prepared you are for life, you can’t see the future and you never know what’s coming.
  21. “All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy.” — The Shining Try to have fun. Life is not just about work. A dying man never says, “I’m glad I worked hard and ignored the little things.”
  22. If you lock someone in a house, a room, a closet, a hotel for an extended period of time, they will go crazy. We all need variety, human contact, stimulation. Boredom and monotony will lead to very unpleasant experiences for everyone involved.
  23. If you do the above to a child, you can go ahead and bet that he/she will grow up to be a serial killer. In the end, we are responsible for our children, our choices, our words. We can’t help create the monster and then ignore the monster’s actions.
  24. Never say “Oh my god, could life get any worse?” Yes. Yes it could. That one zombie at your door could turn into a horde of zombies crawling across your lawn. Life may be hard now, but it can always get harder. Maybe your iPhone broke. Or maybe your family is starving. Some things just don’t compare. Know what’s horrible and what’s just inconvenient. And the rest of us won’t judge you for being a spoiled brat.
  25. Remember that life is sometimes a challenge. But it’s not unreasonable. You have the means to survive it. To stand at the end and say, “I did it. And I don’t regret it.” And who am I to give you this advice? Well, let me leave you with one more tip. And it may be the most important one you read today, or really ever: If the creepy old lady in town tries to give you some advice, TAKE IT! For some reason she always seem to know what she is talking about during her brief moments of lucidity. In real life, replace that creepy old lady with a near Beyoncé-like attractive, extremely witty, above-average intelligent AP English teacher. Even if you don’t know it, or don’t believe it, that woman cares about you and she wants you to survive. She wants you to make it to the credits. Alive and with no regrets. Every single one of you are important to her (even if she seemed scary or homicidal when you asked her a simple question she’d already answered seven million and one times). And even though you may think she is beyond nuts (or you are mystified by her beauty, your choice…) remember she loves you. And though even she isn’t near crazy enough to believe she can save you, she sure the hell hopes that she gave you just a few of the tools you need to save yourself.

Peace, Love, and Zombies.


Bolded points are a combination of brainstorming and research. I found there was really only one master list on the internet on “what not to do.” People just kept repeating the original list.

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