Listen to the goddamned Harbinger
The majority of us do not walk through life expecting to be accosted by the forces of evil, but a little common sense goes a long way in life. So if you’re trapped in a situation reminiscent of a horror film – possibly in the middle of nowhere or somewhere with an elevated creep factor – it behooves you to pay attention. Most of the time people in horror movies are their own worst enemy, and let’s face it, if they weren’t most horror movies would be over before they began, but it still doesn’t change the fact that people are really tone deaf to warnings that might save their lives.
When an eerie old codger advises you not to proceed down that dusty mountain road, or a lawman iterates how bad things best be left alone, or the creepy innkeeper tells you a story that freaks you the fuck out, my advice… turn around and go back home. The Harbinger is there for a reason and unless you’re trapped in a Scooby-Doo cartoon you should fuckin listen to them.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre 1974 (Nubbins Sawyer – The Hitchhiker)
So you’re out for a cross country excursion with your friends and decide to pick-up a hitchhiker. Okay, we’ve all been there, I mean the 1960s just ended and we are all trying to regain the peace love vibe. The problem is, when your hitchhiker begins to rant and rave, burn pictures with gunpowder, then cut himself up, you might want to go a little further than just boot his ass out of the van. The safety in numbers thing is an illusion so continuing on your trip in the direction the hitchhiker was going might not be the best course of action.
Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Bloody Girl – The Hitchhiker)
Okay, this one is just common sense. You pick up a dazed and bloody girl who is rambling incoherently about danger and what do you do? You continue on your way, in the direction from whence the girl came. If that’s not enough the girl pulls a gun out of her woman’s purse and offs herself right in the van. What in the world compels you at that point to continue toward the town in which she came?
28 Days Later (Scientist in opening scene)
If you’re going to break into an animal research facility there are a couple of cardinal rules you need to follow. 1) Know WTF is being used on the animals. 2) When a scientist at the facility tells you they are contagious and must not be released… listen to them! They ought to know, they’re the ones conducting the horrible semi-unethical science shit.
28 Weeks Later (Wayward Boy in opening scene)
This one’s a little bit more difficult because, let’s face it, adults don’t listen to kids, That said, if you’re living in the zombie (rage zombie) apocalypse then you need to take all the sage advice and intel you can get. This one literally screams complacency and utter lack of situational awareness. When a young kid comes banging on the door of your (terribly) fortified and hidden refuge claiming ‘loads’ of infected are following him you might want to not wait till they begin breaking through the windows before taking some action.
Sometimes the warning is more for the audience’s benefit than the characters. When a law enforcement official warns off our hero/heroine/sidekick/protag in the first few minutes of the story we all know things will not bode well, especially since the main character’s almost certain to stay the course of investigating the horrible monster/mystery/murder… etc.
American Werewolf in London (Slaughtered Lamb Bartender)
This one is a bit problematic because as strangers in a foreign can be susceptible to extreme skepticism of local superstitions. Sitting in a secluded Scottish pub while the patrons insist you get the hell out doesn’t seem like the most enjoyable situation, but when the nice old lady working the bar says unequivocally and with genuine menace in her voice “You just can’t let them go!” You might want to ask “Why?”
The Boogens (Greenwalt – The Old Man)
Working in a mine has got to be nerve racking. Reopening an abandoned mine has got to be even worse. Closed spaces. Old timbers. Unknown dangers around every turn. Just thinking about it makes me queasy. So when crosses and signs start popping up around your work sight trying warn you off you shouldn’t dismiss them as the work of vandals, especially when your employees stop coming to work and/or reporting from the road.
Jurassic Park (Dr. Ian Malcolm)
Possibly the most classic and overt example of the harbinger is Dr. Malcom. Literally every single warning and horrible prediction he makes comes true at some point in the film. Of course we all know his warning will be dismissed, but that makes it so much more enjoyable when they do. Every. Single. Time. Hey, you can’t say he was vague.
Harbinger Down (The Crab Boat)
A cute little play on the trope, here the warning is literally stencilled on the side of the boat. I just wish the movie had been better.
Cabin in the Woods (Mordecai – The Harbinger)
This one’s included mainly because it’s a complete parody of the harbinger trope. It’s brilliant and hilarious.
So in closing, if you see something or hear something then…