Oh, the horror! Collaboration lessons from scary movies

Everybody knows the fundamental rule of horror survival: when you unexpectedly find yourself up against a monster or crazed slasher, you stick together. Splitting up just makes it easier for the adversary to pick you off one-by-one. Master class students also know:

  • You don’t go to sleep.
  • You avoid the local food and water, flora and fauna, as much as possible.
  • You keep your libido in check. (Slashers hate the amorous.)

There are deeper lessons in the adrenaline-and-goo soaked classics of the big screen. Things may not end well for most of the protagonists, but we can learn from their lessons and see how their collaboration strategies went wrong—or how they were doomed from the start.

Alien franchise

Lesson: Lack of organizational support can undermine a group effort

As menacing and deadly as the Giger-inspired xenomorphs of the Alien series are, sooner or later the protagonists generally come up with a reasonable plan to contain, or at least escape, their tormentor. But, time and time again, a lack of institutional support undermines the plan being cobbled together in the field, and most of the team is slaughtered.

Granted, “Lack of organizational support” is a bit of an understatement here, as the Weyland-Yutani Corporation isn’t passively neglecting its employees but routinely sending them directly into the alien’s den with the express purpose of becoming breeding stock. They also generally include an outright saboteur in the mix to advance their secret goals.

It may sound trite when you hear that collaboration needs to be an executive priority. Try telling that to one of Weyland-Yutani’s many victims.

The Thing

Lesson: Stick with the plan, or else

Shapeshifting, amorphous, and fiendishly intelligent, The Thing effortlessly assimilates all of the knowledge, skills, and insights of anyone it touches. This makes it both a ridiculously effective killing machine and a tremendously capable mimic. Against all odds, the ragtag Antarctic explorers pitted against it do manage to come up with some workable strategies to identify the threat and isolate the man (or men?) among them who are actually part of The Thing.

Unfortunately, things go bad quickly when the group fails to adhere to the plan. The Thing actually exploits the growing paranoia by misleading the group and causing them to doubt Macready, the proponent of the very protocols meant to contain it. Arguably, The Thing is so extraordinarily clever and resourceful that even the most level-headed bunch would have been picked off. But failure to achieve and maintain consensus thoroughly doomed them.


Lesson: Pick your projects carefully

Carrie offers the opposite lesson of The Thing. You may not admire their goals, but you have to admit that the kids at Bates High really did put together a very comprehensive program of humiliation and embarrassment for their gawky, awkward classmate.

They executed their plan to perfection, everything orchestrated right down to the pig-blood shower. Unfortunately for them, they chose the wrong pubescent telekinetic to bully, and paid the ultimate price. Whether diligent or devious, your best collaborative minds need to be focused on worthwhile projects, or they may get the proverbial firehose.


Lesson: The exceptional must sometimes compromise for their own good

Nobody’s saying that the smartest person in the room should be ignored, but sometimes the exceptional work so hard to elevate themselves that they actually end up undermining their own cause, let alone the goals of the larger group. Master scanner Darryl Revok is so inflexible, and bent on global domination, that he actually ends up getting most of his allies killed. Others with his scanning gift/curse might have worked together for a world in which both scanners and regular humans could co-exist—or simply be left alone, as nominal hero Cameron Vale would have preferred.

Similar themes run throughout the X-Men films. The X-Men and the Brotherhood of Mutants have more reasons to collaborate than to fight, but it typically takes a cataclysmic threat to the very existence of all mutant-kind to get them on the same page.


Lesson: Following the wrong leaders

We take a brief detour to the small screen for V, which demonstrates the perils of following the wrong leaders. The people-eating lizards of V represent the best and worst in many fascist, totalitarian regimes, and demonstrate their reliance on misguided collaboration. Even with superior technology and weaponry, the Visitor takeover of Earth would have been significantly slowed, if not outright impossible, had they not recruited so many human collaborators.


Lesson: Some expectations are unrealistic

In most treatments, Frankenstein’s monster is neither good nor bad, but is rather a victim of circumstance. It certainly has a difficult time meeting expectations. The real problem arises when the rest of the world tries to make sense of what has happened. Instead of working together on a solution, the torches and pitchforks come out, and chaos ensues.

Sometimes your team creates a monster, and you have to deal with it collaboratively. Burning down the gates will only carve a wider path of destruction.

Pretty much everything with zombies

Lesson: You are your own worst enemy

Fast or slow, everybody knows that zombies aren’t really zombies. They’re a backdrop against which man’s-inhumanity-to-man plays out. And play out it does, over and over, as infighting, bickering, and a general anti-collaboration vibe is responsible for far more deaths, devourings, and zombifications than the zombie menace itself.

When you’re locked in a room trying to figure out how to overcome the opposition, whether that opposition is a competitor half a world away or is literally hurling itself at the door trying to break it down and gnaw on your brains, remember that your real adversary is insecurity, greed, and jealousy. (Until the zombie breaks down the door, in which case your real adversary is definitely the zombie.)

If we overlooked your favorite chilling lesson, please let us know!

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.