Are You Even Trying To Survive?
Last night, in the continuing spirit of Halloween, my husband and I watched 2003’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre, a remake of the 1974 film that was very loosely based on some true events. It got me thinking of all the silly mistakes and bad decisions that characters in horror flicks make that ultimately lead to their untimely death or destruction. I don’t mean to pick on this movie in particular, especially because it’s one I’m quite fond of, but it’s fresh in my mind so it get stuck being an example.
Mistake #1: The choice to engage in risky behavior. The teens are transporting drugs and on their way to a concert when they see a young girl aimlessly walking down the road, crying and on the brink of becoming hysterical. The women in the van take pity and decide to give her a ride. The hitchhiker starts talking about a bad man and ends up shooting herself in the head which sets everything in motion. I don’t care what the person looks like, you do NOT pick up a hitchhiker! Unfortunately, these teens didn’t have the luxury of having cell phones to use to call the police, but they could have called at the next rest stop they found and reported a strange girl, or simply let it go. Regardless, hitchhikers are a big no no.
Mistake #2: Ignoring the initial warning signs. The group, with the dead body in the van, enter a small store where a creepy woman calls the police for them. She has rotting animal parts covered in flies in a display case, something that is noted as odd but waved away. The store clerk tells the teens that they need to meet the sheriff at a mill down the road. This should have set off more warning bells, but the group instead decides to listen to the odd clerk and drive down to the mill in unfamiliar territory away from the main road. They also seem to have forgotten that the recently deceased girl became hysterical when she saw the direction they were headed. She would have rather died than go back there.
Mistake #3: Splitting up. After learning from a strange boy that the sheriff is home drinking, the couple walks to the home to retrieve him. They learn that they have the wrong house but are allowed by the wheelchair-bound stranger to use the phone. At least Erin is; Kemper is told to wait outside. This leads to Erin allowing the amputee to distract her while Leatherface attacks Kemper. Erin should have never gone in alone; the old man didn’t seem to be a threat but they had no idea who else was in that home. Even after losing Kemper, Erin allows her friend Andy to go into the house alone, ultimately leading to his injuries and capture. Safety in numbers, people.
Mistake #4: Trusting a badge regardless of the actions. Perhaps this was a more trusting time in our country, but warning bells should have been going off when the sheriff started acting erratically. A competent officer would not stick the gun, evidence, into his boot. He would not wrap a body up and put it in his trunk. He would not demand you stick a gun in your mouth to “recreate” the suicide. The teens should have overpowered the officer and booked it out of there, but they were blinded by the badge and took no action. Even in the 70s, I find it hard to believe that no one would consider the possibility that this was either not a real cop (uniforms and cars can be stolen) or that he was corrupt.
Mistake #5: Letting fear take over. There were plenty of moments where a well-timed kick or punch could have saved the group from the sheriff, but no one had the guts to take action. The two girls could have both survived Leatherface’s attack on the van if they had run for it immediately instead of screaming and hugging each other. Erin could have saved Kemper if she wasn’t so fearful of the amputee’s safety and just booked it out of there after using the phone. The situation is obviously a crisis so it is important for everyone to keep their head and get to safety.
Mistake #6: Trusting everyone. You would think that Erin would be a bit more careful after seeing how no one seems to want anything but the worst for the group, but instead she trusts the two women in a trailer in the middle of the woods. The trailer is obviously too close to the other areas containing untrustworthy people who are assisting Leatherface. Just because someone seems sweet on the surface doesn’t mean they have your best interests in mind. She should have kept on running. It’s easy to see a fresh face as a savior, but it’s the last thing you should be doing in this type of crisis.
Other notable mistakes made from horror characters include running like a maniac and twisting an ankle, driving a car that hasn’t been serviced and will break down, wandering off alone, blindly investigating strange noises, crying loudly in your hiding place, coming out of your hiding place too early, assuming an incapacitated bad guy is truly down for the count and turning your back, and dropping your weapon. Of course, you also have the ones such as having sex or saying you’ll be right back, but those are solely on the fictional side while the other mistakes can also apply to a real life crisis.
What I want to see more of in my horror flicks are strong and smart characters who don’t make the typical and stale mistakes that we’ve all seen over and over again. Things that once were classics and were shocking have become routine and predictable. We expect the female to trip and be captured, we expect the promiscuous couple to die, we expect the group to split up to investigate places they shouldn’t be, and we expect the car to die at the worst possible time. Again, I’m not picking on Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it just happens to be useful here. I hope to see more films in the future abandon the clichés and stop making it so obvious who the hero/heroine will be and who will just be another body in the count. Your move, Hollywood.