Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The One(s) I Might Have Saved

Arbogast over at Arbogast on Film has asked fellow bloggers to identify "those doomed characters from horror movies whose plight or personality so moved the writer that he or she wished they had the power to breach the fourth wall of cinema and save that person from his or her tragic fate."

Though, my tragic character flaw is an almost pathological inability to choose, luckily we are talking about horror movies! Horror movies are so often (and frustratingly) filled with thinly drawn douchebags that I easily narrowed down my candidates to three.

These three characters evoke such a sense of pathos that no matter how many times I watch these movies, my magical thinking is engaged and I cringe and yell at the screen hoping that somehow, maybe this time (abracadabra, presto-chango), they'll live.

(Since all these characters die, do I really need to have a SPOILER ALERT?)

1) Carrie White from Carrie (1976)
Carrie White, as played by Sissy Spacek in 1976's Carrie, is a potent extract of teen fear, shame, and self-loathing. Her wide downward-cast eyes, chalk-white skin, and hushed voice are a powerful magnet for both our sympathy and disgust.

You know the story. Looney mom. Cruel kids. Telekinesis. Ends up at prom getting crowned Prom Queen as a joke. Things don't end well.

But, no matter how many times I watch this movie, I want to pause it right here:
Look at her. Carrie is happy. She has rejected the violent dogma of her religious mother. She has dolled herself up and is standing next to the curly-haired Greatest American Hero William Katt in his powder blue tux. She is on top of the world. Pretty girl happy at last.

It is at this moment, despite repeated viewings and attempts at psychic distancing, that I can't help but engage in an irrational list of maybes: Maybe the bucket of blood will miss her. Maybe she won't have a telekinetic freak out that results in the mass murder of her classmates. Maybe she'll get away, get a good therapist and learn to use her powers for good and not eeeevil. Maybe she won't kill herself.

But no such luck. Once I unpause the film, I am forced to watch my beloved Carrie White hop on the express ride from the top of the world straight down to hell.
2) Brenda from Friday the 13th (1980)
What's not to like about Brenda? She likes to smoke pot and play strip monopoly. She has that deep party girl voice that only girls named Brenda can pull off. You would so totally be her friend. And because she is Brenda the Goodhearted, she would totally be yours.
And true to Brenda's good nature, she tries to save a child -- a child, damnit. Not just some cat in a tree (which would make her pretty damn likable), but a child crying out for help in the rainy woods which makes her a superhero of likability. Armed only with a flashlight and her Little House on the Prarie nightgown, Brenda heads out in the pouring rain with the sole purpose of saving this poor child.
Unfortunately for likable Brenda, this poor child is Jason Voorhees and Jason Voorhees is long dead and now just a sub-personality of his murderous psycho-mommy Pamela Voorhees.

We don't see Brenda die, but we do see her corpse -- looking surprisingly broad-shouldered and hairy -- crash through a window towards the end of the film.

Laurie tried to save a little boy and all she got for her trouble was defenestration. Life is not fair.

(Sadly, Laurie Bertram -- the actress who played Brenda -- died of cancer in 2oo7 at the age of 47. Life is truly not fair.)

3) Liz in Wolf Creek (2005)
Greg McClean is a sick fuck. The Australian writer-director (who also happens to be hot) begat Wolf Creek which begat Liz, Kristy and Ben -- three very likeable backpackers who seem to genuinely like each other.
Of the three likable leads, Liz is clearly the most likable. She is our classic Final Girl. She is sex-shy and plucky enough to save Kristy from psycho Mick Taylor (Crocodile-Dundee meets Leatherface) and get her away from his outback torture den.
While Kristy cracks psychologically and Ben is M.I.A., it is Liz who soldiers on and keeps bringing the fight to the killer. So she should be the one who lives, right?

Er ... audience expectation FAIL. Not only is Liz the first to go, but she is first paralyzed by Mick with a nasty looking hunting blade to the spinal column, turning her into what Mick calls a "head on a stick."
Then, she is subjected to some off-screen torture to extract information on her friend Kristy.

Like I said, Greg McLean is a sick fuck. Liz deserved to live and yet she was subjected to the worst of the dark fates assigned to the three likable leads.

If these three girls lived in the world of the romantic-comedy, not only would they have lived, but they would have triumphed: Sexually liberated Carrie would have ripped off William Katt's powder-blue tux with her telekinesis and ridden him like an urban cowgirl; Fun-girl Brenda would have taught uptight Alice the secret technique of finger-banging a guy while performing oral sex to give him the maximum pleasure; and Liz, Ben and Kristy would have had a rocking three-way on the beach and never gone near nasty old Wolf Creek.

But they don't live in that world. They live in the world of horror. And, despite my wish to save them, the world of horror should be an unfair place. Because it is when bad things happen to good people that we truly experience the dread that is the mark of the best horror movies.

And it is a testament to the three actresses (Sissy Spacek, Laurie Betram, and Cassandra Magrath respectively) that after having viewed these movies over and over again, I still want to smash the glass of my television and pull them to safety.


  1. Yes, Brenda is up there for me, too. I had a big crush on Laurie Bartram back in 1980 and was saddened to have to write her real life death notice not long after I started my blog.

  2. Oh, they were great choices. They all deserved better. If only we could save these fabulous women and transplant them into an 'Odd Couple' type sitcom.

  3. Call it "The Not-Quite-Final Girls"?

  4. Awesome! It's my favourite show already.

  5. I wish I could smash the television of my life and pull people to safety.