Scream Queen’s Survival Guide, The: by Meredith O’Hayre, 212 pgs. By Billups Allen

Nov 24, 2010

Not only am I a fan of horror movies, but I am also a fan of books about movies. I am one of those who can’t get enough when the VCR powers down, so I go to bed and read books about film. For this reason, I was really psyched to get The Scream Queen’s Survival Guide in the mail. I was also excited to see that a woman wrote it, as a female point of view is often absent in horror circles. I really wanted to like it, but the ideas inside are sophomoric and poorly executed. The book is haphazardly organized into a manual of “tips” for how to survive in horror movies.

The author, who claims to be a fan of horror, uses a very shallow vocabulary of films to make obvious points about the common tropes in the genre. For instance, there is a section about how it is stupid to hitchhike. That is a fair enough statement, but the author goes on to mention that it is extra stupid to hitchhike in horror movies. This is an attempt to riff, but the conceit that people in horror movies walk around aware they are in horror movies comes in to play time and time again. It isn’t funny the first time and it gets old fast.

There is a segment that suggests if Brad Pitt’s character David Mills had watched Children of the Corn, he would not have gone into the open field at the end of Se7en. That logic could be applied to almost any two texts in any genre. Deliberations about how women should or shouldn’t dress in horror movies and whether or not people should split up in horror movies come across like an extended rant from the Scream franchise. I realize it is meant to be funny, but the gags are, more often than not, painfully obvious. It is hard to imagine who the target audience is.

Occasionally an interesting concept seeps in, but the riffing never allows the author’s ideas to manifest beyond a surface level. At one point she mentions the idea that the morality of being a virgin allows certain people to survive horror movies. That is interesting to me. Then she goes on to say: “In fact, it’s such a cliché that it’s long rumored to be a message from the Christian Right.” Is it? I would accept that statement if there was some research behind it. Rumored by whom? I’m not trying to be obtuse; I find that intriguing. I would even accept a slanted view on this subject. But the author chooses to quickly dismiss the notion: “Yeah, because the Christian Right spends a lot of time working on horror movies.” People base thesis papers on this concept. I don’t think it would have to necessarily be the “Christian Right” plotting to insert morality into the world for this to be a phenomenon in film worth studying. But the author moves on to other more important issues. Like how much trouble could be saved if people would just turn around when a killer is standing in the corner. Yes, it is true. And obvious to anyone who cares enough to think about it. If everyone in horror films sat with their backs to the wall holding shotguns, they would survive. Who would pay eleven dollars to see that? –Billups Allen (Adams Media, 57 Littlefield St.Avon, MA02322)