6 Killer Traits that Need to Die
We were talking today about what makes Freddy Kruger one of the most unique horror icons ever, and I began to reel off a list of his traits. It occurred to me that a lot of the iconic killers all re-use the same characteristics over and over. Whilst the biggest difference between Kruger and other villains is his power to haunt and kill in dreams, he also holds many cool little perks that pale in comparison to others. Stuck with using the same old traits over and over, film makers are regurgitation the same killers in different guises. If we are to get unique and interesting characters, film makers need to think outside the box. take not of these 6 Killer Traits that Need to Die!
Oscar Wilde once said “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”. Well, the truth in film, is that far too many killers wear masks, and most for them are for the same reason, anonymity.
Hoping to keep the killers identity a secret, films such as Scream, I know What You Did Last Summer and more recently Happy Death Day, all provide their antagonists with a mask to hide away their features for a dramatic reveal later. This third act disclosure drives the entire plot, making the mask an important part of the films story. The more dramatic and creepy the mask the better.
But not all masks are story driven. Films such as The Strangers, The Purge and The Halloween series use mask as device to give their killers a faceless and emotionless quality to terrify its audience. The mask serves no more purpose other than an aesthetic element that increases the intensity of its character. But are these qualities now a little derivative of the genre?
Film’s such as Wolf Creek, Severance and even Saw to certain extent, happily expose its killers to us, even hiding them in plain sight, such as in Saw II’s Amanda Young reveal or House of a 1000 Corpses “helpful” Firefly clan. This fresh approach gives audiences a better grasp of who the protagonist is up against, and in some way, this humanization of the killers makes them scarier. There’s often a slow building threat and paranoia, and the killer’s intentions are not often revealed straight away.
Smacking a mask on someone just makes takes away some of true horror of the situation. Real world killers never wear masks. They are you friends and neighbours, the person sitting opposite you on the bus and the widower next door. Real killers are people, with feelings and emotions and more films should try to reflect that, not to hide them behind a piece of plastic.
“So little to say but so much time” Crooned the ballad-writing, sassy songstress Adelle. The British lass could just as well have been singing about one of our beloved horror icons, as many lack a vocal presence throughout their entire franchise. Why is it that many movie villains have trouble with words? Michael Myers has not spoken a word since he was a kid, same with Jason Voorhees after he was almost drowned, and the ghost face killer won’t say a word unless he’s got a voice box and phone at hand! Where does this silent killer stereotype come from and why is it still so popular today?
You can look back on the influences of ‘Giallo’ movies of the 1960s and 70s, with their black gloved, mysterious and silent killers, that would more than often be the perpetrators of a good killing. Being mystery thrillers, before ‘Giallo’ become more bloody and violent in the 80s, the antagonists identify had to be kept secret, and before mask were the go-to way of hiding a face, the killers hands were the only thing on show. No noise, no sound.. all killing!
This idea of a silent killer works because it’s easy for production and writers. No need for a clever quip after a strangulation, no puns for a pipe over the head, just a quick kill and some screaming from the victim. Job done!
In some ways, dialogue can muddy a death scene. Remember that scene near the end of Saving Private Ryan, where Private Mellish is killed by a German soldier with a knife. I always think that that scenes is quite harsh, boarding on being un-entertaining, due to the dialogue exchanged between the two as the knife goes in. It feels too real, and I guess that makes us uneasy. We want the guts and gore, but at the same time, we KNOW its not real. We don’t want REAL!
But are silent killers really that effective? Both the Nightmare on Elm Street and Child’s Play series revolve around a quick witted, mean tongued villain, and both have been hugely more successful than other franchise. We love the over the top, James Bond styled jokes that come with every elaborate death. Who could forget Kruger’s “Welcome to Prime Time Bitch” or Chucky’s “Presto…. you’re dead!”. It’s fun, it’s silly and there should be more of it. Strip away this old fashioned views of silent killers and bring back some real personality into our modern killers.
“Knives, Knives, Knives.” Killers use knives, we get it! Over the years, the slasher genre has been saturated with the knife armed killer and it’s about time that film makers got creative. Wes Craven realised that when he made a tongue in cheek “stab” at the slasher franchise with Scream, putting a buck knife in his killer’s paw.
It was the saw franchise that really ran with this whole premise, dropping your everyday machete and bowie knife for contraptions and gadgets that would rip of limbs and melt victims from the inside out.
Whilst knives are a major threat, they do not make for elaborate screen friendly kills. And with an audience begging for more gore and nastiness, thinking outside of the content of a kitchen is something more films should do. Give us more chainsaws and meat hooks and less knives!
It seems that horror villains have a very particular taste when it comes to victims. From Halloween to Urban Legends, the stereotypical victim lies within their teens. Whether or not this is because they are easy targets, through their promiscuous actions and abuse of alcohol and drugs, or whether they simply need less character development, nearly all slasher use teens to fill their body count.
Freddy Kruger hunts Haddonfield teens in their sleeps, whilst Jason Vorhees has fancy for scantily clad youths at Camp Crystal Lake. Michael Myers has his pick of victims in the town of Haddonfield, but chooses the teenagers as his preferred demographic. Cherry Falls slasher picks on virgin teens and the Ghost-face killer hunts the school kids of Woodsboro high school. There is too many killers that fail to diversify their killer rampages.
The jigsaw killer from Saw picks young and old, the same as the victims in Hostel. Chucky also has no preferences killing anyone that crosses him and Bubba Ho Tep took on an entire retirement home.
It’s time horror films moved away from your typical teen victims and explored a wider range of people.
Whilst I’ve been tempted to prod a few slow walking pedestrians over the years, in the horrorverse, slow walking is a staple trait of a good killer, and it’s probably not wise to be poking the likes of Victor Crowley anyhow. Whilst you average Ghostfaces and Leatherface will stumble about, falling in to furniture and such, your smart killer takes a breather and hangs back a bit, maybe even takes in a nice stroll, as his victims runs screaming into the distance.
For years, many of the classic horror monsters stumbled their way across the screen. Frankenstein and the mummy were slow but strong, and even though the Wolf-man was fast and Dracula could fly (as a bat), these two slow moving creatures were just as fearsome, with the clumsy but surely movements.
I guess it’s the visual information that you get from these delicate movements that makes it creepy, especially juxtaposed against a panicked victim. In one hand you have a person terrified for their life, running and screaming into the darkness. On the other you have this crazed nut-ball, slowly moving after them, knife in hand, with absolutely no chance to catch up with them. And that’s why this type of trait should really go the way of the dodo, as it’s possible one of the most unrealistic mannerisms that breaks the forth wall. There’s no way that slow-assed killer could ever catch up with a running protagonist.
There is a kind of smugness in this motion. An idea that killer knows that the victim will not get away. Whilst us as an audience knows that the killer will almost always catch up with them, the deliberate speed gives them a chance. Unless, or course, they can somehow travel faster than they are letting on?
Fast Moving Off Camera / Teleportation
It’s an unspoken super power that nearly all villains have, and it’s probably their most important one too. You can be strong, you can be smart, but unless you can catch-up with your prey, you ain’t never gonna please yo momma!
I’m talking about the ability to teleport around, cutting off victims that thought they were safe. This magical gift goes hand in hand with the slow walking. The killer will slowly pursue the victim as they run off in to the distance, but the killer will know exactly where his victim is and will be lying in wait to catch them. This is one of those powers that the horror villain loses as they slash their way through victims and starts to approach the final characters.
The king of the teleport is, without question, Jason Vorhees, whose gift is integral to the killer. Whilst Myers mostly hunts through stealth, 6 feet 5 inch Vorhees has a much tougher time in hiding away from potential victims. The only way in which the brute can catch up with the light-footed teens is through teleportation. Even the recent Friday the 13th the video game established teleportation as one of Jason Vorhees abilities, allowing him to teleport to any point in the map.
With both Myers and Vorhees are guilty of this interest quirk, it was not long before other killers also started to share this trait. Admittedly, characters such as Freddy Kruger and Pinhead have supernatural powers at play, but other films such as I Know What You Did Last Summer, Cherry Falls and My Bloody Valentine all use teleportation in order to keep the suspense.
Horror always uses themes that provoke emotions rather than narrative logic, and teleportation falls firmly into this category of un-realistic but effective ways of building tension. In contrast, in the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Leatherface dances, gets distracted and has fits of rage because he can’t keep up with his victims. I believe that this is more terrifying and I hope that we see less and less of teleportation in future slashers.
Yes speed kills, but here, slow and steady always wins the race.
Credit where credit’s due!
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“Hi Horror Fans – These are 6 Killer Traits that Need to Die, but do you agree with our list of terror, or do you have other traits that you think should be KILLED off? Let us know in the comments below.