It is, perhaps, one of the most well known clichés of the horror movie genre, and it is certainly one of the most effective methods of creating a jump-scare. But, is there ever a really great example of a movie where we think the villain is dead – and then they come back? The truth is, a lot depends on the way in which we think they died in the first place, and who it was that killed them.
Villains in horror movies are a particularly strange bunch – simply by virtue of the genre in which they exist. Because horror films require plot twists to really keep the audience engaged, we are often faced with terrifying killers whose identities remain uncertain until the final act. Or murderers whose identities are known, but whose motivations and connections to the victims are unclear. All of this confusion and uncertainty adds to the sense that the audience is being caught off-guard, and on the back-foot.
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This is also created by strong characterization. Perhaps the true killer is unknown because all of the characters seem like good, non-homicidal people, or perhaps the killer is known and has been engaging in activities that would scare the most hard-nosed individual. Either way, when the killer is themselves supposedly killed, the audience is flooded with a sense of relief. If the monster is dead, the horror must be over, right?
That is when the ultimate jump-scare is deployed. These moments are never more effective than immediately after a point of relief in the plot. The sudden re-animation of a dead monster brings with it all kinds of questions – how have they survived? Are they vulnerable at all? If it is so hard to kill them, how can anyone possibly survive? Indeed, there is a reason that this cliché became a cliché in the first place. It is an obvious, but highly effective trope, and it was borne of some of the most well-known, celebrated horror films. Now that Halloween is upon us, let’s take a look at five of those iconic moments, that are known to prove that, sometimes, they come back.