Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Head Trauma #1: The New House on the Left, aka Night Train Murders

One of the things I'm learning from more prolific and pithy bloggers (Stacie Ponder of Final Girl and Jason Adams at My New Plaid Pants, in particular) is that to be more prolific, you must be more pithy.

So I'm introducing a new quickie series called "Head Trauma" documenting scenes that (as Stacie Ponder herself might say) "broke my brain" as a yung'un.

"Night Train Murders" was an Italian rip-off of "The Last House on the Left" that was billed in the US as "The New House on the Left" ... clever, eh? It takes place on the notorious overnight train to Rome and involves rape, humiliation and murder. (Years after seeing this grindhouse shocker, your humble narrator was groped on said overnight train to Rome by some sweaty Mario Brothers-looking futhermucker. Coincidence?!?!? yeah, most likely....).

In the scene in question, a young girl gets ... well ... I can't actually type it out. It's still disturbing to this day. If you have to know, here is a link to the description of the whole nasty affair.

For the purposes of this pithy post, here are a few images that haunt me to this day...

Monday, March 8, 2010

"I'm Not Being Defensive" - On Hypothalamically-Challenged 80s Slasher Victims

One of the things I miss about slasher movies of the early 80s is the curious lack of defensive behavior on the part of the non-surviving victims.

When an actual human being is faced with a pscyho wielding an axe, hammer, corkscrew, or Hamilton Beach Electric Carving Knife -- a little peanut-sized part of our brain called the hypothalamus kicks in and we fight or flee. This little lizard-brain that is wrapped in our bigger brain is what tries to keep us alive at all costs.

Even the most rudimentary review of any Law and Order episode will teach you everything you need to know about “defensive stab wounds.” Usually they are found along the arms when people automatically try to protect their vital organs (head, heart, stomach and groin). Slasher victims of the 80s would puzzle your average Law and Order detective with their curious lack of defensive stab wounds. In fact, most 80s slasher victims seem to lack even the most basic lizard-brainish abilities for self-preservation.

I submit two of my favorite examples of "hypothalamically-challenged" victims in 80s slasherdom:

GAG ME WITH AN AXE, I'M SURE: Marcie in Friday the 13th (1980).

After banging Kevin Bacon on a bunk bed, Marcie takes a stereotypical lone trip to the loo. After peeing and practicing her Kate Hepburn impression in the mirror (it totally killed at Aunt Ruth’s Christmas party), she decides to go investigate that strange noise over by the showers.

SPOLER ALERT: It doesn’t end well…

Note how Marcie just grabs onto the curtain, closes her eyes and screams. She almost holds out her face as is to give a nice wide-open landing strip for the business end of Mrs. Voorhees’ axe.

This is not very Kate Hepburn-ish behavior.

Why does Marcie not duck or kick or punch? Does she think Mrs. Voorhees is actually Kevin Bacon in a bad wig and cable-knit sweater playing some kind of kinky role-playing game? Does she think she's in David Cronenberg's Scanners and can blow up Mrs. V’s head with mere focused thought?

No. None of the above. I submit that poor Marcie, like so many of her 80s slasher-victim bretheren, is "hypothalamically-challenged" -- lacking the instinct for survival known even to mammals without opposable thumbs.

IS THAT A CHAINSAW IN YOUR POCKET OR...: Elevator Girl in Pieces (1982)

There are so many memorable moments in Pieces, it is hard to choose just one. However, choose I will.

What do you do when a killer dressed in black enters a teeny elevator with an enormous chainsaw behind his back? Do you (a) get the hell off of the elevator, (b) get the hiz-ell out of the elevator, or (c) smile politely, back into a corner and throw your arms out to your sides to make it super easy for him to chainsaw your arms off? (Hint: The man in black happens to be looking to collect two arms for his Femme du Frankenstein project).

The answer is at the 1:45 mark...

MAVERICK AWARD: Wendy from Prom Night (1980)

Wendy from Prom Night was a woman ahead of her time. She displayed none of the typical Final Girl behavior ... she wasn't a tomboy, she wasn't sex-shy, she wasn't particularly nice and she didn't actually live to see the ending credits.

Yet, despite not being a Final Girl, Wendy had the audacity to put up one hell of a fight. She ran, she hid, she hit back. She actually acted like someone who wanted to live. Wendy broke the passive victim mold and finally showed some hypothalamus.

By today's standards, Wendy's fight and flight may not even register. Slasher victims of the 1990s and beyond (think Drew Barrymore in Scream) tend to all be a little edgier and a little pluckier (though no luckier). I posit that they all owe their slightly longer lives (and dignity) to Wendy from Prom Night. She showed them how it was done.

In Wendy's 8 minute struggle against the glitter-ski-masked killer, a hypothalamus was born. Finally, a non-surviving victim acted like a normal person who wanted to live --

-- before being axed to death.