5 Weird Rules Hollywood Has About The Undead
So, you've died. I'm sorry to hear that and I will mourn for several silent moments before going through your pockets. But hey, look at the bright side: If this reality is a horror movie, and the news for the last several months seems to indicate that it may be, then you have a decent chance of coming back from the Great Beyond as a ghost or a reanimated vengeance cock. Only thing is there are a number of hurdles you're going to have to overcome, and most of them are pretty shitty. And most of these hurdles were put in place by Hollywood, which is dead set on making you specters out to be the absolute worst.
You're Probably Going To Be Evil
For the most part we like to live in a world where good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior, if not outright punished, is certainly discouraged. This will not apply to the afterlife. The movie world generally presents you with this scenario: 99 percent of us just die, but 1 percent of us, if we happen to have been abominable in an otherworldly, incomprehensible way, get to come back with what amounts to super powers so that we can somehow be even more shitty. We die as a shitheel person, and we come back as a shitheel X-Man.
Now arguably good people go on to a happy afterlife and that's why there are so few positive role models in the world of the undead. But this is almost never established, and if it is, it's definitely in the deleted scenes. If good souls moved on to Heaven, the movie should make that clear in its mythology. And then it needs to explain why the shitty soul didn't go to Hell. Of the two places, which one seems like it should have a stricter curfew? If dickheads are slipping out of Hell left and right, then the devil's running a sloppy ship. Jerk ghosts should be required to clock in. If they never got to Hell in the first place, then who the fuck is working the door? This is a disorganized mess.
Regardless of the how and why, it's clear that bad guys are the guys who are reaping some major rewards in the afterlife: Unbound by flesh, nearly unstoppable in any meaningful way, and often so good at what they do, you cheer for them. Jason, Freddy, Chucky, Michael Myers, these are the characters you watch these movies for. If I'm watching Jason Takes Manhattan, I'm not doing so because I'm rooting for J.J., the lady that is so into playing her stupid guitar that she abandons her group to rock out alone. I'm rooting for Mr. Vorhees, who is going to eventually hit her over the head with the guitar so hard that her skull disappears into her spine. You follow those movies to see creative and unique murders played out on camera. The bad guy is the good guy. You want him to succeed and come back in a sequel and murderously succeed some more. The afterlife is where merciless killers finally get groupies. Moreso than the groupies that currently obsess over serial killers.
The Afterlife Is Boring As Hell
Pick a ghost movie, any ghost movie. Now strip away the human plot line and focus solely on the ghost. Imagine how it spends the entire film -- what it does and when it does it, devoid of any context relating to the living. Now pour yourself a drink because that's some depressing shit to imagine.
Freed from their corporeal bonds and earthly responsibilities, 99 ghosts in 100 proceed to immediately act like douchebags to the living. And it's often left pretty ambiguous why ghosts do this. Personally, I think it's because of the boredom.
Why does Freddy Krueger want to kill you in your dreams? Revenge for being murdered? Well, he was a murderous pedophile in life, so the fact that he gets a second bite at the apple doesn't seem super just, but sure, whatever. He wants revenge. And he keeps getting it. He gets it 39 times. Is that the plan for all eternity, just getting revenge, ostensibly on people who never wronged him and probably aren't even related to the people who wronged him anymore? What's he doing while you're awake, just reading the paper? Jotting down pun ideas on a little notebook on his bedside table? "And then, when I kill him with a giant mop, I'll cackle 'Clean up on aisle three!' No, that's stupid. C'mon, Freddy. You gotta be a Dream Warrior, but you're writing like a Dream Child."
The ghosts in Poltergeist want Carol Anne because. That's the whole sentence. She had a bright lifeforce and they're dumbfucks who think "Hey, that looks nice!" Eerie medium Zelda Rubinstein says they haven't learned to move on. So what the fuck have they been doing this whole time, just sitting in the TV and possessing trees? That's asshole behavior and also smacks of someone who desperately needs an ethereal Xbox to stave off that douche boredom.
Vindictiveness is Huge
Say you wanted to kill someone, how would you do it? And this isn't a "What's the craziest way you can think of?" question, or how you would do it so you don't get caught. Just, say there's a dude across the room who really needs a killing, you've got a killy itch, and you need to get it done before Game Of Thrones comes on. What do you do? If we left a machete on the table for you, you might just take it and chop the guy right exactly in his big ol' neckhead. That seems easy. Well good luck coming back from the dead with that shitty attitude.
The dead who seek to make you dead could probably, very easily, kill you with a high degree of efficiency by getting a gun and shooting you while you're in a tequila blackout on the couch. But efficiency is for German factories, not unstoppable maniacs. Freddy Krueger didn't need to turn Johnny Depp into a blood fountain. Jason didn't need to fist a sauna rock into some guy's chest. But they did, because they're go-getters, and in his little shanty, next to his mom's severed head, Jason probably has a picture of a waterfall with the word "PERSEVERANCE" under it.
Spite and vindictiveness are the bread and butter of the dearly departed. Dying probably does make you pissy, so maybe that makes sense, but did you ever expect after you died that you'd have to strike a balance between ensuring you murder everyone you meet, and being a big enough dick to make these slashings memorable? And it's not just stabby killers. The ghost in The Conjuring plays a creepy clappy game with mom, the Poltergeist bastards possess that godforsaken clown doll, and that colorful goblin-like fellow in Insidious would probably leap out of your own asshole if it'd cause a good jump scare. Is any of that necessary? Hell no, it's just that the dead like the idea of torturing you because up yours, you life-filled meat bag. Up. Yours.
You're Bound By Arbitrary And Inconsistent Rules
The worst thing any of us can ever do is watch a sketchy, arthouse VHS film we found in the woods because that guarantees death in seven days. The implication of this video in The Ring is that Samara has to make a phone call and then set her alarm every time someone watches that video and, in the interim, just randomly fuck with people a little now and then. But no killing until that week is up. Except for that time in the Japanese version when she kills a guy who never even watched her video, and then in the American sequel when she angried up a bunch of deer. Rules? Man, fuck those things.
Even non-horror films that touch on the supernatural can't resist rules based on nothing that even borders on sense. Beetlejuice presents two ghosts bound to their house who can't really interact with the living world in any meaningful, non-calypso way. But then they start hanging out with a completely manic Michael Keaton with a snot-encrusted hairline who can turn your banister into a snake. But why? Why, goddamn it? Why is Beetlejuice free to do whatever he wants, but only if you say his name three times? I don't want Tim Burton to read the whole Handbook For The Recently Deceased to us, but maybe outline some key points about regulating a Phantom Michael Keaton.
Nearly every ghost has some kind of rules it has to follow. In Lights Out, it can't go into any light, Freddy can only hurt you when you're asleep, the ghosts in The Grudge have a grudge against logic and just kill anyone, seemingly anywhere at any time, despite apparently being rooted in a cursed house. Why did the cat have to be involved in that? How come the murdering husband got to come back and kill someone, too? It's the ghost equivalent of a hardcore match, except the steel chairs and tables are replaced with creaky doors and ultimately meaningless jump scares.
From a storytelling standpoint it makes sense that most ghost stories include a set of rules. If your undead creature has no rules, then the living are mighty fucked because dude is already dead, it's not like you can revoke his access to Amazon Prime or withhold dessert as some kind of punishment. He's just going to turn into vapor, slide up your ass and make you eat your family. That's hard to deal with.
Rules for ghosts would make a lot more sense if they applied all the time and with some kind of reasoned authority. Who's making these rules? How did Freddy end up in your dreams? Why is he there? And why does he just ignore that part of the mythology in A Nightmare On Elm Street 2? What dastardly video maven put together that goddamn tape for Samara in the first place? And does she seriously wait seven days to murder people because, as Rachel speculates with no evidence at all, that's how long the little monster survived in the well? Who gives a shit? What is she, Rain Man? Gotta watch Wapner on The People's Court every day at 6:00, and then kill everyone at 6:30?
You Don't Want Anything
I'm making a bold claim here, and it flies in the face of the most basic semblance of plot any horror movie has: None of these monsters or ghosts want anything. How could they? While it seems like Jason, Freddy, Kayako, Mama, the Poltergeists, Samara and all the rest are vaguely motivated by vengeance for a perceived wrong, not a single one of those silly tits even remotely goes about it in a way that has any sincerity. Freddy Krueger isn't taking out his vengeance on the people who killed him by attacking their children, he's just an asshole. The concept of vengeance, of righting a wrong, and of being bound to a place until things are resolved is some bullshit gaslighting that the plot throws at you.
There is no end game whatsoever for these creatures and that's proven by the most terrifying monster in all of Hollywood -- the sequel. In order for a sequel to exist, the notion of goals must not exist. If you, as a ghost or undead chucklefuck, are out for justice, you can't keep murdering every hapless stranger who crosses your path. That's like saying your goal is to make dinner and your method of accomplishing this includes emptying every grocery store in town into a burning pit of ham and despair.
The entire plot of the movie Mama revolves around a creepy, jerky-motion gibbon-terror who cares for a pair of girls in the woods until they're rescued, then it gets awfully pissy trying to get them back. It's discovered (spoilers for those not up to date on horror films from 2013) that she was a patient in an asylum who died with her child but was unaware of what happened to the baby so she'd been searching for the child ever since, and ended up caring for two living ones. So they find her real, actual baby and give it back. Yay, she can move on to the afterlife -- oh wait fuck no, she's just as crazy as ever. But wait, then one of the little girls dies to be with her and Mama and new child can exist in peace. Oh wait, fuck no, they're producing the sequel. Thanks to rendering the entire movie we just sat through as useless.
Sequels shit on motives in horror. Jason has slashed his way through nine franchise films, a Vs. film, and a reboot. It's painfully obvious at this point, as painful as being forced into a sleeping bag and beaten against a tree, that his purpose is frequent bursts of mass murder. He's not punishing anyone specifically, and certainly not getting revenge for being killed several times, or his mom getting killed. At some point that pretense just slipped away and we have a really shitty goalie who likes to dismember folks.
And on the surface I guess that's fine, but remember that this is someone's eternity. Just wearing a fucking gross old jacket and a pair of probably stolen Danner boots in the woods until you hear someone close enough to necessitate a machete stabbing. Oh, and occasionally you raid a sporting goods store in a nearby town for a new hockey mask. You know, just in case the current hockey mask is getting a little too caked in the innards of teenagers.
If that's not existentially more terrifying than anything else in those films, nothing is.
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