Running Up Those Stairs, or An Investigation Into Why Slasher Victims Make a Break for the Second Floor

Alison Brie making good choices in The Rental (2020)

This article is meant for semi-humorous purposes. If you ever find yourself cornered by a masked killer, use your own best judgment or discretion. Of course, if this article helps you escape an encounter with a slasher, then feel free to tell us in the comments below!

Since the advent of the slasher movie, one question has gone unanswered, and one that seems relatively obvious: why do the prospective victims always run up the stairs? It’s a move that’s been joked about in interviews, disparaged by those who wish to “elevate” the genre (whatever that means), and become something of a punchline. But time and again, for seemingly unspecified reasons, we keep seeing victims book it up the staircase rather than do something like bolt further into the house or run out the door. It seems like a no-brainer to the average fan: why go further into a place where a masked killer can corner you and perfect his teppanyaki routine on you while you scream in terror, when instead you can easily increase distance or find a place to leave the house entirely and find somewhere safer? As it turns out, there are quite a few reasons, and some very good ones for people who like all their blood and organs on the inside of their bodies. So please sit back, lock all the doors and windows just in case, and enjoy this investigation into why running up the stairs might save a slasher victim’s life. 

First, to head off the inevitable comments and nip a few arguments in the bud, let’s set some boundaries on the descriptions. This article only covers “prowlers,” or the kind of killers who stalk neighborhoods and gain access to their victims’ houses. Obviously if you’re so deep into Texas that you’re being chased by Leatherface, things have already gone too wrong for this argument to be useful, and if you’re dealing with a summer camp slasher, you won’t be running up to the second floor of a single-story cabin. The kind of masked killer in this scenario is highly mobile and a lot more community-focused. Think Michael Myers from Halloween, Ghostface from Scream, the first season of Slashers, or killers like that. The kind who chases someone down the street with a knife or hides in someone’s closet for quick kills. We’re also not discussing the blatantly supernatural slashers, as running is usually a moot point in that case. We’re talking about basic, human-like killers who choose a large area for hunting and move a lot from place to place. 

With all of that settled, it’s time to talk about persistence hunting. Persistence hunting is an animal behavior that involves stalking prey over long distances, keeping pace while conserving energy until eventually the prey collapses and the hunter can easily shank them in the kidney. It’s a behavior everyone’s seen in horror movies before, even if you don’t know the name for it–how many times have you seen a character in a slasher film bolting down the street hysterically while the killer lopes along behind, taking a pleasant stroll down the block? That’s persistence hunting (also known as the Pepé Le Pew). What this means is that on the straightaway, the average victim is kind of boned, since most people will tear off at a sprint and try to get as far away as possible, only for the killer to catch up when they’re taking a rest and give them a violent anatomy lesson. The best way to get some distance between yourself and any implacable monsters would, of course, be to change up the terrain a little. This is where the stairs come in: it allows the victim to get some height and distance, and also shifts the chase to more difficult terrain. Yes, it means you have fewer exits, but at the same time, you’ve changed the variables and possibly bought yourself a little extra time. 

Changing that terrain also means that whatever masked killer has broken in doesn’t have the home field advantage, either. People don’t know as much about the upper floors of a house, as it’s usually a closed-off area without as many windows and views. It’s also a hive of smaller, cramped corridors and a lot of doors that might be closets in disguise. The less someone knows about an area, the more they end up slowing down to search and explore said area. In horror movies, even knife-wielding maniacs aren’t immune to this impulse. There’s always a tense scene where a killer yanks open every door, getting ever closer to the would-be protagonist, and that only speaks to the power of knowing the layout of a building when a crazed murderer intent on your dismemberment does not. It can buy a few extra seconds, and any wiggle room when being hunted by horror movie villains is absolutely vital to survival. Plus, there’s at least the (incredibly) slim chance that they won’t find you, since they have to check multiple doors and you could possibly try and work out your options while having that panic attack in hiding.

Finally, there’s one advantage no one really talks about: weapons. While weapons in a slasher film scenario seem kind of useless (especially since, more often than not, the killer just gets back up again), if your attack works, it again opens that little window of opportunity and buys you a few more seconds. Sometimes, it can even put the slasher down for the count, depending on luck, skill, and the element of surprise. Most people don’t keep too many potential weapons on the first floor. Usually, all the stuff that might do damage is kept in the bedroom or another personal room, which, again, tend to be on the upper floors of a house. Much like running up the stairs, the “baseball bat or other blunt object under the bed” trope is a time-tested one in slasher movies, usually (as in real life) resulting in injury to the wrong person. But if you’ve done a little advance planning (or are at least a quick thinker) and can make it up those stairs to your blunt object of choice, you just might tip scales in your own favor. 

Hopefully this clears up why it’s not as “stupid” as it seems to make a break for the stairs. When being hunted down by a masked killer, it’s really about buying as much time as you can and giving yourself every advantage possible. If they’re already in your house, you need every single advantage you can get, so changing up the terrain, breaking line of sight, maintaining home field advantage, and grabbing something you can use to fight back are all really smart choices to make. After all, it worked for Laurie Strode in Halloween, and not only did she live to the end of her encounter with a slasher (and poke him through the eye with a coat hanger), she’s lived to the end of multiple slasher encounters. So next time you see a slasher victim book it up the staircase, maybe hope they get the extra few seconds they need rather than wondering why they’re doing something so dumb. Sometimes that flight can save a life.



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4 thoughts on “Running Up Those Stairs, or An Investigation Into Why Slasher Victims Make a Break for the Second Floor

  1. If you’re really lucky, and your second floor has one long hallway, you might be able to set up a Scooby-Doo “running back-and-forth across the hall into and out of different doors” scenario, which can not only buy you time, but maybe confuse the killer enough to give up.

    1. I’ve heard a lot of kitchen advocates in my time, and it’s on me for not dismissing the argument in my essay, but it’s not a good place for weapons and here’s why.

      Assuming one has an average house, as in not one with an affluent kitchen but more “a place where food is,” then a lot of the time the pans are stored in the lower cabinets and things like whisks and cheese graters and all that stuff are more readily available. Everything with heft and a little extra reach needs to be dug out, because pan storage is also usually “stack the smaller pots and pans inside the larger pots and pans,” which means that you have to dig through to get the right pan. Not a good idea, especially during an adrenaline fit.

      Now. You could bop someone with a ladle or try to turn a blade with a whisk, but something with that long and thin a shaft and it’s probably gonna get yanked away from you instantly.

      “But Sam!” I hear you say, “what I really meant is that the kitchen is full of knives!”

      And that’s an excellent point! But here…is…the..rub. I used to share an apartment and, when we were bored, we’d bring out the wooden training knife and do some practice knife-fighting. It was a weird thing we did in the summer to get out our aggression, but it worked on occasion.

      I bring this up so that you at least know where I’m coming from when I say knife fighting is very short-range, relies on reach and size advantage, and is just as dangerous for the winner as the loser, because to get in close enough to do some damage, you are putting yourself at a high risk for a highly stabbity future. Now, if you can hang on for long enough with multiple lacerations, then yes, you win and the other guy loses, but it’s a huge gamble you’re taking with a lot of soft parts that, as anyone with a chronic illness can tell you, are way more fragile than you could ever realize (seriously, you sneeze the wrong way and your kidneys could go in a second, and once they go, unless you get to them in time, they *go*). It’s safer to get something to reach, and usually the upstairs household objects are great for both weight and reach, giving you an advantage and defensive options against a killer that a knife does not.

      There’s also the matter of area. I do not know a lot of people with big kitchens. I know a bunch with kitchens that are compact spaces with room for food to be cooked and not much else. You do not want to fight someone with murder on their mind in a space that small. At least a bedroom has options for that kind of thing and an upstairs, if cramped, has a little way to get some distance and create some space.

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