Let’s face it, we all know how this plays out; hero girl hears a noise downstairs. To reassure herself, she calls out the inevitable “Hello?” as the movie audience groans at the tired old cliché. But is it really a tired old cliché or something more psychological?
One of my past articles saw a tongue-in-check Horror Movie Survival Guide which took the rules of the horror genre and played on them, giving you a sure fire way to survive assuming you ever find yourself in those kinds of situations. The one thing I didn’t put on the list however was “Never call out ‘Hello?’ when investigating a strange noise” and here’s the reason why.
I’ve done it. Yes, I am admitting that. I’ve called out “Hello?” upon hearing a strange noise in my house. I’ve been in the shower, singing up a storm, dancing around while washing my hair (I’m every horror villains’ dream kill) when I’ve suddenly heard a noise. What was it? A key in the lock? Was someone else home? I open the screen and I poke my head out, listening intently for any other sudden noises.
Let’s take a closer look at why people do this.
Like most people, I use to groan and giggle every time I heard this. God, even Ghostface from Scream (1996) complained about it, quote, “Never say ‘who’s there?’ Don’t you watch scary movies? It’s a death wish. You might as well come out to investigate a strange noise or something.”
I use to wonder if all screenwriters were to blame. Were they just lazy and copying from each other? Could they not think of anything original? The answer is far more in-depth than you could imagine because it’s not a writing cliché but rather a psychological issue.
In a natural response to ‘uncertain’ stimuli, your brain is determined to categorize this event as ‘normal’. So by setting up a ‘normal’ question like “Hello?” you’re effectively testing your environment, setting up ‘safe’ answers. For example, me in the shower calling out “Hello?” only for my ‘uncertain’ noise to actually be my partner rummaging around in the kitchen.
In the end, your mind relaxes when a ‘safe’ answer is returned. Let’s be truthful, harmless people always answer, thus giving you piece of mind to continue about your actions. A concerned neighbor informing you that your door is left open (or that your keys are still in the lock) would answer you. Your partner would answer you. Hell, even your drunken housemate that forgets to feed his cat would answer you (maybe not coherently but at least they’d answer). So saying “Hello?” isn’t so silly now. In fact, it’s kind of sensible. The worrying sign is when you still hear noises but you’re getting no reply. In which case I’d say pretend to slip on the soap and kill yourself and wait for them to leave. (Or you could just read my Horror Movie Survival Guide to come up with ideas)
Being part of the horror movie audience, we know we’re watching a horror movie. Pretty early on we get an indication of who will live, who’s the main survivor girl, and who’s expendable. We know from the foreboding music what’s coming, yet the characters on screen don’t. They’re stuck in their own ‘real world’ and don’t possess the knowledge that we do. They don’t get to hear the pounding movie theme to warn them of danger, therefore they’re subjected to acting the way they would in a real life terrifying situation.
Audiences scream at the screen, telling them to call the police because we don’t want to see them bite the dust. Aside from the fact that the movie is, erh, a movie, the reason behind that ill-logic is rather simple; Nobody goes through life thinking that they’re not the main character and thus won’t call the police over the slightest noise coming from the basement or kitchen.
So I guess the question really is; if saying “Hello?” is sensible and reassuring for your brain, is laughing at horror movie characters doing that very thing now the new cliché?