Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Six Movies That Went Ahead and Killed Their Leads Before the Third Act

Horror, like many genres, often tends to follow certain formulas.  Unlike most genres, however, these formulas dictate who will make it to the end credits alive.  As most slasher fans know, for example, drug use and fornication are often capital offenses, particularly for the ladies.  Even when we're not following slasher rules, however, it's usually pretty easy to figure out who's going to make it to the end of the movie.  But as we'll see below, sometimes a movie will throw the audience a curve ball and take out the presumptive lead well before the credits are due to appear.  

Warning:  Major Spoilers Follow!!


The Doomed Lead:

Marion Crane is on screen for 99% of the first half of Alfred Hitchcock's 1960 thriller.  She's got typical leading lady characteristics for 1950s Hollywood (re: blond) and, what's more, her character has some substance.  When she steals $40,000 from the rich cowboy/walking sexual harassment lawsuit, we get some great scenes of her anticipating the fall-out and trying to figure out her next move.  She's got a real femme fatale feel going for her.  Then she makes the mistake of taking a shower at the Bates Motel, dooming not only herself but also generations of women unfortunate enough to find themselves in slasher films.

The Replacement Lead:

I suppose an argument could be made that Marion's sister, Lila, takes over the lead as she investigates her sister's demise.  However, I have to say that Psycho belongs to Norman Bates as soon as he makes his first appearance.  Anthony Perkins hits every note perfectly as we first see him as mild-mannered hotelier, then as the dutiful, if unhinged, son protecting his mother, and then finally as the titular psychopath.  After all, nothing says your movie's lead also has to be the hero.


The Doomed Lead:

The beginning of Ridley Scott's deep space horror flick plays more like an ensemble, with the entire crew of the Nostromo given their own character arcs and moments to shine.  As captain, however, Tom Skerrit's Dallas makes the decisions that steer the story line.  That is, until he makes the decision to search for the ship's extraterrestrial stowaway in the ductwork, leading to the scariest scene you'll ever see that primarily features two blinking dots.

The Replacement Lead

I'll be damned if I'm calling Ellen Ripley a replacement anything.  She's genre royalty and enough has been written about her to fill several books so I won't bother adding my two cents .  However, if you'd like to hear some interesting analysis of Ripley's character progression through the franchise, Faculty of Horror just released part one of their Alien retrospective where they make a pretty compelling case that for all of her badassery in Aliens, Ripley provides a stronger feminist portrayal in the original.

Nightmare on Elm Street

The Doomed Lead


I suppose that at the height of the slasher wave of the early 80s, we should know that Tina may not meet the typical Final Girl criteria.  She's blond, highly feminine, and perhaps most damning of all, she has sexual relations!  However, she's also the first character introduced in the movie, and her initial nightmare with child killer Fred Krueger (you can call him Freddy) indicates that we'll be watching this story unfold with her as the primary focal point.  Her next dream, however, does not end with her jolting awake, but rather bleeding out while splayed across the ceiling of her mother's bedroom.

The Replacement Lead

Nancy Thompson better fits the prototypical Final Girl model, as she's a bit of a tomboy and keeps it in her pants, which obviously any lady needs to do if she wants to ward off serial killers.  What sets Heather Langenkamp's Nancy apart from most Final Girls, however, is that she's not one to simply flee the killer.  She sets a series of boobie traps that would make Kevin McCallister proud and brings the fight to the son of a 100 maniacs.

Freddy's Dead

The Doomed Lead

In what was never actually going to be the last installment, "The Final Nightmare" seemed to be bringing things full circle by introducing a decoy Final Girl.  The twist this time, however, is that the fake Final Girl is a dude!  John Doe, as with the original NOES, is the first character introduced, and we spend the majority of the first half of the film with him.  We might even believe him to be Freddy's son!  The rug is pulled out from under him (figuratively) and replaced by a table of spikes (literally) as John meets a bloody, if not goofy, demise.  I will admit, the first time I saw this movie I was completely caught off guard when John Doe got killed.  In my defense, however, I was 8 years old at the time.

The Replacement Lead

It turns out John Doe was merely Freddy's way to get out of Springwood and find Maggie, his long, lost daughter!  Perhaps finding her was not such a swell idea, however, as she would be the one to finally kill Freddy with dynamite.  Because as we all know that's the only way to release the Dream Demons.  You know, the ones that we never hear about in any of the previous five movies even though they are a crucial component of Freddy's power.


The Doomed Lead

In most movies with the premise of two friends backpacking through Europe, Josh would be the shy, socially awkward lead who accidentally eats pot brownies before meeting the Pope or winds up naked in Piccadilly Circus.  In Hostel, however, Josh's journey of debauchery ends with him being tortured to death by a weasely little German guy working through insecurities for not being able to make it as a surgeon.

The Replacement Lead

I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that Eli Roth would write a story where the dude-bro survives.  I was in college when I first saw Hostel, so I probably wasn't as cognizant of the fact that Paxton is kind of an asshole, (which I suppose says a lot about what I was like in college).  That being said, compared to guys who pay money to torture and kill hapless tourists, Paxton is downright swell, and I did find myself cheering him on when he caught up to the aforementioned weasely German guy.


The Doomed Lead

Poor Jenn.  All she wanted was a weekend with her friends to forget about the fact that she just broke up with her boyfriend for cheating on her.  When a group of guys crash the weekend getaway, not only is her ex with them, but she finds out that one of her best friends is the girl with whom he cheated.  Add to that the fact that the group is attacked by zombified beavers who turn Jenn into a human/beaver/zombie hybrid, and I'd say we can call that weekend a bust.

The Replacement Lead

The main reason that I included Zombeavers in this list is because Zoe is the anti-Final Girl.  She's topless almost as soon as they arrive at the cabin, she has sex multiple times in a move with a very short running time, and she's snarky as hell.  Promiscuity and personality are generally a death sentence in a horror movie, and while it must be said that Zoe does in fact eat it at the end of the movie, she does live longer than anyone else in her group of friend.  And for that, I salute her.

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