Horror Lexicon 15: Cell Phone Reception



Horror movies have always adapted with changing times.  

That's how they stay scary to contemporary audiences, by adjusting to modern fears over the decades. 

But horror movies must also adapt to changing technology.  In the 1970's and 1980's, horror films had no need to worry about the ready availability of cell phones, or i-Phones. 

All that changed, however, with the turn of the century.

In the late nineties, and 2000's, crafty horror movie-makers had to contend with the new reality that basically, we always have phones on our person, no matter where we go, or what time of day or night it is.  

In the past, horror movie villains simply needed to cut power to a house, or cut the land-line to render a would-be-victim vulnerable and isolated. But by the year 2000, that trick simply wouldn't cut the mustard anymore  Some filmmakers dodged the problem by setting their films in previous decades, which dovetailed nicely with the remake movement of the 2000's.


Other filmmakers were forced to come up with new reason why imperiled people simply couldn't simply dial 911 on their cell phones when threatened. In efforts such as Jeepers Creepers (2001), and The Strangers (2008), unwitting would-be-victims had simply not charged their cell-phones, meaning they were good for nothing.

In other films of this new age, there was simply no coverage meaning that the phone, though powered, could not connect to the intended destination. Films such as The Ruins (2008), and Wrong Turn (2007) depended on this trope.  

At other times in modern horror films, a world-altering disaster interferes with cellphone reception. Skynet blocks cell-phoe connection in Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003), and the Martians and monsters ostensibly do likewise in War of the Worlds (2005) and Cloverfield (2008), respectively.


Sometimes, in a horror movie, a cell-phone works just fine, but is out of reach (Saw [2004]). And on some occasions, the cell phone is, itself, the portal of terror (Scream 3 [2000], Pulse [2006], One Missed Call [2008]).

Failing cell phones are seen in so many horror films of new century, including in What Lies Beneath (2000), Cabin Fever (2002), Jeepers Creepers 2 (2003), The Hitcher (2007), REC (2008), Day of the Dead (2008), and Friday the 13th (2009) to name just a few titles.

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