Welcome back to AVQ&A, where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week’s question comes from senior editor Sean O’Neal:
As anyone in marketing and other forms of villainy will tell you, if you want to be a monster, you’ve got to have a hook. Not a literal hook—unless you’re the killers from Candyman or I Know What You Did Last Summer, anyway—but something that makes you unique. Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees both hide behind blank, unforgiving masks and have hang-ups about sex. Freddy Krueger has an endless supply of puns and ideas for ironic punishments. And if someone were to make a horror movie starring me, I think it would be called Deadpan, and I would dispatch my victims with withering rejoinders that would fill them with doubt; despondent, they would then throw themselves into the nearest sea. (“He knows what you’ve done and is, frankly, ambivalent about it!” the posters would scream.) So as Halloween approaches, my question is if you were a horror movie villain, what would be your hook?
As alluded to in the prompt, the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise leaned so hard on Robert Englund’s quip-delivery skills that his Freddy Krueger eventually wound up with a wit much sharper and more deadly than the four blades strapped to his right hand. But the big screen doesn’t need a villain who kills then puns, because the time has come for a monster who kills with puns; the time has come for The Groaner. “You thought Child’s Play was scary? Get a load of his wordplay.” And so forth: The badder the pun, the more painful the demise, as my unsuspecting victims groan their lives away and roll their eyes right out of their heads. “A pun is the lowest form… of death!” screams the VHS box—not technically a pun, but it’ll do. All the more enticing in this increasingly franchise-mad movie climate: There’s a built-in “son of” sequel, with The Groaner 2: Dad Jokes ready to pick up where the last pun left off.
Eventually I’m going to bore you to death, victims. Not right away. It’s going to be insidious. We’re going to hang out in places where there are other people (and also weapons), but eventually everyone else will leave and you will find the door locked. I will tell you stories that you’ve heard a thousand times before, and even when I say “stop me if you’ve heard this before,” I will not stop. When you try to murder me, the knife will slice through thin air. When you try to harm yourself, you will find the weapons not up to the task. Eventually, your spirit will break and you will just succumb to the sweet release of a natural death. This is a really long movie, by the way. It’s directed by Béla Tarr and it’s called Did I Ever Tell You About The Time I…?
Everybody gets annoyed when that person corrects their grammar, but usually it doesn’t kill them. In The Stickler, a film that will only be viewed by members of the American Copy Editors Society, I get to play out my wildest fantasies while bringing people face to face with their worst fears. Use “whom” incorrectly? Prepare for an eternal lecture on objective and subjective cases. Screw up the past participles for “lay” and “lie”? You will choke on your mistakes. And for the love of all things bloody and evil, don’t leave your participles dangling… or you might trip on them and break your neck.
I’ve often dreamed of becoming a game show host, so I’d be The Quizmaster, the slayer who quizzes his victims to death. I’d pepper innocent teens with questions until they got one wrong, and then I’d kill by bludgeoning them with my long, skinny microphone—which would take a while, but don’t worry, I’ll keep whacking. I’ve got time. All of my questions would come from early 1980s episodes of Jeopardy!, when most of the clues were about Khrushchev. “Ooh, I’m sorry, that’s incorrect,” I’d intone as I closed in for the kill, “but we have some lovely parting gifts for you: death, dismemberment, and a $50 gift certificate to the Service Merchandise catalog.”
At the risk of being too political, every time I take public transportation I screw on my best mean face, because I just can’t stand being chatted up by complete strangers of any gender. But despite my careful cultivation of a voluntary, reversible (or so I’d like to believe) Resting Bitch Face, I still get people—okay, let’s be honest, dudes—telling me to smile all the time. In the fantasy-fulfillment world of a horror movie, this would prompt me to pull out my trusty carving knife and cut a big ol’ Dark Knight-style smile right into their smug faces before strangling them with my earbuds. “Who’s smiling now?,” I’ll ask with a cackle of sadistic glee. I’m well aware this answer could get me branded a “Feminazi,” so I’ll just go ahead and make that my name. The Feminazi.
They call me Old Fashioned, because I wear a bow tie and suspenders (a blazer too, if it’s cold) and kill people for no real reason with good old fashioned horror film violence. I tend to do my business in the dark, a staple of any great villain, and I’m most likely to use my bare hands or a blunt object. My acts of violence are always backed by something similar to a Barbershop quartet, but they sing covers of 1980s staples like “Tenderness,” by General Public (because this movie is in my mind and I’ll have it the way I like it). Really, the only downside to this gig is the dry cleaning bill.
There are a lot of gruesome, creative ways to hurt yourself in a kitchen, and working around all those sharp edges, open flames, and slippery surfaces gives a killer the perfect mise en place for murder. I experience an inordinate amount of dread when I observe people cooking without taking the basic steps to not hurt themselves. Normally I grab the knife and do it myself, but my serial killer side does the opposite: I use people’s ineptitude to my advantage, hurrying along their inevitable demise as they cut round wobbly objects, leave blenders plugged in when they’re finished blending, and position pan handles where someone walking past it will knock it off the stove and send down cascades of hot oil. They were going to hurt—possibly kill—themselves anyway, so why not finish the job? I am The Kitchen Safety Avenger. Like Dexter in a chef’s coat, I rid the world of the irresponsible, negligent people who have no place handling sharp and pointy objects around open flames. When the police come to examine the lifeless bodies covered in nicks from poor knife skills, burns from carelessly placed pots and pans, and stains from sloppy soup pouring, it’ll be clear that this was the fault of the amateur, and they’ll be a little relieved that those people will never mishandle basic cooking safety again.
I’ve horrified enough people with this in real life, so I’m sure it’d make a terrifying movie for the right audience. Yes, I’d appear in yuppie parents’ tastefully appointed homes, and force them to watch as I raised my kids the wrong way. Just like in real life, I’d bottle-feed my kids, expose them to surfaces that hadn’t been disinfected, give them non-organic foods, put them in a non-ergonomic stroller, buy toys that weren’t handcrafted out of locally-sourced hardwood, let them watch lots of TV, and give them classic American names instead of Xaden and Khaleesi. Given the horrified reactions parents get from other parents in real life, a captive movie audience would be squirming in their seats when I let my 2-year-old play with my phone for a while so I can cook some processed chicken nuggets for dinner. Naturally, I’d vaccinate the kids. I may be a horror movie villain, but I’m not a monster.
My family and friends have come to accept that sometimes my brain builds up too many thoughts on esoteric topics, leaving me with little ability to stop myself from going on long, rambling discourses about, say, the quirks of the Roman emperors, or the weaknesses of the Nintendo 64’s software library. It’s an ugly, boring, boorish habit, and I’ve worked to curtail it as I’ve matured. But as The Lecturer, I’d have no such compunctions. Like Jigsaw from the Saw films (and trust me, I’ve got a long, sleep-inducing monologue about how those movies systematically betray the series’ premise with each new installment), I wouldn’t commit murders directly. Instead, I’d sequester my victims in a dingy, poorly lit cell, or—even worse—a long car ride, and talk to them about the 10 factors that make Majora’s Mask the ultimate 3D Zelda game until they take an icepick to their own ears just to get some relief.
A couple of days ago I visited Chicago’s Museum Of Contemporary Art with my parents and promptly fell down the museum’s super steep front steps, Lizzie McGuire-style. In the proud tradition of ladies who just can’t stay upright (Bella Swan from Twilight, almost any female character in a romantic comedy), I do tend to fall over and/or walk into things at a rather alarming rate. Since I’m not a particularly malicious person, I have to imagine that any horror movie centered on me would be a black comedy involving a whole bunch of clumsy accidents that inadvertently lead to someone’s death. And since I like a little moral complexity in my pop culture, I would be hurt by these accidents as well. Not only emotionally, but also by whatever bumps and bruises I amass along with way. In fact, the one from the museum steps is currently coming along quite nicely.
Not to push my personal politics, but I’d be the Anti Sports Slayer. I’d go to a sports bar on a Saturday afternoon and freak people to death that I have zero, and have never had any, interest in sports. Being raised in Cornhusker-bred Omaha, then moving to Bulls/Blackhawks Chicago, I tend to arouse curiosity at best and bitter, vile contentment at worst among sports fans. I’ve lost girlfriends to the fact that I cannot claim a sports team as my own, or would much rather watch anything else on a Sunday afternoon besides the “big game.” It’s not that I don’t casually enjoy playing sports; I’ve just never understood spending hours on a couch watching grown, overpaid men run, hit, and throw things. Based on some of the sheer rage that has been leveled at my apathy toward any sport besides basketball, I can see a couple bros dropping dead, and thus my spree would begin.
I have a freakish recall of movie release years, especially after the late ’70s or so—just about the time slasher movies were coming into their own as a genre. If I were a horror movie stalker, my gimmick would be killing my victims using methods blatantly derived from other movies from a certain year. For example, it is now 2014; Nightmare On Elm Street turned 30 this year, so I guess I’d have to rig up a bed to turn my victims into geysers of blood. In the sequels, my fidelity to this gimmick would become, naturally, increasingly tenuous, moving beyond horror movies and into movies where anyone at all dies, and then moving beyond nice-looking anniversaries like 10 or 25 or 30 into odd ones like 17 or 41. It’ll be 2023 and my annual low-rent slasher villain will be somehow simulating whatever it is that kills Mandy Moore, for the 21st anniversary of A Walk To Remember. Basically, I’d be an Internet nostalgia essay… THAT KILLS! (Literally, instead of creatively.) This probably better qualifies me to be a third-string Batman villain, but it could suffice as my slasher gimmick too.