Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are We Dead Yet?

In a few days, I’ll be hopping in a car and driving down south with a few friends for a mobile summer vacation. I know what you’re thinking: how could someone so well-versed in horror films possibly risk such a journey unless she’s itching to be chased, violated, and eaten by prehistoric cave people or rabidly maladjusted children. Thankfully, it’s because of those countless hours spent in front of straight-to-VHS rentals that I’m confident I have what it takes to survive. To be sure, I’ve compiled a few key points to remember when traveling through unchartered (at least by urbanite) terrain in an automobile.

1. Focus on the road

I have an odd, yet justified hatred of any film--particularly horror--that spends too much time in the front seat of a moving vehicle. More often than not, such a scene will feature the driver irresponsibly turning his or her head towards the passenger to carry out a conversation only to then cut to the shocked partner screaming “Watch out!” as the car veers off the road to avoid hitting a stray animal, child, or ghostly presence. (See The Descent, Children of the Corn, and about a thousand other films featuring more than one character on a highway.) A variation on this lesson can be seen in one of the most popular recent entries in the road trip gone awry genre, Wrong Turn. Leave it to seemingly intelligent med student Desmond Harrington to make the fatal error of shifting his focus from the windshield to the radio. The result? A broken leg, busted Mustang, and deadly chase with cannibalistic inbred West Virginian mutants. Take heed, young viewers: as humans, most of us only have two eyes. Glue ‘em to the windshield and let no spatula pry them off.

2. No skinny dipping

Partially because most natural waters are littered with some very unnatural waste. Also, if my 9th grade biology teacher was telling the truth, August is the time for clams and other sea creatures to deposit their sperm in aquatic environments for the reproduction season. Personally, I’m not quite at the right time in my life to cross into Cronenbergian body territory as the woman impregnated by a mollusk. (I get the feeling such a process is far less fun than it sounds.) The most important reason to stay clothed in the water, however, is that skinny dipping is, by all rules of the horror canon, a sin punishable by death. Take the nice young ladies of Tourist Trap, none of whom partake in any visible sexual activity, all of whom experienced terrifying abuse at the waxy hands of a backwoods artist who got a fleeting glance of their young bodies when they made the fatal error of diving bare into a private lake. Sometimes, that's all it takes to then be strangled, stabbed, and molded into a loose-jawed mannequin.

3. No hitchhikers

What, you mean I shouldn’t pull over and open my car door to that dusty bearded hobo with suspiciously red fluid leaking from his sack? But what of my karma, you ask, with good samaritan glitter in your wide eyes. Keep a running tab and call Sally Struthers when you get a fews bars on your cell phone. Picking up hitchhikers is the surest ticket to a bloody chase at the wrong end of a chainsaw or pesky stalking courtesy of one of the truest psychopaths cinema has ever given us in the pristinely blond body of Rutger Hauer. Remember Leatherface’s skinny big brother? Or how about the gutty mess those unlucky pretty young people never got the chance to clean up in the 2003 remake? Not to mention the finger fries and torso tearing of The Hitcher . Sure, that obnoxious Franklin deserved a little stabbage, but then you (and by default, us) had to deal with his whinings all night. And yes, driving solo cross country can be a lonely, but that’s what obnoxious radio commercials and unfunny DJs were made for. Just remember to see Rule #1 and tuned into one station until the next red light. 

4. No sassing the locals

Sure, rural townsfolk are different, what with their soder pop and mustard on hamburgers (in New York, that offense will send you straight to Ryker’s Island Maximum Security Prison). Always remember, however, that those same bumpkins whose blackened teeth gave you a chuckle can lead you straight into disaster, such as the wrong end of a black market organ donation ring a la Turistas. Eli Roth’s comedic horror homage Cabin Fever is ripe with lessons on how to behave south of the Mason Dixon Line. A few I picked up:

a) Never force a friendship on shy children. Some are socially awkward, but more importantly, some are well-versed in kung fu

b) No thieving the mom-and-pop shops. Particularly when pop wields a shotgun.

c) Avoid peeping on married women. This is an especially bad idea when your friends are dying, you’ve blown up your car, and you may be infected with a flesh eating bacteria like silly little Ryder Strong, who loses his last chance of getting some help when he lingers a tad too long at a local’s window. 

5. No taking advice about off-the-beaten track attractions from locals

It’s not on a map. GPS has nothing to say about it. But that scabby clown dripping in fried chicken grease swears it’s the greatest place since Dollywood. That’s right folks, do not, I repeat, do NOT take traveling directions from suspicious locals, particularly when they survived Spider Baby to grow into older, rounder, and more vicious backwoods peddlers of local town lore like Sid Haig's Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses. This is a man who, along with his not-quite-fit-for-society family, is so evil he'd actually lure Rainn Wilson into death. You have to be pretty badass to take down Dwight Schrute, and/or really heartless to want Rainn Wilson exterminated. So. If you hit a rest stop littered with mutated skeletons and busting with whispers of a true roadside attraction detailing the life of one of the country's most brutal serial killers...

Oh who am I kidding. There’s no way in hell would I NOT take that advice. The only real question is at whose hands do I ultimately perish. Considering my lifelong complications with Barnum & Bailey's most ubiquitous entertainers, my corpse will probably be shipped home stained with white pancake makeup. But hopefully, I’ll experience enough adventure in those fleeting moments before my untimely death to crank out a few more blogs from beyond the grave. 

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