Give a horror film character a working smartphone and things might get boring pretty quickly. That’s why horror films have got to find a way to break that phone, or use the now cliched device of losing a phone signal, to eliminate the possibility of calling for help when the horror really starts to unfold.
One of the difficulties horror film directors have nowadays is finding a way to either discard the smartphone so it can’t be used as an easy out when things start to go horribly wrong or discover a reason for it not to exist or be available in the first place. Because if characters had their smartphone, as these films highlight, horror films might quickly lose their capacity to scare us silly.
There was an example of the smartphone being discarded to help maintain the suspense in the reboot of Halloween recently. In David Gordon Green’s disappointing effort, he tries to overcome the cliche of ridding the character of her smartphone in a believable way. But it still feels like deus ex machina (the Latin phrase coined to describe a plot device that solves a problem abruptly with a seemingly unlikely occurrence).
In the film, the boyfriend of a girl who is using her phone, throws the device into one of the drink bowls at a high school dance. It just so happens that her mother, grandmother and police are desperately trying to call her as her life is in danger. Cue, heightened suspense as the character is blissfully unaware of what horror is in store for her. Problem is, the fact the boyfriend throws the phone away seems unlikely given that she is the one with the reason to be annoyed at him for kissing another girl.
His annoyance at her phone seems improbable; he’s never had a problem with it before in the film, and the action of throwing it away solves nothing in regards to his current dilemma of saving his relationship. That this character never shows up again in the film is strange, but in doing so it only underlines his superficial inclusion to the plot, causing improbable antagonism that further lessens the impact of this very average horror film.
This goes to show that if you underestimate the smartphone in a horror film, it can have a hugely detrimental impact on the film as a whole. Recent research by smartphone retailer e2save found that nearly one in five people class horror as their favourite film genre. As part of its study, e2save has revealed five films that would have been very different had a smartphone and its abundance of apps been available to the victim.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s much-loved movie, main character Marion makes the poor decision of checking into the Bates Motel, where events quickly take a turn for the worst. If she’d taken a moment to download the Trip Advisor app on her smartphone and read recent reviews, she’d have surely been dissuaded from the place after reading one-star reviews of the creepy owner.
The Shining (1980)
Acting as winter caretaker for the haunted Overlook hotel is enough to send Jack Nicholson a little stir crazy in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the Stephen King novel. With Jack on the rampage, his son Danny tries to call for help using his psychic ‘Shining’ abilities. Unfortunately, the only other ‘Shiner’ in the movie is the hotel chef, who isn’t much use in a scuffle. Maybe with a mobile phone available, Danny could have called someone a bit more helpful. On the other hand, ‘The Phoning’ is a slightly less enigmatic title.
Friday 13th (1980)
The sinister Camp Crystal Lake is the setting of this 80s slasher, where holidaying teens are picked off by a mystery assailant. Although the killer is thought to be Jason Voorhees, a missing boy from the year before, the villain actually turns out to be Jason’s mum. Perhaps with Facebook in their pocket, one of the teens could have checked out some Vorhees family photos on Facebook, and known not to open the door when the raging matriarch comes calling.
The Sixth Sense (1999)
The Sixth Sense tells the story of a boy called Cole Sear who is visited by ghosts. Cole doesn’t tell anyone about this, apart from psychologist, Malcolm Crowe played by Bruce Willis. The twist in the tale is that – spoiler alert! – Bruce Willis is a ghost too. If he’d only had a smartphone, he would surely have read about his own murder on BBC News. Or at least worked out he’s a ghost when he tried to pick up his phone only for his hand to go right through it.
The Blair Witch Project (1999)
In this supernatural horror film, The Blair Witch Project, three student filmmakers go hiking in the Black Hills to film a documentary about a local legend, the Blair Witch. After Heather (one of the filmmakers) loses her map, the group find themselves lost. What they really needed is a smartphone with Google Maps to nav their way home, and the torch on a classic Nokia 3310, which as everyone knows is the brightest flashlight ever invented.
Joe Linnington, mobile expert at e2save, said: “So many horror films from the pre-smartphone age would have been a whole lot shorter if they’d only had a mobile in their pocket. If I find myself in any spooky situations this Halloween, my trusted handset will be my first port of call.”