Guidelines for Talking During a Horror Movie: Don’t

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Rich Juzwiak at Gawker just penned an article saying that, if you want to talk during movies, it’s totally cool. Maybe don’t do it at all movies, but horror movies are totally fair game because they’re supposed to be crazy theater experiences! I’m guessing Juzwiak watched the opening scene of Scream 2 and called it a day on research.

This moronic idea gets a soapbox every few years, and every few years it must be swatted down without impunity. I don’t care if it’s trolling. The sentiment must be beaten back down. So, everyone sing it with me now: Do. Not. Talk. In. Movies.

Rich’s is the kind of advice aimed solely at people who are desperate to be stand-up comedians but don’t have the guts to go to open mic night. Don’t jump on stage at a Broadway play to plug your phone in. Don’t fuck with Patti LuPone. Do not talk in movies.

If a movie makes you laugh, laugh. If it scares you, jump in your seat and scream. If you’re watching the first ten minutes of Up, cry your face off. Don’t mistake the boulder-solid rule that you shouldn’t talk during movies as a missive not to participate. Response is what films are striving for. Mostly the uncontrollable kind where emotion or fear or absurdity hit you hard enough that your reacting may even be a surprise to you.

But heading to the theater with the goal of performing by yelling your terrible jokes to an unwitting crowd is like smearing your feces on the Mona Lisa, turning to the line of people waiting at the Louvre and saying, “Better right?!”

Nope. It’s not better. You’ve successfully stolen the spotlight from the art and slathered it all over yourself.

Which leads us to the secondary problems of Juzwiak’s article (aside from the premise being absolute bullshit). He suggests you should limit your commentary to the good stuff. Be selective. Only bring out your best lines. The issue with that is obvious – 99.999% of all comments uttered out loud at movies are idiotic and about 1/100th as funny as the person shouting them thinks they are. Unfortunately, people inclined to talk at movies always believe that they are part of the elusive .001% who really are talented.

Respectfully, if you’re the kind of person who nodded with enthusiasm to Juzwiak’s article, who is inclined to take your stand-up act to the movie theater, please take a second to absorb the certain reality that you have misjudged how clever and entertaining you are. Also recognize that this reality isn’t the end of the world. It’s actually totally okay. You can get funnier and more clever, but the movie theater is not the place to practice.

If you’re going to a special screening event where people are supposed to throw popcorn and insults at a schlock movie, feel free. Have fun. It seems clear that Juzwiak views all horror movies through that schlock lens. Everyone should have the respect for the genre, and for the people around them, to zip it before the credits roll. If you talk during horror movies, you’re going to destroy the atmosphere, and no one will be scared. Which is what they paid to be.

See, it’s all about expectations. At home with your pals watching The Room for the 10th time? Let loose. At a public screening with strangers? Shut the fuck up.

Also, shushing as hypocrisy? That’s idiotic. The point of shushing is to inject a brief, sharp noise into the atmosphere with the explicit goal of cutting off a potential two-hours of inescapable running commentary. You have to make a little noise to stop noise. This is the lamentable conundrum forced upon us by people who talk.

The only leverage I offer here is that, far better than shushing is turning to the talker and asking politely for them to stop. Shushing adds a tone of antagonism that most immature assholes take as a challenge to their dominance over the room of strangers they’ve held hostage. “Would you mind not talking, please?” has shut down countless talkers (my guess is because it shames them more than anything).

Some talkers don’t even realize they’re doing it, or that they can be heard. They are probably decent people just slipping up, and a calm reminder of true etiquette goes a long way. I agree with Rich that shushing is the kind of thing that starts fight (yes, I’ve seen it happen), but I understand why people turn to it in a moment of frustration. It’s because some asshole is talking to begin with. The thing you’re not supposed to do in movies. Any movie. Regardless of the genre.

There is a culture of talking in movies, and it’s called Mystery Science Theater (or RiffTrax or Master Pancake). If you’re that desperate to add your “talent” to the mix, start your own movie snarking show where you mock from the safety of your living room. Share it on YouTube. Maybe people will love it, and you’ll find the audience you so crave – one that isn’t forced into experiencing your outbursts.

Better yet, sack up and finally take your jokes on stage at your local Laugh Hut. See how much you appreciate audience members talking then.

If you read Rich’s article, it’s obvious where he’s coming from: he’s enjoyed a handful of solidly timed one-liners that mocked stupid moments in horror movies that he wasn’t enjoying. The key problem here is that, when you hate a movie, you never know how many people sitting around you (maybe all of them) are enjoying it. Sharing your opinion will ruin that enjoyment, and stealing people’s good time from them is a lame thing to do. Save if for the lobby.

If you don’t like it, walk out. No one’s asking you to stay, and absolutely no one’s asking you to take out your disappointment on a theater where no one who made the movie can hear you.

Bottom line? No matter what some random attention-seeker at Gawker says, if you talk during movies you will be – and you will rightfully be recognized as – an asshole.

So don’t do it. Don’t talk at movies. Seriously. Don’t.

And no cell phones either.

Movie stuff at VanityFair, Thrillist, IndieWire, Film School Rejects, and The Broken Projector [email protected] | Writing short stories at Adventitious.