There I was in my local park, watching a special outdoor showing of The Creature From the Black Lagoon in a lawn chair, fighting off mosquitos coming for my precious blood. There was a point in the movie where The Creature (Gill-man to his friends) reaches out to grab at the young, delicate heroine swimming in a lake totally unattended. From behind me, I heard a guy say, “Come on Creature, get her!”
My life was changed. Did that dude just root for the bad guy and mean it? As a pro wrestling fan, I’m used to cheering on the heel (bad person to casuals!) if they put on a good show but in the end you still want the face — the good person — to triumph in the feud. Horror is a strange world where cheering for the monster is encouraged and sometimes downright proper. Some protagonists just bring doom upon themselves. Sometimes too much exposition is given to the killer’s motives and just like that, you relate to a man swinging a chainsaw. In honor of these sympathetic (and not so sympathetic) villains, for your Halloween perusal I present to you four movies that will make you say, “oh yeah, get those meddling kids!”
The Creature From the Black Lagoon
Now, The Creature is intended to be a sympathetic character, like a sea-dwelling Frankenstein’s monster. An expedition team discovers fossilized evidence of The Creature and decide to barge into pristine Amazon rainforest territory to look for him, then running scared when they find him. The locals warned them! Despite his fearsome appearance, it’s clear that The Creature is just curious about the boat and pretty girls swimming around outside.
Otherwise, he’s harmless and there’s no real reason to go after him instead of just leaving him be. The movie seems to sense this lack of tension and The Creature’s kills suddenly go from self-defense to joyful manslaughter and the crew’s motives switch from scientific curiosity to trophy hunting. The real “get ’em!” moment is near the end of the movie when The Creature traps the expedition with a dam and tries to exact a little watery vengeance. Unfortunately, The Creature’s plan backfires and he gets shot for his troubles. Good thing he has a healing factor. Then to add insult to injury, his humiliation conga gets ramped up in two sequels that will have you crying justice for Gill-man!
Like Gill-man, Pumpkinhead is intentionally sympathetic. But it’s hard to side with a gigantic winged creature that likes to exact gory vengeance…or is it?
For four movies (no kidding), Pumpkinhead does a good job of sparing the innocent and taking out only the most over the top, cartoonishly evil horror movie antagonists when it gets conjured up. It even gets involved in the Hatfields and McCoys feud, and that’s totally historically accurate. The only problem is, it’s hard to get Pumpkinhead to quit once it’s started and it tends to give his summoners a case of buyer’s remorse. Sometimes a fatal case of it. So in the end it’s still a demonic representation of the destructive nature of revenge, it just happens the people that it’s ripping apart are way, way worse.
Child’s Play 2
You know who isn’t meant to be sympathetic at all?
Charles Lee Ray.
Chucky the killer doll has been a national treasure for decades now, punning with the best of them and getting the jump on humans that should really know better. In the first Child’s Play, Chucky is an unrepentant serial killer trapped in the body of a doll. He can only transfer his soul to the first person who saw him; that lucky person happens to be Andy Barclay, a cute kid with a single working mom who just wants to do right by her kid.
Chucky’s only real flaw is that he tends to flip out when he doesn’t get his way, but by the second movie you start feeling for the dude: he’s still trapped in the most ’80s looking doll that’s not a Troll and Andy refuses to cooperate. Andy’s refusal to go along with the plan is just frustrating, as the movie shows him separated from his mom, stuck in a terrible foster home, and the only one that understands his predicament is the doll that caused it. Chucky was really about to do Andy a favor, then he finds out he’s trapped in the doll’s body permanently thanks to Andy’s hemming and hawing. When The Chuck finally loses it on Andy in the toy store it’s cathartic. Damn! No wonder he’s so obsessed with punching Andy straight in the face for four more movies, and you will be too.
The Bad Seed
Somehow, the film version of littlest serial killer Rhoda became way more relatable than her book counterpart
In The Bad Seed, William March writes Rhoda as a text-book amoral sociopath and uses the nature versus nurture argument to create a fine piece of psychological horror literature. In the movie, Rhoda still has her killer mean streak. But in a dark twist of fate, the Hays Code toning down or removing the more immoral aspects of her character gives her a lot of justification for her misanthropy. Rhoda’s just a cute little girl with pigtails who knows what she wants out of life; sadly, she’s surrounded by inept and condescending adults. The women in her life are scared off by her fatal ambitions and actively suppress her. The men are just terrible for no reason.
In the face of all this, Rhoda is wickedly assertive and competent, and most importantly she takes no business from anyone. Didn’t win the penmanship medal? Kill the kid that did and just take it. Harassed by creepy janitor Leroy? Light him up! It’s implied that Rhoda has inherited her grandmother’s penchant for murder, but that’s pseudoscientific bumpkiss I say. All she inherited was a strong will and a drive to succeed! Sometimes you just do what you have to do and Rhoda chooses to swing the hammer (into someone’s face). In fact, the movie does such a good job of accidentally justifying Rhoda’s actions that her comeuppance is literally a divine act because these mortals on Earth couldn’t stop her moxie. Do what I do and turn the movie off about five minutes from the end. Baby gets what baby wants!