Friday, July 24, 2009

D'oh! So That's Why I'm Dead

Devoted horror fans put up with a lot. Bad acting and clunky dialogue are often standard, while roving misogyny and special effects made during arts ‘n’ crafts class are not uncommon. Worse of all, we find ourselves constantly defending a genre littered with characters that make Jessica Simpson look like a Rhodes Scholar.

Sadly even good horror films are not immune. Let’s look at a few examples where seemingly smart characters doom themselves with stupid decisions. 

Mapping The Blair Witch Project

From the plain-faced actors to the music-less sounds of autumn, The Blair Witch Project achieved a sense of realism so true, gullible fans formed vigilant search missions to save the ill-fated (and fictional) filmmaker trio. For all its clever plotting and subtle scenes, however, there is one glaring plot flaw that could make even the most loyal fan say, “At least Book of Shadows didn’t do that.

"I kicked the map into the river!"proclaims the giggling, near hysteric Mike. It’s certainly understandable that being lost in the woods and low on food would play with our characters’ heads here and there, but could it also transform a once smart man into a total idiot? Granted, the map would probably have served no other purpose than becoming a sharp paper airplane to jab into Heather’s eye, but still: making a character that careless cuts our sympathies by a granola bar portion.

The Beyond Stupidity

It’s easy to watch a zombie film these days with a sense of superiority. After experiencing hundreds encounters with shamblers, sprinters, talkers, and every other varietal, most discerning fans know the only way to survive a meeting with an undead warrior is to shoot him or her in the head. Of course, in 1981, this wasn’t quite universal knowledge and thus, David Warbek’s heroic doctor in Lucio Fulci’s surreal classic is somewhat excused for firing a few stray rounds. For an untrained marksman, the head is not always the most obvious target.

Of course, all that should change when, after shooting a bunch of rotting corpses to no effect in the stomach, a head shot finally takes one down. Most people--especially those with enough intelligence to pass medical school--would probably reason that repeating said shot could defeat the approaching monsters. This guy? Not so much. Then again, he does load his rifle by dropping bullets down the barrel, so maybe he just knows something we don’t.

Taking Advantage of The Ruins

Stranded on an abandoned temple, surrounded by gun-wielding natives, and running out of food and water, the five pretty young people of 2008’s surprisingly good little horror film have little hope for survival. Well, they do have one weapon but despite the fair amount of intelligence present in these young college educated characters, no one thinks to take advantage of the one piece of leverage they have against their human antagonists: the villainous plants. 

When Jenna Malone breaks down, she hurls a loose piece of greenery straight at her captors. It brushes a young boy and before you can say poison ivy, another local soldier instantly shoots the unlucky fellow. Logic would follow that tossing a few more flowers in their direction could buy a little time by inciting a shootout, perhaps providing enough chaos for a frantic escape. I guess our party girls and boys slept through Logic and Survival Skills 101 freshman year.

That Darned Pet Sematary

Mary Lamber’s 1989 adaptation of Stephen King’s novel has produced its share of nightmares (in mine, Gage and Chucky would teamed up against me as the world’s scariest duo with a combined height under four feet) but in order to truly  be frightened, the audience is forced to endure not one but three character decisions that defy basic logic.

The kindly retired Hermann Munster/author of wonderful children’s books Fred Gwynne plays a weathered old man who knows his home town well. Upon the death of the new neighbors’ beloved kitty, Gwynne’s Jud encourages Mr. Creed to bury it in the local pet graveyard, knowing full well that what goes into the ground will come up...different. And never good.

Not surprisingly, the feline Church returns with an extremely unreasonable dose of cattitude. You’d think the young father had learned his lesson, but then true tragedy strikes, killing his young son. Naturally, the best idea seems to be a post-mortem move back into the old neighborhood. This not-so-bright decision can certainly be excused when taking into account the grief of losing a child, so I’ll cut the grieving father some slack. However, upon being widowed (whaddya know, by the very monster he helped to create), Mr. Creed returns again to the clearly cursed pet cemetery to bury his late wife. Because surely three times is the charm.

Really? Sure, your daughter is conveniently stashed away at Grandma’s, but if you think this move is going to inspire a second honeymoon, prepare for some serious disappointment.

Dumbness in Dawn of the Dead ’04

I spent several years working in the pet care industry and have owned dogs and cats my whole life. I know how deeply love can run with the canine species. 

I’m also not an idiot.

According to Zack Snyder and James Gunn’s revision of the zombie rules, freshly spry corpses run faster than Ricky Henderson in his prime. They’re also pickier eaters than the average supermodel, preferring an Atkins friendly menu of human meat with no cheats allowed on puppy ribs. Hence, when border collie Chips is dispatched to bring a few sandwiches to the sharpshooting Andy, he doesn’t need protection. 

Tell that to the whiny redhead who puts several lives in danger attempting to rescue the completely safe dog.

So am I being too hard on these intellectually inferior (and massively unlucky) characters, or should they all invest in a few good books? And which other casts would you nominate for Darwin Awards and certain death?


  1. Your column is a classic...bad horror decision could probably fill up more columns than could even be written!

  2. This is true; at this point in my viewing life, I find myself actually defending stupid decisions by rationalizing just why and how a character could possibly make them. I usually chalk it up to dehydration and nerves.