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Cell Phones in Horror Films

Cell phones! Everyone's got one! Car breaks down? No problem -- dial 311 for assistance! Homicidal killer chasing you in the woods? The police are three digits and a SEND button away! And when you get the feeling that your parents -- and the entire community -- are hiding the possibility that there might once have been a serial killer prowling the neighborhood for kids (until they decided to form a vigilante mob and burn him alive), all you gotta do is open your Google app and type the words SPRINGFIELD and whatever first and last name were written inside the hat you pulled out of your dream.

It's really hard to come up with a plausible Horror movie premise these days given the restrictions enforced by accessible technology. One of the chief themes of the genre is isolationism, whether it's because no one believes the crazy shit you claim is happening to you, or because you're literally cut off from help or escape (or weapons) in an isolated environment. We live in an age of Facebook, of Twitter, and Instagram. We can "check in" and achieve Mayorial status at restaurants (whatever the fuck THAT means) using some truly stupid thing called Foursquare. Whether you like the application or not is irrelevant: what matters is that we're constantly leaving a trail of bread crumbs that connects us to everyone around us. I'm not so naive as to suggest that kidnapping, rape and murder are statistically lessened by wearing an iPhone on the hip, but from a storytelling point of view, it's a lot harder to believe that a vanload of 2015 teenagers are going to run out of gas, get stranded, and end up hanging from meathooks. "Hey guys, instead of going up to that big, creepy farmhouse with all the taxidermy, let's just use Maps to find a gas station."

And it's not just Google: it's Wikipedia, too. You can read the newspaper on your phone if you want, and search for old news clippings. We no longer live in an age of secrets. Everyone's dirty laundry is airing in real time! There are entire web sites devoted strictly to the sordid histories of every murderer that's walked the earth, with instant access a swipe of the thumb away. It becomes hard to believe that anyone would bother going to Crystal Lake when Jason Voorhees would be one of the most infamous names in American history.

There was once an innocent time when Van Helsing had to sit the Fearless Vampire Killers down in a parlor and explain to them the details of the Undead: their powers, their weaknesses. Scenes where our intrepid teens thumb through card catalogues (!) at the local library, or scrolling through microfiche (!!) to discover The Answer To The Mystery. And how did the masked murderer deal with phones? He cut the line outside the house, leading to that moment where all the kids inside jump, with the Survivor Girl wailing HE'S HERE...! HE'S HERE...!

Now? Check out remakes and reimaginings of classic films, even the ones less than twenty years old, to see how far and how fast the cell phone has become such a part of our lives that we can't tell a story without it. It's backed Michael Myers, Leatherface, and all their writers, into a corner, and the lengths filmmakers have to sometimes go to incorporate the internet as a plot device can be eye-roll-worthy at best. Sometimes filmmakers rise to the challenge and come up with some clever ideas, but typically there has to be a contrived sequence involving some schmuck dropping his phone or announcing that his battery's dead. Apple products are apparently as unreliable as automobiles when a monster's chasing you and you're trying to get the damn engine to turn over.

As it's always been: science defeats superstition, and nudges fantasy out the door every time.


I thought The Descent was a good cell phone-era horror concept. Ain't no reception down in those spooky caves, baby!

I think any story set in the wilderness can get around the cell phone thing easily enough.


Or just make sure they all have older iPhones after the latest iOS update.  Those batteries will be dead in no time.

AMaybe the person they're trying to call for help puts the fucking thing on speakerphone and proceeds to take a walking tour of the nearest two or three counties while they're trying to have a conversation.

Just have them burn through their battery taking selfies.  They forgot to bring a portable charger and cord, so their phone is out of commission.


I agree a suburban horror film like Scream or Halloween is harder to pull off in an age of nonstop connectivity.

Moving forward I'd think those type of movies (if slashers ever come back) will have to be period pieces.

AOr their car charger is for one of the 476 previous mutually-incompatible iPhone connectors.

I thought Hush was good in this respect.  The killer just steals the phone.  So simple!


Something about a scene where Jason Voorhees turns an iPhone off just feels wrong.


I write horror stories and I've been pondering this for a while (no shit, found this old thread: I think cell phones and the Social Network age have pushed horror in a different direction. As mentioned, isolation is a major theme of horror, and we just have to work at it harder. This is why we're seeing arise in possession movies, period pieces, and Lovecraftian supernatural horror (seriously, how many fucks do you think an Elder God gives about a cell phone).

The old school, slasher style horror movies have been replaced by the many. many crime procedurals.

Conversely, I think this has led to horror thriving in the shorter mediums (there are some great horror podcasts), and found footage is still going strong.

Also, growing up in the sticks where a cell reception can be spotty, I get to enjoy more films in the inbred, cannibalistic hillbilly genre.

AIt’s not just reception, though — it’s the ability to access any information at any time. It’s impossible to unspool a story like NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET because there’s no longer a way for a community to keep secrets of that sort. Same with THE EXORCIST, or just about any genre film where long-forgotten and long-hidden truths can be revealed slowly.

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