Basement Films: Fighting Back

Sean Strain

Halloween is the time of the year when we all expect candy, cheap scares, and horror movies. The last part has always been my personal favorite ever since I saw my first horror movie, Scream, at a very impressionable age. American-horror movies are especially infamous for their gratuitous usage of gore, though this is usually not the real reason we spend millions every year for a scary movie from the Red Box.

We often see these films as a cathartic release; we are rarely terrified in real life and experiencing the emotion in a slasher-flick can be safe and entertaining. Though there is another liberating feeling from horror movies that I pondered recently while watching Night of the Demons, a cult movie from 1988.

The storyline of the movie is very flimsy at best as ten teens throw a Halloween party in an abandoned funeral parlor where they dim-wittedly unleash a demon that possesses them one by one. As in most horror movies, we have what we call the “Last Girl”, the one girl who out-lives her more unfortunate friends and is hopefully alive by the credits.

Our girl in this movie is named Judy and is appropriately dressed in an Alice costume. Much like the titular character of the children’s classic, Judy spends the whole movie stumbling from one scene of depravity to the next, being the play-toy of a darker force. If this movie was real life (or written by a more cynical screen-writer) Judy would join her friends by the end of the movie and they would end up in the morning headline.

Yet, near the end of the movie, Judy breaks her damsel-in-distress stereotype and uses ingenuity to create a makeshift blow-torch to fry a few demons and, is still standing in the end, though is pretty traumatized. I believe it is this transformation from helpless victim to enduring survivor that makes us shell out a couple dollars for a few horror movies. We want to see someone who is assaulted by forces more immense than themselves fight back with vengeance.

Ash Williams from the Evil Dead trilogy and Buffy Summers from Buffy: The Vampire Slayer are enduring characters because they epitomize this idea as average people who are thrust into terrifying situations, but find the ability to confront fear head on in all its forms. Buffy is especially based on this idea as creator, Joss Whendon, thought of the archetype of a blonde girl who walks into a dark alley at the beginning of every horror movie and becomes victim to the monster. He began to wonder what would happen if the blonde girl had the ability to make the monster afraid of her, instead of becoming just another statistic.

In the end, no one wants to be an Alice, aimlessly walking from one moment of madness and terror to the next, praying that we will awake from the nightmare. We all want to imagine that when the things in the dark or the monsters of real life knock on our door, we will be as clever as Judy or as strong as Buffy. This is the fantasy is not only what makes me read a few comic books, but also popping in an old horror flick every year.