Angels to Some
We’ve long ago established horror’s appeal to “outsiders.” Ever since Todd Browning’s Freaks, we’ve been chanting “one of us, one of us” any time a “normie” becomes a fan. Cheering for the villains — the heroes to those on the edge of society — is our way of embracing the mantle of the outsider, of the other, and acknowledging that we are “different.”
I get it. I’ve been on the outside most of my life. “We are the weirdos, mister,” resonated with me as much as anyone. We put Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers, Art the Clown, and Pinhead on our t-shirts and pins, and proudly sport our differences in the faces of polite society. But sometimes I wonder exactly what it says about ourselves and what we condone when we emblazon certain faces on our clothes.
I’m not here to say that wearing a Friday the 13th t-shirt means you support random murder sprees. What I am saying is that we have to remember that these villains are just that — the bad guys. Yes, we get to question exactly what that means and what roles society has placed on certain characters versus the roles the audience has made for them. Maybe a monster did save you. I love that. But I also get bad vibes from the allegiances some horror villains have.
Jason Voorhees kills a lot of people, but I understand why. Let’s consider that he was a mentally handicapped child who suffered a horrible tragedy, then somehow grew up and saw his (murderous) mother decapitated. At this point, he’s a territorial momma’s boy who never learned how to act in mainstream society.
Jason’s classic running buddy is Freddy Krueger. It’s impossible to separate them, not just because they eventually made a movie together, but because of their history. Lest we forget, Sean S. Cunningham, producer of the Friday the 13th franchise, and Wes Craven, creator of A Nightmare on Elm Street, worked together on Last House on the Left, one of those movies that clearly has a set of bad guys and a set of “normies” who gets pushed too far and act out. I don’t know that anyone would call the parents in Last House heroes, but they certainly aren’t the villains that Krug (not a coincidence) and company are. When it comes to Freddy, he’s become one of the most popular horror villains, especially when it comes to merchandise. It’s not hard to find a cartoon version of the dream murderer extolling the merch wearer to follow their dreams. Yes, Freddy got funny after a couple of movies, and the glove is cool, and yes, Freddy became this supernatural being after being murdered by a group of vigilante parents, and while vigilante justice shouldn’t be condoned, can we talk about what put Mr. Kreuger in that position, to begin with? Has anyone ever really tried to defend Kreuger’s innocence against the charges that he was a child molester and murderer BEFORE he had the power to invade dreams? The remake makes it vague but why go there? Like I said, I get Jason’s deal. But Freddy as a hero? As a character to emulate and admire? Hard pass. I’m glad Jason won their battle. That’s my interpretation and you are welcome to yours.
Michael Myers is more like Freddy to me. Thank God for Laurie Strode to be a guiding, if sometimes misguided, light in that world. I want more t-shirts with her on them.
I also want more merchandise of Father Merrin and Father Karras from The Exorcist. We can accept the borderline heroic nature of Godzilla, but I think the reason we don’t have more Merrin and Karras is because of the decidedly non-heroic and in too many cases villainous reality of organized religion and the Catholic church in particular. So, we, the outsiders, so often shunned and hurt by churches, won’t put a demon-fighting priest on a t-shirt. Give us more Constantine and Hellblazer then.
Speaking of Hell, Pinhead is the most neutral of the horror villains. Even when he proclaimed that he wasn’t someone who cared what God thought, he kept some of that neutrality because he wasn’t necessarily acting selfishly. In the original Hellraiser, the Hell Priest is a servant of the box, doling out pleasure to those who earn it and pain to those deserving that instead. He doesn’t even get to choose whom he’s after. Even when they want Frank, they can’t just go get him at their own will and pace. With my favorite version of the Hell Priest in Hellraiser: Inferno (even if it is substandard as a whole), Pinhead’s goal is righteous punishment; he may not care what God thinks, but he doesn’t leave sinners without suffering. Even in his original Captain Elliot Spencer life, we didn’t see the egregious and criminal nature that Krueger had. He was just a dude out for a good time and found the wrong toy.
That might seem like a joke, but I think we need to consider more carefully who we tell the world we want to be compared to…a man who loves his mommy and defends his territory or a child-molesting murderer who sort of deserved what he got? 🩸
T.J. Tranchell was born on Halloween and grew up in Utah. He has published the novella Cry Down Dark and the collections Asleep in the Nightmare Room and The Private Lives of Nightmares with Blysster Press and Tell No Man, a novella with Last Days Books. In October 2020, The New York Times called Cry Down Dark the scariest book set in Utah. He holds a Master’s degree in Literature from Central Washington University and attended the Borderlands Press Writers Boot Camp in 2017. He currently lives in Washington State with his wife and son. Follow him at www.tjtranchell.net or on Twitter @TJ_Tranchell.
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