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Dear America: You Need to Stop Talking During Horror Movies

Drafthouse no talking

Due to the fact that I’m pretty lonely and don’t quite know what else to do with my free time, I went to see two movies at my local theater this past weekend. The first was Insidious: Chapter 3 on Thursday night, followed by Spy on Saturday night. And the two experiences couldn’t possibly have been any different, particular subject matter notwithstanding.

Whereas Spy proved to be a pleasant experience, with audience laughter at the right times and complete silence at most other points, Insidious: Chapter 3 was a complete nightmare. So talkative was nearly every group in my general vicinity that I was forced to get up and switch my seat, and even then I had no choice but to get in a verbal altercation with a particularly chatty teenager.

Of course, I’m not suggesting that obnoxious movie-goers only plague screenings of horror movies, but this past weekend wasn’t the first time I noted a marked difference between a ‘horror audience’ and a ‘non-horror audience.’ I see every horror movie that comes to theaters, often on the weekend of release, and 9 times out of 10 the experience is nothing short of a nightmare.

Actually, make that 10 times out of 10.

Truth be told, it’s oftentimes hard to even pay attention to the horror movies I go see, which is a total bummer considering the fact that I’m spending $13 to be there. Worse yet, it’s my job to review the new horror movies that I see, and that needless to say becomes very difficult when nearly every person in the theater seems intent on ensuring that I can’t even watch the movie I’ve paid to see.

I have a few theories as to why audiences can’t keep quiet during horror movies, and one of the big ones is of course that horror movies attract teenagers – and teenagers, as anyone who’s ever been a teenager is well aware, don’t really care about anyone but themselves. And then there’s society’s general lack of respect for horror movies, which I’d have to blame for the way audiences behave during them.

Or maybe it’s simply that most horror movies that reach theaters aren’t very good, with predictable moments of terror that almost encourage audiences to shout at the screen, laugh out loud and make stupid remarks to their friends. It’s almost as if every horror movie I see comes with an audience commentary track built into the ticket price, and whatever the reason, I’m growing quite tired of it.

It’s gotten to the point where I’ve been forced to modify my habits to suit this escalating trend of audience obnoxiousness, intentionally reworking my schedule so that I only go see movies on days and at times where I’m pretty sure the crowds will be small. Late Thursday nights and early Friday mornings have become my go-to theater days, and I tend to avoid Friday and Saturday nights like the plague.

But no matter how much I inconvenience myself in the hopes that I’ll actually get to peacefully watch a movie I’ve paid an exorbitant amount of money to see, those pleasant experiences are still few and far between. All it takes is one girl with a cell phone or one dude with a girlfriend he wants to impress to derail an entire theatrical experience, and that person is almost always in attendance.

Truth be told, 80% of every theater I sit in is filled with ‘that person,’ and it seems that people like me – who go to the movies to watch movies – have become incredibly rare. Movie theaters, more than anything else, have become places for teenagers to hang out and bullshit with one another, and they’ve become so comfortable in that environment that it might as well be their own living room.

The big problem with all this is that people like me are completely at the mercy of people like them. If they decide to ruin a movie that I’m paying to see, then there’s really nothing that can stop them. Sure, I can lean back and tell them to shut the fuck up, and I often do, but the only thing that really tends to accomplish is making a bad situation a whole lot worse – because no one likes to be told how to behave.

Another option is to alert the staff to the problem, which requires you to get up out of your seat and miss at least five minutes of the movie you’re trying to watch. It’s hardly an option that’s even worth considering, and it’s highly unlikely that the meek teenage employee who’s making $7 an hour is going to risk his life by telling a group of friends to keep their popcorn-munching mouths shut.

Before the trailers have even started, I already know precisely who in the audience with me is going to be a big problem for the next two hours, and the worst part is indeed that I can’t do a single thing about it. Once your ticket has been purchased, movie theaters don’t really care how you spend that next 120 minutes, as they make their money no matter what happens behind those closed doors.

And this needs to change. The way I see it, the only way that public behavior is going to change is if theater chains start caring and start making an effort to ensure that it does. Lest you think there’s simply no way this can be done, I strongly encourage you to go see a movie at the Alamo Drafthouse – which got its start in Texas but now has several locations throughout the country.

One of the Drafthouse’s policies, in addition to serving food and beer, is that there is no talking or cell phone usage while a movie is being shown, and they’re pretty strict when it comes to enforcing this rule. If anyone is caught talking or texting during a movie, they are either warned to stop or removed from the premises, and pre-movie PSAs lay out these conditions for all to see.

“If you can’t change your behavior and be quiet (or unilluminated) during a movie, then we don’t want you at our venue,” says Tim League, founder and CEO of Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. Until all theaters adopt a similar respect for the movie-going experience, then I’m afraid the talkers and texters are going to continue ruining that experience for those of us who actually enjoy movies.

There’s nothing I love more than going to the movies. And I’m truly heartbroken about the fact that I’m growing to hate those weekly outings.

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If you don't get enough of me here on Halloween Love, you can also find me on Dread Central, iHorror and Shock Till You Drop. Contact me via john@halloweenlove.com.
  • Robin Manford

    I agree with all of this, and have suffered similarly at numerous screenings, horror and otherwise. In some respects cinemas actively encourage disruptive behaviour by selling snacks. Of course they do it to milk as much revenue from the visitors as possible, but it does alter the mentality of those in attendance. You don’t, afterall, hear people munching popcorn and loudly slurping giant Cokes at the theatre

  • John Squires

    I’ll never understand why popcorn became the official snack of movie theaters – it’s the loudest goddamn food that you can possibly eat. If I do get popcorn at the theater, which is rare, I make sure to eat most of it before the actual movie starts. Because yea, loud chewing and slurping can be as annoying as talking.

  • Robin Manford

    It isn’t even just popcorn anymore, though. It’s things in PACKETS. That RUSTLE. But for me it hits the nerve of the problem; by providing such things during a film, you are guaranteeing two things: 1) that people will treat the environment more casually. You only have to look at the floor as you leave the cinema screen to see how little regard the patrons have for the venue, and 2) that people will be opening their mouths to shovel crap into them. Once someone’s mouth is already open, well, they might as well spout a load of bullshit whilst they’re at it, right?

  • Kirby4Ever

    Agree with everything you wrote! I don’t know why I’ve been experiencing this problem more frequently now than ever before. I love going to the movies as well. It’s not just watching a good movie that I enjoy. I really appreciate the entire experience. Whenever I go to the theater with family/friends, as soon as we open the door and I smell the familiar popcorn scent for the first time, I always take a deep breath, smile, and say “I’m home”. It’s the entire experience that I appreciate, even the trailers (which nowadays last what feels like a half hour). My experience while watching a movie greatly impacts my opinion of it, for better or worse. Some of my favorite movies are admittedly not that great from an objective point of view, but if I’m in a particularly good mood or with good company, I’m likely to look back more fondly on a film. In regards to talking during a horror film, teenagers are so concerned with the opinions of their friends that, after getting embarrassed by being caught off guard and probably looking silly jumping or screaming in their seat, they have to joke about it and brush it off to seem cool and funny. What I can’t understand is why people chose to talk in general, during the average movie or even when nothing scary is happening. And what I really don’t understand is why people go on their phones during the movie. I just don’t see how a movie theater has become a popular spot for teenagers to hang out, and by hang out, I mean talk amongst themselves, check their phones, and sometimes even randomly walk around the theater. As you pointed out, it is so expensive to go the movies lately. A ticket, drink and small popcorn is close to $50 (maybe more, in some cases) for one person, let alone a group. How do teens have that much money to pay for something their clearly not invested in. If all you want to do is go somewhere you can hang out, chat and stare at your phone, do you know how many places there are where you can do that for free? You don’t even need to leave your house! Why go to a place where you are specifically supposed to be quiet to talk to friends? There have been some good movies out lately, but when I think of them now, my mind instantly flashes back to feeling annoyed and uncomfortable, focusing on anticipating the audiences’ next movies rather than that of the characters on screen.

  • brandmed

    Amen! I tend to only go to matinees in order to avoid teenagers and people at the movies just to hang out. Still not a sure proof way to avoid them but lower crowds minimize the risk. Like you, I have noticed that horror movies tend to bring out the worst behavior. My theory is that the movies are working on these people. They’re scared and they don’t like that feeling so they talk, laugh, make jokes, etc. to cut the tension. But that’s the point (most of the time) of a horror movie-to make you feel tense! It’s so rude and unexcusable. My wife has gotten up to complain before, but I hate that she has to then miss part of the movie. At least that time, the management did come say something to the people talking (a man there with his son and elderly mother who he had to translate Man of Steel to; by yelling in Spanish to her over the sound of Metropolis being destroyed) and they gave us free passes to another movie. When my friend and I saw The Conjuring at a packed crowd, the group of college-aged kids behind us narrated the entire movie complete with lines like “girl, you better put on your house shoes.” It was so annoying. When I shushed them, they grew louder and acted offended. Nobody wants to listen to your commentary, idiots. Anyway, preach on, brother and I am right there with you.