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How Important are Horror/Slasher Conventions to your Narrative Expectations Essay Sample

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How Important are Horror/Slasher Conventions to your Narrative Expectations Essay Sample

The narrative expectations of any horror film, not just Urban Legend, relies not only on the film itself, but the audience in question: For an audience who are partial to horror films, it may be predicted to great lengths. Some horror fans say they can guess the killer, final girl and motive in the first twenty minutes. For this reason, the enjoyment factor may diminish.

However, for an audience watching their first horror film, or those who rarely watch them and are therefore not distinguished in the use of genre conventions, (respectively, a less experienced perspective) a horror film can conquer their emotions through the use of fear, shock, suspense or almost any other emotion. Another popular element is the use of humour; through the use of an anticlimax, humour is used to dispel the fright that had gripped them. From the outset, the opening sequence of Urban Legend establishes its genre by displaying many conventions that other horrors have promoted.

First of all, your typical run-of-the-mill horror scenario; we are presented with the all too typical young women all alone in a confined space – in this case, her car – situation. These apparent characteristics as well as the fact it is night time and there is also a thunder-storm, give me an expectation of horror; it’s the opening scene this young women is in an extremely difficult position, yet she doesn’t know it, and she will no doubt be the first in a series of brutal murders.

Instantly, I am able to anticipate her ill-fate because as with more recent horror films, the first girl onscreen is likely to be the one who’s first to get-it. Typical examples of the this type of opening death scenes are at work in films such as Halloween and more recently, Scream and its sequel Scream 2, yet horrors such as Nightmare on Elm Street – although this came close to a murder – did not feature a murder until later on in the film. Psycho, which is said to have been the first slasher movie, didn’t show a murder until half way through the film.

This shows how films of the horror genre have varied or changed over time, even though certain elements remain after years of genre adaptations. The eerie, blue effect of the light adds to visual evidence of an apparent horror film, also the non-diegetic music creates suspense by connoting something sinister is about to happen and that all is not well. Already the narrative has begun to unfold before us and we are barely even minutes into the film; the girl driving the car, Michelle, is a student at Pendledon College.

We know this because the DJ on the radio announces it before the somewhat ironic song, ‘Turn Around’ begins to play, which, when you witness what is to follow, is all this young woman has to do to realise the grave danger she is in. It is clearly obvious that the girl is not to know of her ill fate; otherwise the opening sequence would be too tedious and dull. For those with a pre-knowledge of other horror films and an understanding of genre iconography and concepts, it comes as no surprise that this girl runs out of petrol.

When you are a girl in trouble in the opening sequence of a post-modern horror film, there is nothing that can prevent you being savagely mauled by a masked killer, that will go on to wreak havoc and cause more trouble in the film. Luckily, Michelle manages to press on with what little petrol she has, until she reaches the stereotypical horror ‘gas station’; in the middle of nowhere, seemingly deserted, and isolated from the safety of other hapless victims who would only get in the way.

Naturally she is spooked by the attendant when he asks her to go into the office, so is very much reluctant to leave the false sense of security she has built up in her car. It is basically the only security that she knows (or thinks) she has. The spine-chilling none-diegetic music continues to play throughout the sequence, which continually keeps our awareness – of Michelle’s troubled situation – heightened.

Once Michelle and the attendant are in the office, elements such of the close-up shot of the attendant locking the door behind them, and the fact that Michelle finds the phone line is dead, advocates the murderous blame onto the attendant. By now, the non-diegetic music starts to reach its climax. After a false accusation and a textbook struggle to first get out of the office and then across the courtyard and into her car, it momentarily comes as a surprise that she gets away from him, making her way off down the dark, quiet road once more. As Michelle drives off, the petrol station attendant shouts out ‘there’s someone in the back seat’.

When we hear these words it’s all too late for Michelle whether she heard them or not. As a masked shadow appears in her rear-view mirror, an axe is drawn and brings an intense conclusion to this somewhat tepid opening sequence. In most contemporary Hollywood horror films, the killer tends to be a masked murderer, so upon watching this sequence for the first time; although there was strong belief that this girl would have been killed in the next few minutes anyway, it soon turns out it was sheer luck that ‘saved her life’ for that few extra seconds.

The idea that Michelle was going to get away so easily didn’t really fit with my foreknowledge of the horror genre. As the girl in the opening sequence, there was no doubt she would be gruesomely murdered. In the film Scream, to highlight another such case, Casey Becker manages to get out of her house – which the killer infiltrates – to find her parents driving up the driveway, but the killer manages to get hold of her and kill her just in time.

In conclusion, Urban Legend is just another film on our shelves: Another brick in the wall for our already well-constructed house of the horror genre. It’s not just the indifferent opening sequence that was foreseeable, but the majority of the film. It is fair to say that an audience enjoyment factor diminishes if a new horror fails to offer them new substance to fret over, even if they do throw in the odd ‘old trick’.

Read also:

How successful are the trailers for: AI and Crazy Beautiful in attracting viewers to watch the film
A Critical Appreciation – ‘The English Patient’ Final Sequence
How the film stacks up with the historical evidence and what historians say on the same subject

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