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April 26, 2010

The One I Might Have Saved, via Arbogast on Film (Spoilers Within)

(WARNING! This post contains spoilers regarding 1986's The Hitcher, 1975's The Stepford Wives, and 1960's Peeping Tom. Go see them, then come back and read it. Pronto!)

The mysterious Ar-bo-GAST over at Arbogast on Film (which is seriously one of the most genius blog title ideas ever, and his stuff is usually up to that standard, too) has recently posed a fine query to blogland. The quest, should we choose to accept it, is to write on the one character who suffered a grisly demise in a horror film that we've always felt the desire to go back and save. Never one to back away from a chance to ponder horrors past, I've decided I must put on my Hasselhoff outfit* and save a life...but where do I start? A few options immediately hit my head, and I narrowed it down to three types of victims I could possibly try to save.
The first category of victim, which I've decided to immortalize via Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hitcher, is the victim who's helpless and trapped. Leigh's character, Nash, ends up in a particularly brutal predicament, and it's no stretch (har har!) to say that she probably wasn't deserving of this fate. And realistically, her predicament wouldn't have been hard to stop...Rutger Hauer's Ryder rarely takes his eyes off of C. Thomas Howell's Jim Halsey during their truck cab confrontation, it would be easy to slip up the driver side of the trailer and cut the rope holding her to said cab. But is it worth my one save? She was barely in the movie, and I've always kinda liked Rutger's style. Thus, saving her gets the thumbs down.The second group are the doomed who know their fate, like Katherine Ross' Joanna Eberhart in the original classic The Stepford Wives. A character like hers is definitely worthy of saving, considering the insurmountable forces that surround her and push her toward her doom. But there's a key word in their...insurmountable. If there's an entire society of men and robo-babes out to get her, there's not much a lone vigilante/faux-Hasselhoff can I'll pass on the save, and visit to enjoy her robo-cooking later.

Lastly, there's a third group, and it's best to sum them up via this monologue from the film I've settled on doing some saving in....

"Imagine... someone coming towards you... who wants to kill you... regardless of the consequences."

"A madman?"

"Yes. But he knows it - and you don't. And just to kill you...isn't enough for him."
That exchange, which could double as a philosophical explanation of the slasher genre, comes from Michael Powell's 1960 sleaze session Peeping Tom, an unsettling British made cousin to Hitchcock's Psycho. The scene in question occurs near the midpoint of the film, like Psycho's infamous scene, but is set up quite differently than most horror film murders of the era. Unlike Hitchcock's film, in which we assume there is something amiss but are surprised with an abrupt bit of brutality, Peeping Tom makes it extremely clear to the audience that its victim, portrayed with gleeful vitality by Moira Shearer, is about to face a horrible fate...that she doesn't notice at all.

It's easy to look at a myriad of horror films that have victims that are surprised by an instant fate or have victims that are certain fate is coming for them, and feel sorry for the brutally departed. But Shearer's Vivian, an aspiring actress who's just a bubbly girl that was available to a sadistic cameraman, is a different type of damned soul. She's willingly entered a situation from which there is no escape and we know it. I'm not saying we know it like that moment in a goofy slasher movie when we think we "know" that those kids who walk down a dark hallway are about to get cashed out, in this case we are entirely aware that she's put herself in the worst spot possible and is with someone whose wrath we understand. And she has no idea about it - she's content, she's happy, and she's flailing about like a marionette - without a care in the world.Of course, she soon finds out what's in store for her, but it's not a quick reveal. Granted, she starts to understand her killer's intentions about 100 seconds before the fade to black that is her death - which isn't much time - but it definitely feels like a long stretch to the viewer, and I'd imagine feels like an eternity to the victim. In that time, she's affected by terrifying words and an intimidating weapon, and I'm sure that every second of the day that led up to this moment has to be rushing through her head, reminding her of the different choices she could have made to avoid this completely unexpected fatal encounter. Vivian's demise, as realized by Shearer, is difficult to watch because we know that she had no idea it was coming when she stepped into it - or more accurately, volunteered for it. She put herself in a bad spot, and learned about it far too late.

Thus, I'm throwing a rope of hope out to poor Vivian, whose willingness to go behind closed doors with someone she thought she could trust ended in her death. The killer's only defense was a red light outside an unlocked door, so he's just asking to be stopped anyway. And once I've saved the naive young woman, I hope she'd show off some more of those dance moves for me - in a private setting, of course. In regard to Ms. Shearer's character, this 'Hoff refuses to stand in the darkness, afraid to step into the light.

(And again, if you want to save your own horror victim, head over to Arbogast on Film and check out more who have been saved!)

(* = No Hasselhoff outfit was harmed (or worn) in the making of this blog post.)


The Groundskeeper said...

Nice choice. Moira Shearer, in that one scene, is more likable, more lively, and more interesting than most of the heroes or heroines who have the entire film to garner audience sympathy (and usually don't).

Peeping Tom is an amazing film.

Jinx said...

I have to echo Mr. Groundskeeper. Peeping Tom is amazing and I'm so glad you picked Moira Shearer, she's just heartbreaking every time and deserves a Hoff style rescue - with dramatic music, and slow mo.