Has there ever been a character with less than desirable attributes that you find yourself rooting for even though you know you shouldn't? I would imagine all us cinephiles at one time or another have cheered when Jason Vorhees slams a helpless nude female against a tree in a sleeping bag - or, when we get a sudden rush every time we see Michael's Myer's mask appear from the shadows. It's a beautiful thing. This post is also a multi- parter. I'll be talking about horror/slasher films in which there have been sympathetic villains, or characters who are clad-killers who have gained iconic status among the youth of the 80's.
Take for instance the killer from the late 80's slasher effort Offerings. A young kid is ridiculed and tormented and eventually pushed down a well by neighborhood bullies. The kid eventually grows up and hunts down his tormentors and murders them in some unconventional ways. His only true friend was a little girl in which he sends body parts to her as some sort of thank you for her kindness to him as a child. Now, we shouldn't be feeling sorry for our little deformed murderer, but throughout the entire film, we really don't see the killer as a 'killer'. It's as if the vigilante in us steps out for a second and succumbs to the vengeful intentions that leads us to murder. I thought of going into some indepth-reviews, but I'm only going to cover the basics - the films from the top of my head that I can remember having a sympathetic streak, ever how subtle it might have been. Everything will be just one big old ramble, so deal with it. Seriously, just hang in there. You might find something interesting.
I'll touch base with such things as story lines, atmosphere, motives etc:.
There's two different types of film that deal with sympathetic villains. One form of the sympathetic villain is described in the cinema and literary world as the anti-hero.. This is basically the same thing as the 'sympathetic villain', the only difference being that the anti-hero is someone bad we shouldn't like, but for some reason we do. Off the top of my head, the Paul Kersey character (made famous by Charles Bronson from the Death Wish franchise) comes to mind. We have a middle aged man whose family was murdered by a bunch of street thugs. Paul takes it upon himself as being some form of avenging angel and guns his way through street crooks like a hot knife through butter. Even tho Kersey's actions are as immoral as the thugs who killed his family, we feel a sense of sympathy for him, rooting him on as he pumps thousands of rounds into a bands of stupid-shaved-headed- dummies. The series gets more over-the-top as it goes along. Rape is a huge theme in the Death Wish series and is probably one of the more immoral acts a person could commit besides murder. In that 'avenging angel' mentality, we feel that the thugs are getting what they deserve.
The true form of a sympathetic villain deals with someone who may have experienced some form of mental scarring, blurring their mind into thinking their murderous actions are right. He/She may be someone who was treated badly in the past and is looking for love or companionship. There may be a mother fixation in which the villain was molded by verbal and physical abuse from their mother, choosing victims who remind them of their mother. He may be someone who has a fixation with someone whom, in the stalkers mind, is their vision of love and happiness. (Refer to the previous sentence) Ezra Cobb (a character based off Wisconsin's butcher, Ed Gein) - from the 1972 Canadian horror, Deranged loves his mommy so much that he decides to dig her up and bring her back home. He also likes to trap women inside his home while wearing a wig and his mother's old clothes - Not to mention hunt them down like wild game and gut them in his barn. Aside from this, knowing what grizzly things Ezra Cobb had done, his character is so sympathetic, we begin to like Ezra. We see him as that old likable (but strange) man down the road who rides a lawn mower down the highway. What makes us (knowing that Ezra was an insane cold-blooded killer) become attached to such a character?
Some villains may play the blame game, blaming a certain group of people for a death of a loved one, or simply seek revenge for what someone did to them. They may reveal themselves in a climatic speech towards the final victim trying to condone their murderous actions. (Kevin - Graduation Day 1981) Maybe their peers in high school taunted and humiliated them. Ever remember seeing a scene in a slasher film where the killer maims an unlikable and annoying character? Just for an instant you find yourself rooting for the killer as he shoves the spoon of the victims nose. C'mon, you guys know you got a hard on when Jason picks up the spiteful blond in Friday the 13th The New Blood) and throws her behind a television set.
Marty Rantzen in his grotesque-mental state
(Marty Rantzen) being the victim of brutal humiliation by the bullies and 'cool kids' in school. (It's kind of funny because every person playing a high school student is over thirty if I'm a day over five) Marty is horribly disfigured during a prank gone awry when they give him a bad joint that leads to a chain of events involving school based chemicals. Let's just say that Marty is wearing a permanent Halloween mask for the rest of his life. He fakes a class reunion in which his tormentors are lead to the reunion like sheep to the slaughter. They are now gathered all in one place so Marty can take his aggression out on them. When the killing starts, it's really hard not to hear the words "He got what he deserved" ringing in the back of your mind. Even though Marty is now a raging murderous individual with a grotesque face, and even more grotesque intentions, one still feels a little bit of sympathy for him. After all, he was strung up naked in the locker room. Beaten and pushed around. The good old scripture verse 'an eye for an eye' springs about quickly..
Another film that comes to mind in regards to a sympathetic character is the little made for television flick Hider in the House'. It was release on the USA network back in the late 80's. Tom Sykes was brutally abused as a child. He was beaten and bruised, verbaly abused and ultimately burned with cigarettes. When Tom became older, he couldn't take it anymore and burnt down the house along with his abusive parents. On down the road, Tom is now a grown man who is about to be released from a mental facility. Both Tom and his shrink are reluctant at the idea, but nonetheless, Tom Sykes is released. He scouts a beautiful neighborhood and captures somewhat of an opportunity. It's a newly built house in which the residents haven't moved in yet. Tom decides to secretly build a hidden room in the attic where he resides unbeknownst to the family. (This is another take on the 70's made for television film entitled Bad Ronald - where a boy lives inside the walls unknown to the family living in the house)
Tom learns the family's routine, even being brave enough to sneak down stairs at night and roam around the house. As time goes on, he becomes more obsessed with the mans wife who lives there and eventually sets it up where the husbands wife winds up catching him in bed with another woman in a hotel room. The husband is kicked out by the wife and it's the perfect opportunity for Tom to maneuver himself into the family's life somehow. Tom's pretty good with the plans as he sets up another concoction which places him at the scene of a school yard fight between the wife's kid and a school yard bully. Tom ends up breaking them up and is invited inside the wife's home. She offers him some water and a little ceramic bowl as a gift, but that's about as far as it gets. The wife finally realizes that Tom is a little off his rocker when he tries to teach her child some very violent fighting techniques in which she didn't agree with. Tom strolled by a few more times, the last time being when he refused to take no for an answer and almost busted in the door trying to get back into the house.
Aside from Tom's mis happenings and downsides - his scheming - his voyeuristic lifestyle - He emmits something in the form of semi-pity that allows you to feel just enough sympathy for him to find him a little bit likable. Tom, at heart, is really nothing but a big teddy bear. It all stems from our opening credits and how we hear how badly Tom is treated. This gives us a form of understanding on why Tom may do the things he does. Sure, he had to end up killing the family dog, killing the wife's best friend, and an exterminator - but it was only because the fumes were smothering him to death and with no choice, had to come running out of his hidden room, exposing himself to the exterminator. (No, I don't mean EXPOSING himself) The other incident happens with the wife's best friend when Tom strolls downstairs thinking no one is home.He gets caught in a weird situation, the woman screams, and Tom ends up killing her by breaking her neck. This little incident was truly an accident, as Tom didn't want her to scream and give him away. Stepping aside from all of Tom Syke's personal , um, flaws, lies a big fluffy stuffed animal. All he wants is a normal life and an all American family. His mind, being feeble from years of abuse, could not distinguish fantasy from reality and it ended up costing lives, as well as his own. Aside from all this, it's still hard not to feel some minuscule amount of compassion for Tom.
There once was a college student named Kenny who was trying to join a fraternity. Doc and Moe were the two main men - Doc being the more sarcastic and hard hearted medical student, with pranks a'many He surely never cared who he hurt during these pranks. Moe - He's the more sensible guy who's mainly Doc's little puppet. He doesn't agree with half the things Doc does, but he's still loyal to him. Maybe even more loyal to him than his own girl friend Alana, played by 70's and 80's scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. It's the big new years eve bash and . Doc has just so happened to have fixed up Kenny with Alana in which Kenny has the hots for already. Kenny's quite a little fellow and the whole idea was absurd to begin with.n It's all just a big joke. What Kenny doesn't know is that Doc has stolen a cadaver from the morgue and placed her decomposed dismembered body in a bed, which is supposed to be Alana waiting for him. When Kenny undresses and winds up seeing that it's a dead body, he loses it. He wraps himself in a satin Curtain and screams to his hearts content until we hit the slow mo and the distorted sound of Kenny's demonic voice as he screams in hysteria. We 'still' the shot and cut to five years later where the old Sorority co-eds are celebrating their last rounds of pre-med before heading off into different directions. Moe and doc plan a little three-four hour trip on a luxurious train filled with booze, party supplies, a cool magician and all the co-eds you can shake a stick at. It just so happens that someone is on board, changing costume disguises and using them to lure his victims to their death. Is it Kenny extracting revenge for the pain and humiliation the gang caused him five years ago?
Of course it is. Do we feel soory for Kenny? Do we try and fathom the reasons as to why he would decapitate someone over a prank? I guess it's somewhat of an open ended question and maybe it's meant to be. I certainly felt as if Doc (even tho I somehow enjoyed his character) deserved some harsh treatment, but did he deserve a horrible death? Maybe in Kenny;s mind, Doc caused him a mental death, therefore, retaliating in his physical death. Who knows? Nevertheless, there's a hint of soft hardheartedness to be felt for Kenny, if only for a split second. Terror Train, is a production from our wonderful slasher brothers in Canada and delivers loads of wonderful cinematography, good suspense, and wonderful gloom and doom atmosphere. It's a great revenge slasher flick that should be seen by all cult film fans.
As I end this post, just think about the horror films you've watched and try and remember if there ever was a time in which you rooted for the killer/villain. I bet there's more instances than you originally thought. PART 2, shortly!