In horror movies, it used to be that a victim’s chance of calling for help was limited to her own living room—and usually, a convenient power outage knocked that pesky bit of common sense out pretty early in the picture.
But in the 21st century, no viewer will believe a person fleeing the fetid ghost of a bloodthirsty fishwife won’t immediately pull out their cellphone and alert the world to their peril. So most movies throw up the unquestioned, unimaginative “no signal!” trope. But every now and then, a film goes the extra mile. Here we give kudos to a few movies which, even if they didn’t accomplish much else, found logical ways to avoid contrivance in The Case of the Disappearing Cellphone.
Warning: There will be some spoilers but, as is often the case with low budget horror films, you probably would have figured them out in the first 20 minutes anyway.
1. Fight Modernity with Modernity
You’re Next uses the horror staple of a group being trapped inside a lonely mansion while bunny masked killers pick them off one by one. But they deserve credit: Though the house is secluded enough to have gone for ye olde "no signal," the film instead gives you a bit of reality in the form of cell phone jammers.
2. You’ve got the Phone, You’ve Even Got the Coverage...but where is that dang charger?
In House of Good & Evil, an increasingly unstable wife bikes out daily so she can contact her husband at the one spot near their terrifyingly isolated new home that has coverage—but she soon finds her charger has been lost in the move. Or was it? Either way, the premise of losing something among a landslide of moving boxes requires no suspension of disbelief.
3. Everyone Put Your Phone in the Bag. We’re going to Be Slaught—ah, One with the Forest!
The Mooring isn’t a very memorable addition to the glutted “teen girls running through trees to escape murder” genre. But it did have a truly logical reason for none of the girls having cell phones, even though it was a perfect setting to hold a phone to the sky, squint, and grouse, “Dammit. No bars.” Instead, there was the premise of troubled teens on a wilderness retreat, and therefore required to pile all their (lifesaving) electronics into a bag by their (quickly murdered) counselor.
4. The Phone Works Fine. It’s Your Brain That’s On the Fritz.
The Secret Village is the story of an intrepid young journalist trying to figure out just what’s going on in a vaguely satanic town she’s visiting. Her phone works really well, and she uses it to keep her editor updated, and even to implore him to send the police when things are looking really dicey. The problem is, well, she bugs a lot of people about her problems, including a recently freed slave in a Tom Sawyer hat and a bunch of witches in cloaks. For some reason none of them are too terribly helpful.
5. Dirt. Reasonable dirt.
It’s important to note the difference between the dirt in Detour and other movies' dirt. The hero’s cell phone does not work, but it isn’t because the plot forced him to blunder and drop the phone into dirt, or water, or lava. Rather the dirt is about ten feet deep, on top of him, and is the crux of the plot. So the dead cellphone is an immovable part of the whole story, which is really rare in a horror movie.
6. Vampires Got ‘Em.
The movie 30 Days of Night isn’t an easy call, but as umpire of film contrivance, I’m going to go ahead and walk this one. Because if you were a vampire, and you were intending to eat a town, you probably would want to use your vampire stealth to somehow snatch every phone in the town, burn them, and bury them in snow. It might seem hard to do but hey—you’re a mythical creature of the night. In fact I’m not sure there was any other option.
7. The '80s were an Awesome Time so Let’s go Back!
Twenty-first century horror films, like House of the Devil and The Haunting in Connecticut, aren’t just set in the 1980s as a device to eliminate cell phones—but it certainly is a perk. It’s somehow edifying to know that a trembling victim crouched in a dumbwaiter awaiting certain spiritual defilement only imagined in the minds of madmen really never had a chance to call 911. Not that it would have helped; it never helps. But having that one part of the circus tent that is the horror genre tightly staked down is a real treat.