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November 20, 2011

Midnight Top Five - The "All-Time Horror Underdogs" Edition

It's been a slow month for FMWL, because The Mike's being beaten severely on a regular basis by his place of work these days.  I thought about coming home and hanging out with FMWL Friday night after a long day at said place of work, but I went against what I thought were my smarter thoughts and decided I'd spend an evening sitting outside in the cold to see my alma mater play a football game against the second best team in the nation. What followed looked a lot like this....
If you squint really hard you might see The Mike in there...
In nothing less than stunning fashion, my beloved Iowa State Cyclones defeated the previously undefeated Cowboys of Oklahoma State, a team loaded with professional prospects that was projected to play for the National Championship.  It sounds big when you put it that way, but believe me when I say that it's so much bigger than you think to us lifelong Iowa Staters.  We, as a collective fan base, have been raised to never expect such a historic victory, have always known that our resources and recruits don't match up with our conference opponents, and sometimes can slip into a bit of disgust - that some of my friends would call "being a hater" - about our fortunes as a football program.  So for us to be the kings of the world for one night is pretty much the best thing that could ever happen to any of us as fans of such a historically mediocre program.

The thing that sometimes gets lost in the shuffle when juggernauts go down in sports is that the survivors who just fought for their lives despite their deficits are usually normal teams who no one expects anything from.  And sometimes, the same thing happens in horror movies.  Thus, I present to you a new Midnight Top Five, in which I'm gonna look at five of my favorite underdogs in horror history.  Let's do this!

Deputy/Sheriff Dewey Riley - The Scream Series
Dewey Riley was the most immediate thing that came to my mind when I tried to think of horror characters who remind me of my alma mater's football team.  Everyone underestimates Dewey, and most of the time he proves them right.  He's often in the wrong place at the wrong time - sort of like his whole relationship with that awful Gale Weathers, but that's a different story - he doesn't carry himself like a winner, and he is left for dead pretty much all the time.
Dewey's the forgotten man in the first two Scream films (most have said that he only survived the original because test audiences wanted him to), and his rise to power as Sheriff in the latest installment of the series had me fist pumping in joy.  He's still awkward - he's got the theme from Beverly Hills Cop as his ringtone in 2011! - and puts himself in some bad spots, but we love him anyway.  And he's shown that he's gonna keep surviving, and he makes me think that one of these days he could even pull the big upset and do something really right.
Something like winning the WCW Championship!
Suzy Bannion - Suspiria
You get the feeling that, in her homeland of America, Suzy Bannion is really good at what she does.  But when we get to see her dance in the Germanic setting of Suspiria, we realize pretty quickly that she's out of her element and up against forces that are a lot bigger than she is.  She doesn't fit in with the other dancers, she doesn't know what she's up against.  Like some of the biggest underdogs you'll find in sports, she's away from home and on the ropes.
Despite her surroundings, Suzy does her best to keep her head on straight.  Like any underdog who wants to survive the game, she sets out to first understand her opponent.  Her physical limitations are a secondary concern to her, because she needs information on how to defeat the evil forces around her before she can even compete with the dark forces of her academy.  And sometimes a smart opponent that's somewhat capable can take down something that's bigger and badder than them. It's what a lot of great upsets are made of.
Benjamin Franklin Fischer - The Legend of Hell House
A lot of times, people talk about college sports like they exist solely to make money.  According to some - mostly the advertisers who own the Bowl system and the administrators who get all the money from tens to hundreds of thousands flocking to their campuses - that's kind of true.  Here at ISU, we recently were terrified beyond belief that we were going to be without a conference in the near future - which would mean no money to pay for all the upgrades to our facilities that we'd already started to build.  Then again, there's another point that some of us argued - that our program would have a better chance of surviving if we weren't in this big money conference.
Enter Benjamin Fischer, played by Roddy McDowall, in The Legend of Hell House.  A meek and kind of terrified fellow, Benjamin is spending time in the titular house mostly because a) he survived it once before and b) he's being paid.  As such, you don't really expect him to give a strong showing, and when he does open himself up to the house he is abused badly.  But as the game between investigators and spirits continues through this haunted house classic, McDowall starts to reveal a chip on Fischer's shoulder. That makes him a dangerous man in the final act, and places the ghosts of Hell House on upset alert.

The Dream Warriors - A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
If we were making a list of people who are underestimated, both "teenagers" and "folks in loony bins" would probably show up on that list.  So when you put a bunch of teenagers in a loony bin (Is that not the PC term for it? OOPS.) up against a bully (who also kills people with knifey glove in their dreams), the oddsmakers are gonna be in favor of the bully.
Speaking of, it's worth noting how often us fans of underdogs feel like the favorites are bullies that are pushing us around.  In some cases it's true - any time Nebraska ever came to town I felt like I was being whipped with towels after gym class again - and that's a time when it's pretty hard for the underdogs to really feel like they can do anything right.  But when you can stand up and fend off that bully - whether it's shaped like Cornhuskers or Fred Kreuger - that's a time when you should be proud.  And that's why us horror fans should be proud of the Dream Warriors, because they at least fought back. They might not have all survived, but it's a win that some of them did.
Valentine McKee & Earl Bassett - Tremors
Like most good underdogs, we know from the start that no one expects much out of Val and Earl, two handymen whose handiness might be overshadowed by their carefree behavior and....well, for lack of a better term....redneck tendencies.  But it's quickly established that these two dudes are smarter than most people think, even if they don't present themselves as winners in that department.
And if you're wondering what the number one thing that can push an underdog to an upset over a dominating team or a trio of graboids, I have one word for you: teamwork.  It sounds like a cliche, and sometimes it is, but being on the same mental wavelength as the person you are forced to trust in a crisis situation is a recipe for unexpected success.  When something freaky happens and people think they have to adapt, it's often the people who can communicate effortlessly and who know each others' limitations that get the breaks that most observers would call "lucky".  Val and Earl win mega bonus points for how well they understand each other, which makes their heroism - which seems improbable to most onlookers - easy to understand.

As you can see, the traits that can make an underdog a winner - things like perseverance, intelligence, determination, and communication - can work just as well in horror films as they do in athletics.  Maybe there's not thousands of people storming to congratulate the characters who survive against all odds...but I think there should be.

Got your own favorite underdogs in horror?  Join the comments section below and give them the respect they deserve!  Like my beloved Cyclones' coach after their upset victory, I am so proud of all the great horror underdogs out there.
(Yeah, I'm posting that just because I'm still geeking out over this all. Deal with it.)


Marvin the Macabre said...

Oh man...
My alma mater lost in spectacular fashion this weekend to state rivals the U of M Grizzlies, even though my MSU Bobcats were the favorite to win. That may not sound very underdog, but when you consider the 17-year losing streak for this match-up, you'll understand my disappointment.

As for underdogs in horror, I'm going with Laurie Strode. People always make the argument that it's the virginal females who make the final girl cut, but with John Carpenter's masterpiece, I've got a different perspective. Carpenter's a pretty liberal guy, and I doubt that he's preaching the abstinence only POV. Annie and Lynda aren't necessarily the "sluts," but the girls who know what they want and go for it. Laurie is pining for Ben Tramer, but is too meek to do anything about it. She's the underdog, because Carpenter sets her up as the meek one, the one least likely to survive a horror scenario, yet she finds the inner strength to save both herself and the children she's in charge of. Bad-ass.

Dod said...

First off, congrats to ISU for that win. If my team's not involved, I usually cheer for the underdog.

Fantastic list, and definite agreement on Benjamin from Hell House - he got all superhero in that last act, and just cemented himself as one of my recent favorites. Plus, it's Roddy McDowall.

I might offer up a personal favorite underdog of mine, Shaun from Shaun of the Dead. Plus, I always cheer for Lionel in Dead Alive.