How to survive a horror movie
If you want to survive a horror film or a crime movie, there are some basic rules: avoid sex and bathrooms – and never, ever, do 'one last job', says Ben Walsh
Wednesday 13 April 2011
There are certain rules by which one must abide in order to successfully survive a horror movie. For instance, number one: "You can never have sex," as Jamie Kennedy's geeky Randy helpfully informs his teenage pals in Wes Craven's post-modern slasher Scream. In actual fact, there appear to be quite a few rules by which one must abide in most Hollywood films – not just the horror genre – but poor Randy (slain in the second instalment) unfortunately isn't around to point them out in the latest slice of teen slashing, Scream 4, out this week.
For example, as a rule, it seems to be vital that you shouldn't, at any stage, visit the toilet. It invariably ends in catastrophe. Behold, for instance, Danny Glover's morning constitutional in Lethal Weapon 2, where his weary copper, Roger Murtaugh, discovers booby-trapped explosives under his potty. Or Ewan McGregor's Renton in Trainspotting and his ill-advised visit to an Edinburgh public loo, where his wafer-thin junkie ends up descending into the filthy pot to recover his opium suppositories. Or consider – more gravely – John Travolta's burger-loving henchman Vincent and his regular trips to the bathroom in Pulp Fiction.
Firstly, the rather dense Vincent takes a reckless break from his "date" Mia, the wife of his imposing mobster boss, Marsellus Wallace. Travolta's heavy retires to her bathroom, taking time out to talk to himself in the mirror, convincing himself it's wrong to sleep with the boss's wife. Meanwhile, Mia is in the living room overdosing on heroin. Vincent's next visit to the loo is another fiasco. He journeys to a diner restroom and while he's in there Pumpkin (Tim Roth) and Honey Bunny (Amanda Plummer) begin their robbery of the restaurant. His third and final "visit" proves lethal.
He has been tasked with assassinating Bruce Willis's boxer Butch Coolidge, but instead of lying in wait in the living room, he's once again on the pot. When he emerges from it, Willis is waiting with a shooter...
The message is very clear: don't go to the bathroom. And don't, whatever you do, do "one last job". It rarely works out favourably.
Robert De Niro's hardened crim, Neil McCauley, appears to be well set up in Heat, with more than enough money to live on. He is clearly a man with an impressive skill-set. But, he's a villain ("I don't know how to do anything else") who has to go and do one more bank job. Al Pacino's obliging detective, Vincent, warns him against it, but Neil, of course, ignores him and ends up dead.
In fact, the "one last job" path consistently ends up badly: Al Pacino's hoodlum in Carlito's Way (dead), Clint Eastwood's ageing gunslinger in Unforgiven (his pal – Morgan Freeman – dead), Sterling Hayden's criminal in Stanley Kubrick's taut thriller The Killing (dead again) and The Wild Bunch (all of them dead). And there's Jonathan Glazer's British gem, Sexy Beast, where Ray Winstone's former safecracker, Gal, is forced (by Ben Kingsley's psychotic Don Logan – "Yes, yes, yes, yes!") into one last bank job. Gal lives to see another blazing Spanish sunrise, but has to endure Ian McShane's magnificently creepy Mob boss Teddy Bass first... and it doesn't end well for Don.
Also, what's the hecking point in doing one more week in the job? If you've got one more week in the job – an inevitably perilous job – then take some annual leave; seize some duvet days. Simply, whatever the cost, don't do that one last week of work. Richard Gere's morose, ordinary copper, Eddie Dugan, has one more week before retirement in Antoine Fuqua's glum policier Brooklyn's Finest. Eddie keeps on harping on about it to anyone who'll put up with his whingeing. But there isn't a hope in Hades this week's going to pan out well. It doesn't. His newly assigned partner gets shot, Eddie regularly considers suicide and he finally ends up caught up in a Brooklyn bloodbath. And don't, whatever you do, utter the fatal words: "We're
going to make it. We're going to make it," or any derivation thereof. Consider Maria Bello's psychologist, Alex, in Jean-François Richet's grimly efficient Assault on Precinct 13 remake. Giddy with escaping the bloody carnage of the police station in a jeep, she yelps: "We're going to make it". Why go and say that, Maria? There's absolutely no chance you're going to "make it" now. Gabriel Byrne ends up firing a bullet through her head. Or a grinning Victor Franko (John Cassavetes) at the end of The Dirty Dozen, exclaiming: "We made it. Where are the others?" They didn't "make it" and neither will you, Franko. But, perhaps, the grandest (most epic) example is when Michael Caine's relieved Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead turns to Stanley Baker's heroic Lieutenant John Chard and says: "You did it," in Zulu. Cue the Zulu massed forces appearing on all sides over the hill.
And, as Craven's Scream again points out helpfully, never say: "Who's there?" As Scream's Ghostface explains, it's a "death wish". You're in the dark, petrified and alone. Crying out: "Who's there?" in a Hollywood film is NOT going to help. See Hallowe'en, Nightmare on Elm Street, Poltergeist, etc...
Parlour games are, likewise, a really bad idea. If anyone asks, don't play; don't participate. Think of Ethan Hawke's "green" cop Jake in Training Day. Dumped by his boss, the dastardly detective Alonzo (Denzel Washington), among a group of tattooed Latino mobsters, Jake's asked to play poker with them. Say no, dude. But he doesn't. He joins their game and ends up with a gun pointing at his skull in a shower cubicle. Similarly, it's an error in Jumanji, where two inquisitive little mites play an old board game they've unearthed. Before they know it, they've released a wild man (Robin Williams) trapped in the game for decades and a host of beasts. And, of course, Michael Fassbender and his lethal crew of resistance fighters should never have permitted August Diehl's smart, sinister Nazi, Major Hellstrom, to sit at their table at La Louisiane tavern in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds. And why go and play a drinking game with him – the one where everyone has the name of a famous person stuck to their head? Hellstrom guesses right – it's King Kong – and a moment later everyone at the table has shot each other.
It's also vitally important to never marry anyone impulsively? Without, you know, meeting the in-laws or getting to really know your partner's foibles, eccentricities and, in some cases, deeply disturbing habits/family members. Mary Steenburgen's Nancy and Richard Jenkins's Robert should really have reconsidered such a hasty marriage in Step Brothers. One night spent introducing their juvenile, puerile grown-up sons – John C Reilly and Will Ferrell – and all nuptials would have been kiboshed.
The same applies to invitations to festive parties. Sarah Jessica Parker's uptight career woman Meredith should have rejected flatly a Christmas invite to the Stone (including the smug marrieds Diane Keaton and Craig T Nelson) household in the angst-ridden 2005 drama The Family Stone. Meredith is a bit neurotic, but she doesn't deserve the family Stone's smirking condescension and spite: "She has got this throat-clearing tick... it's like she's digging for clams!"
Other really bad ideas in films: never steal from the Mob (see The Sting, Atlantic City, Charley Varrick); don't pick up hitch-hikers or drifters on the roadside (Rutger Hauer's psychotic in The Hitcher, the lunatic in There's Something About Mary, Brad Pitt's petty thief in Thelma and Louise) and if you're a visiting alien or supernatural being, don't be assured of a warm welcome on Planet Earth (Starman, Splash, District 9).
The above examples are, of course, all clichés/tropes and they're immensely comforting ones, at that. The audience know exactly where they are when a retiring cop has one week to go; a criminal has a desire to do "one more job", a hero's sidekick says: "I'll go that way," an anti-hero yells: "We've made it".
It gives us a warm sense of knowing exactly what's going to happen next; it feels like a sort of "insider" knowledge about the movie-making process.
However, occasionally, you – like smarty-pants Randy in Scream 2 – just don't see it coming...
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