Today we are doing things a little different with our first real article.
Have you ever read a book or watched a movie and felt that build up towards figuring out who the killer was and why they were doing it, only to be let down by them having no purpose? Me too! It almost feels like the writer couldn’t think of a good enough reason for the killing spree so they robbed us of the big reveal. You may have noticed in many of my reviews that I talk about the why behind the killings. That’s because understanding the reasoning behind the antagonist is very important.
Every killer needs, and normally has, a reason. That goes for real life as well as the horror genre. It might seem senseless but in the killer’s mind, it means something. We don’t have to like it or agree with it, but that reason will always be there.
Let’s look at some highly successful horror movies. A Nightmare on Elm Street has Freddy Krueger bouncing from dream to dream slaughtering kids. This movie freaked me the fuck out when I was younger because I didn’t understand why he was doing it and he seemed unstoppable. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood what was going on. In life, Freddy was a pedophile who would kill his victims. When the parents of the neighborhood found out about him, they rallied together and burned him to death. After that he came back and began targeting their children. You killed me first, isn’t the best reason, but at least it’s a reason. The same thing goes for Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers, they might not have the best reason to kill, but they each have a reason.
Out of the three of them, I think I like Michael Myers’ reasoning the best. His killing spree is based on a childhood trauma. This seems like a very realistic reason that someone would turn to murder. Don’t get me wrong, Jason Voorhees suffered childhood trauma as well, but he is a spirit that has returned, much like Freddy, and Michael is more of a psychologically damaged human. This realistic purpose creates more fear than the other stories.
Those reasons drive the killers to continue doing what they do best. It’s that drive or passion to fight for their personal cause that makes the killer that much scarier. Some other great movies that show purpose are You’re Next, Raw, Scream, and Carrie. Honestly, I could go on forever, but I have to stop somewhere!
There are many movies that lack a reason and because of that they become a disappointment. This isn’t to say that these movies were unsuccessful. But it’s like buying a really pretty balloon but refusing to fill it up with air. While it’s a nice balloon, it would be better with the air in it.
One movie I always complain about is The Strangers. This was a very popular movie, and one that I was very excited to see. However, it lacked a meaning, which just made me hate it in the end. I spent the whole movie freaking out and wondering why these people were being attacked like this, but in the end we are told, “Because you were home.” What a complete let down. Considering what these two people had to suffer, we should be given a better reason than that. That sad part is, ten years later The Strangers: Prey at Night was released and I refuse to watch it due to the horrible reasoning in the first one.
This same thing happened with a Netflix Original movie called The Open House. The story seemed amazing, but it was almost the same thing. The killer had no reason. We need to understand why these people are being tortured. Without that reason, a movie is ruined.
It’s important to understand that the reasoning doesn’t have to be major or talked about in a bunch of detail and it doesn’t even have to make a bunch of sense. However, it is important for the viewers to understand that there is something driving the characters, both protagonist and antagonist. We need to feel a sense of urgency from both parties or we will lose interest.
The Strangers could have been fixed just by giving the viewers a little insight into the killer’s background. For instance, they could have showed one of the killers being pushed around by the other two. This could have taken only a few seconds and it could be telling us that the one is only there because they are trying to fit in with the others or maybe they are family and they are just following orders. We don’t need a lot of details, but we do need something.
All I’m asking for is enough care to be put into the antagonist, so that we can understand why they kill. We need to feel their anger or pain or joy. That’s where the True Fear hides. That reasoning is what can make or break a movie, but without it, it’s instantly broken. A good horror movie will give us a reason, a great horror movie will give a reason without boring us with too many details.