5 Horror Subplots More Interesting Than The Movie They're In
Critics have always had a rough relationship with horror movie plots and characters. And while it would be tough to convince people that there is any amount of complexity in someone that exists to yell, "Who's there?" before taking an ax to the face, I will say that, overall, horror movies have the most interesting characters in the entirety of film. They're just not where most people look.
See, the greatest horror protagonists aren't the horny 20-year-olds or the frustrated police chiefs. They're the actors in the background that we get only a glimpse of before we go back to the main story about unsafe summer camp conditions.
The Chainsaw Shop Owner In Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2
The dialogue in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre series is 90 percent screaming and 10 percent inbred giggling. This is no more true than in director Tobe Hooper's beautiful ode to tastelessness and penis metaphors, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2. It's been well established that an impotent man-child chasing girls around with sharp objects might have something to do with dicks, and TCM 2 does everything that it can to reinforce the fact.
This movie is my Casablanca.
There is a scene where Leatherface thrusts his crotch into the back of a chainsaw while rubbing the blade on a lady's inner leg for nearly three straight minutes. In any other movie, that would be overkill, but I swear to god, it's the most subtle three minutes that this batshit movie has. And it isn't just the men wearing skin masks that are made of other men that get to enjoy all the symbolism. The background characters get in on the action as well, with the most notable of these being the owner of the Cut-Rite Chainsaws store. Dennis Hopper, who does the acting equivalent of an '80s wrestling promo, steps into the store while the owner exasperatingly argues with someone over the phone. It establishes that the owner feels put upon and helpless. He is not a strong or passionate man. Not in this situation, anyway.
But he's about to have the best time of his life.
Hopper buys a huge chainsaw and two smaller backup chainsaws and exits the store, trying out the big one on a log out front. As he swings it down dramatically, the owner watches from the porch, but over the next few seconds, all of the hesitation and anxiety drains from his face. "OH, MY ACHIN' BANANA," he says to himself, which again would seem out of place in a different film but might be only the fourth- or fifth-most obvious erection reference in this one. Something inside of the owner has been awakened. Years of living in a world that doesn't understand him has tamped down his true nature.
"I wanna know what love issssss
I want you to show meeeee"
As Dennis Hopper wallops the wood with his saw, the Cut-Rite owner gestures excitedly, his face twisting into a look of pure, thoughtless joy. Does his wife know about this secret pleasure? How many nights did she ask him, "What's wrong?" only to have him respond with silence? Did his children go through life wondering what impossible thing would make their father happy? How could they not? How many relatives and friends have wondered about and pitied this repressed, timid man? They'll never see this glimmer of ecstasy. He'll die being known as the sad man that owned the chainsaw shop.
Miss Lonelyhearts In Rear Window
In Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, asshole Jimmy Stewart spies on the other people that live in his apartment complex. He comes to suspect another resident of a murder, and when his girlfriend and maid decide to help him investigate, he is very willing to possibly let them get killed if it means solving the case. Meanwhile, he talks down to everyone around him, despite the fact that they all really want to help him do anything but wallow in self-pity. By the end of the movie, he doesn't complete any huge character arc. The moral of Rear Window is that if you refuse to act like less of a jerk, eventually everyone will stop trying and will be totally satisfied when you become slightly less of a jerk at the end.
"I'm not a bad guy. I just force the world to work around me."
On the opposite end of the character spectrum and the apartment courtyard is a woman that Jimmy Stewart dubs "Miss Lonelyhearts," because even complete strangers are not safe from his dickishness. When we first see Miss Lonelyhearts, she is making a dinner for two, even though she lives by herself. She talks to someone that isn't there, lights some candles on the table, and eventually breaks down into tears. This movie is based around a simple mystery, and a floor below we have a woman who is so lonely that she spends time interacting with and cooking dinner for people that aren't there. That's like having Psycho's Norman Bates as a side character in a plot about hotel real estate development.
Why are we focusing on Jimmy Stewart? This woman is making food for the SPIRIT REALM.
Later in the film, Miss Lonelyhearts comes back home from a date with a dude who tries to rape her. She fights him off and ends up attempting to commit suicide. In a rare display of humanity, Jimmy Stewart seems to care about this for about 10 seconds before going back to spying on other people. This isn't even the end of her story, but she's already had more development than every other character in the movie combined.
At the end of the film, we see that Miss Lonelyhearts has fallen in love with a piano player that lives in another apartment. Now, this arc is pretty simple. She starts out very sad and becomes very happy. But I want to see an entire movie about her. The end of her story is a typical romance ending, but she's introduced to us with an extended sequence of her speaking to and adjusting her home to impress an invisible boyfriend. What happens after the "Awww, she found love" feeling passes? Does she reveal to the musician, "Hey, a long time ago I would make a dinner for two, and half of that two was a figment of my imagination"? Awww, she found love, but before that, she found fucking ghosts.
Getting ghost-dumped is hard.
The Reporter In Jaws
Jaws is interesting because I would watch a full movie about every single one of the characters in it, even if the movies had nothing to do with sharks. It's a shame that Steven Spielberg didn't make a prequel devoted to Robert Shaw's Quint drinking and cursing at people on his rad boat, or that he didn't at least produce a series of comedies about awkward Deputy Hendricks' attempts to keep up with any aspect of a job. Hell, the fact that there isn't a heartwarming movie about the old secretary that complains to Chief Brody about the youth karate class "karate-ing" the picket fences (she later learns to accept them and even helps one get through some difficult self-esteem problems! My email is all over the internet, Hollywood) is criminal.
"We need to typewriter-ing up a report about these hooligan-ing kids."
But the one character that barely gets mentioned when people discuss Jaws is Meadows, the reporter that is always hanging out with the mayor.
Your light blue suit stinks of corruption, Meadows.
The mayor gets a lot of flak for keeping the beaches open to get those "summer dollars" instead of making sure that his town's residents are safe from the hungry new addition to its wildlife. Despite the fact that the police chief is constantly trying to convince him otherwise, the mayor's power goes mostly unchecked, and I get that. It's a small town, and he's pretty charismatic. I'd probably go to the beaches too if he told me that he saw one dead shark. But it should be up to Meadows, as the only news source on the island, to do some fair and balanced reporting and maybe play angel's advocate to a guy that's like, "Oh, they killed a fish that's too small to eat a majority of two people? Beaches are open forever."
How do you know that he's the only local information source on the island? Well, considering that it's a small piece of land and that the movie constantly refers to the fact that they desperately need the money brought in by tourists, it's safe to assume that Meadows basically is the newspaper. We see a TV reporter once on the busiest day of the summer and then never again, and he talks about the island with a tone of "Everyone here is going to die. Can I please go back to Connecticut now?" So, it's Meadows' job to at least hint to the public that there might still be an animal out there, or more than one shark in the whole goddamn world.
But who is the real shark in this movie? I'm getting DEEP here, guys.
It isn't the shark that's the villain and it isn't the mayor. It's Meadows, for trying so hard to kiss up to someone that he forgets to do his duty properly. On a lesser note, it's 1975. People still read newspapers. It would be good for Amity Gazette sales and not just a baseless fear tactic if he simply printed the headline "SHARK KILLED; SHARKS STILL EXIST."
Crime Boss Ben In Blue Velvet
Dennis Hopper starred in Blue Velvet in the same year that he starred in Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, because he simply had the greatest career of any actor of all time. In Blue Velvet, he plays Frank Booth, a nitrous-oxide-huffing crime boss famous for saying things like, "Heineken? Fuck that shit! PABST. BLUE. RIBBON!" And, "I'LL FUCK ANYTHING THAT MOVES." When they're just written in a script, it seems unlikely that anyone could speak those lines and make them work. But Dennis Hopper, the perfect blend of art school ideals and mountains of drugs, performed like no actor before him or since.
Jared Leto lies awake at night, dreaming of being Dennis Hopper.
However, despite his perfection in this movie, he still isn't the most fascinating part of it. That honor goes to a character named Ben.
This is Ben. Ben seems chill.
Around the middle of the movie, Frank Booth, his abused girlfriend, and his cronies take an eight-minute detour to Ben's apartment, where we discover that Ben is a man that just talks in a soft voice and seems to hang out with a few women on his couches all day. It's not a life that I aspire to, but I envy how good he probably is at doing his taxes.
At one point, Frank tells him about all the crime shit that's been happening, but Ben doesn't seem to involve himself with it. Frank is keeping the abused girlfriend's son at Ben's place to blackmail her into staying quiet, but Ben doesn't seem to have a huge part in that either. No, his biggest thing of value is his ability to calm Frank down and lip-sync his favorite song to him.
Oh, this is a David Lynch movie? Par for the course, then.
Ben takes a small lamp and croons Roy Orbison's "In Dreams" to Frank, while Frank tries to whisper along and hold back sadness and rage at the same time. It ends with Frank explosively telling everyone that they have to leave, and their friendship ends when Frank is shot in the head at the end of the movie. But what does Ben do after that? We can infer that he's a fellow crime boss, but how many crime bosses does the town of Lumberton, North Carolina, require? Frank goes around and intimidates people, but all Ben does is ... own an apartment.
As I wrote earlier, he doesn't even sing "In Dreams." He just lip-syncs it into a lamp, which is a really, really niche skill to have, one that I doubt that many crime bosses will appreciate. I wouldn't say that I have my fingers on the pulse of the underworld, but if I led a gang and a guy came up to me and said, "I can lip-sync a love ballad from 1963 into a light fixture if you've got one handy. Let me join up with you guys," I'd probably tell him that I appreciated the resume, but no. Also, this is Lumberton, which is in the gallbladder of Southeast NC. Not to diss your talents, Ben, but most kingpins are probably looking for people with more pragmatic approaches to their criminal careers. I'm sure you could find something in sales.
Cinema's greatest bromance.
The DINO-SOAR Owner In Jurassic Park III
Jurassic Park is the classic original, The Lost World is the one where the T. rex stomps through San Diego, and Jurassic World was made to print money, leaving Jurassic Park III as the Timothy Dalton James Bond of the franchise. It's the one that feels the most like it could also be Jurassic Park 15, if the studio had decided to go the route of having each movie center around a random group of people coming to the dinosaur island. It's not special, but it's also not bad, and its opening minutes are so thought-provoking to me that I hate that they decided to go with the malignant creativity tumor of "I guess they'll start another park on the same island as the first park" in Jurassic World.
I was personally looking forward to Jurassic Park 9: Spring Break.
It takes place around Isla Sorna, which, for those who don't remember, is the spot where the dinosaurs were cloned and cared for until they were shipped off to the other island. After telling us where it is, "RESTRICTED" pops up on the screen, followed by the DINO-SOAR parasailing company showing some idiot and his kid around the island. The whole thing seems sketchy, especially since, at the end of The Lost World, John Hammond goes on TV to be like, "We gotta let nature do its thing," and running an illegal parasailing business within a stone's throw of the island is definitely not letting nature do its thing.
I'm not trying to be a stickler, but maybe we shouldn't mess with dinosaurs anymore. Just a thought.
But how much else is going on when it comes to people trying to turn this protected island into a business venture? The coolest part of Pacific Rim is when Ron Perlman's character shows off his monster-part company. Are there private tours of the island? Do people go out on the beach after signing a waiver that says that "DINO-TOUR (I figure that they'd all be puns) is not responsible for you getting eaten when we drop you off at this reptile-infested hell"?
Do mercenaries try to collect DNA samples for other companies, because, as three of the movies have shown us, the thirst to build a zoo with these monsters is unquenchable? Does the owner of DINO-SOAR do that as a side gig? The boat is either covered with the worst mold that I've ever seen, or it's been painted that way to blend in with the rest of the island so that no one notices them when they get too close. Plus, the owner is likable enough. Where is his trilogy?
Where is his action figure? Where is PARASAILING COMPANY OWNER W/ GRAPPLING HOOK?
That is infinitely more intriguing than "We won't make the security mistakes that we made with the first island." Jurassic Park doesn't need any more movies about Jurassic Parks. It needs movies about a dinosaur black market. We can still have a bunch of middle-aged men being eaten in a variety of ways. That aspect is going nowhere. I just want less scenes of them debating science nonsense and more scenes of them sniffing powdered raptor anus off the barrels of their anti-dino guns. If that doesn't scream billion-dollar opening weekend, then the Earth needs to seriously rethink its taste in movies.
Daniel has a lot of opinions about Jurassic Park, and a blog.
Learn what happens when you blend horror movies together in 6 Horror Mashups Just Crazy Enough To Be Awesome and check out the horrifying other direction Seth Macfarlane could have gone in 22 Tiny Changes That Would Turn Comedies Into Horror Movies.
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