Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Best in Class: Horror Youth Superlatives

If there's one thing that's no secret to people who know me, it's that I love well-done movies about youths. To the point where I've considered making a separate blog just to take a stab at writing some essays about my love for the likes of films such as Jawbreaker and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.  Whether it's about teenagers or young adults, just do it well and I'll be giving it a watch at some point. So, as a fun Buzzfeed-style post for my Back to School Month content, I thought it'd be fun to commemorate some of the best youths in horror films. Those who saved the day, gave the best attitude or simply went out in a blaze of glory. Hit the jump to see what superlatives these youths will receive:

Most Popular -> Helen (I Know What You Did Last Summer)

Quote: "We should have a plan; Angela Lansbury always had a plan."

Horror fans love them some Helen Shivers from I Know What You Did Last Summer. Partly because of the choice of actress, as Sarah Michelle Gellar has amassed a lot of love from the horror community for playing the titular role in Buffy: The Vampire Slayer. But also because Helen is, in my opinion (and I'd say a lot of others', as well) the true star of Last Summer: Sure, technically Julie James (Jennifer Love Hewitt) is the final girl, but I'd argue Helen is more of a narrative protagonist than Julie is. More of the movie follows Helen than Julie as we learn what's happened to the group in the aftermath of the accident which resulted in the two women and their boyfriends allegedly killing fisherman Ben Willis. We discover that Helen has experienced a fall from grace o sorts and has been relegated to working at her sister's store for most of the year Julie has been away. She also gets the bigger emotional beats of the film, such as being the one to ask Julie, "What happened to us?" as well as really wanting to reconnect with Julie, Barry (Ryan Philippe) and Ray (Freddie Prinze, Jr.) Not to mention, Helen gets the standout set piece of the film in which the killer chases her throughout the town, until she meets her untimely end just as she's about to successfully escape. Helen might not have survived Last Summer, but at least her legacy as the most popular component of the movie lives on.

Biggest Heartthrob -> Max (The Babysitter)

Quote: "I'm not like the others: I came here to kill people."

Remember in my review of The Babysitter: Killer Queen, where I talked about how I could watch a whole film centered around Robbie Amell's character Max? Yeah, I wasn't kidding around: Amell is great as the perpetually shirtless and psychotic jock trying to help Bee fulfill her quest to complete her satanic ritual. Especially as his character becomes somewhat of a contradiction: While he's out to get Cole, he ends up becoming somewhat of a mentor to him. He tries to help Cole (Judah Lewis) not only fend off some neighborhood bullies, but win the affections of his crush Melanie (Emily Alyn Lind). Max blurs the line between enemy and friend to the point where it becomes sad to see him meet his inevitable fate, and happy to see him make his equally inevitable return in Killer Queen. A guy who's willing to help the less fortunate and looks like that? Without a doubt, Max is Biggest Heartthrob.

Life of the Party -> Lynda (Halloween)

Quote: "See anything you like?"

Halloween's Lynda Van Der Klok is a hoot and a half: While she arguably gets the least to actually do in the film of the main trio of girls, she's still entirely memorable thanks to the personality PJ Soles embeds in the character. Soles was sought out for the part by John Carpenter, whom wanted to work with the actress after seeing her performance as mean girl Norma Watson in Brian De Palma's adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie. Soles carries over the more likable parts of Norma into Lynda, and gives her a less malicious and more fun and flirty edge that would become a trademark for similar characters in the slasher films that follow. Especially when the time comes for her to face killer Michael Myers, laughably disguised as her boyfriend Bob underneath a sheet. Instead of being weirded out, she's totally into it and teases the killer. Who could forget Soles's fabulous delivery of "Got your ghost, Bob?" and, of course, the iconic quote above. While Lynda doesn't actually get to do any partying, there's no doubt she would totally be at the center of one.

Best B.I.T.C.H. (Beauty, Intelligence, Talent, Charisma, Hoobastank!) -> Tree (Happy Death Day)

Quote: "Who takes their date to Subway? It's not like you have a footlong." 

Was there any doubt that Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) wasn't going to snatch this title? Happy Death Day's Tree is bitchy with a capital B, and unapologetic about it to bot. When we're introduced to her, she's dismissive of everybody around her, whether it's friends, family or even strangers just trying to get her to sign their petition to save the planet. She's also having an affair with her professor (Charles Aitken), who happens to be married. And, oh yeah, on top of all of that, she's attracted the attention of a killer in a baby mask that's determined to finish her off even though she keeps reliving her birthday over and over and over again. The wonderful thing about Tree isn't just that she's delightfully bitchy, nor that she goes through a character arc through both films in which she does learn to become what most would consider a better person. It's that no matter what, Tree is allowed to keep her bite. Sure, she'll learn to live her death day the "right" way, but she never takes it lying down. This is best highlighted by both films's infamous montages of Tree's repeated deaths: Set to the songs "Confident" by Demi Lovato and "Hard Times" by Paramore, Tree embraces her time loop while trying to deal with the predicaments they bring on her with the utmost snark and sass. Nothing says bitchery like using her time loop as an excuse to blow off steam and kill your best frenemy along with yourself.

Best Hair -> Brenda (Urban Legend)

Quote: "Well, lucky for you, Miss THAAAAANG!"

Brenda Bates has some killer curls that particularly pop when she's outed as the antagonist of 1998's Urban Legend. But let's talk about why I'm really including her in this: While I personally think Urban Legend, while good, is kind of dated, Rebecca Gayheart's Brenda remains an iconic entry in to the hall of memorable youths in horror. For a lot of the film, Brenda takes on the role of the considerate, yet somewhat overlooked, best friend to final girl Natalie (Alicia Witt). She displays a personality that Gayheart would evoke more straightforwardly in her role in the following year's cult teen film Jawbreaker. But, as many have decreed, it's when the climax reveals her to be the killer that Gayheart and Brenda truly to get shine. Brenda goes from kind best friend to an angry, avenging archangel wanting revenge for what Natalie did to her boyfriend. And Gayheart sells the transformation perfectly, giving Brenda the manic, highly unstable energy needed for the big reveal. There's a reason why the above line and others such as the memetic "DING DING DING DING DING!!!!" have lived on in fans's memories longer than the rest of the actual movie. Simply put, Brenda is a legend, and her gigantic curls are the cherry on top.

Best Antagonist: Nancy (The Craft)

Quote: "You the old days if a witch betrayed her coven, they would kill her."

There's a lot of memorable villainous youths, but none so equally terrifying and mesmerizing as Nancy Downs (Fairuza Balk) from The Craft. Nancy is the leader of the coven of outcasts at her school, and rules the coven with fear and manipulation, despite the fact that she and her followers, Bonnie and Rochelle (Neve Campbell & Rachel True) don't have any magical powers and have to leach off of power of newbie Sarah (Robin Tunney). If there's any marker of Nancy's true character, it's that while the other witches perform the ritual to feel more of a belonging in their school environment (Bonnie to heal her burn scars, Rochelle to get revenge on a racist and Sarah to get the attention of a boy she's crushing on), Nancy wishes for personal riches and power that she ends up getting through causing the death of her stepfather. Balk makes her appropriately fierce and menacing, dialing it up when necessary and keeping it frosty when she needs to intimidate or behave passive aggressively. One only needs to watch the famous scene where she confronts Sarah's crush (Skeet Ulrich) and kills him in rage to know that Nancy is a fantastic villain and one not to be reckoned with.

Best Death (May They R.I.P.) -> Ashley & Ashlyn (Final Destination 3)

Quote: "Why are you even here?", "Yeah, you graduated, like, two years ago!"

The Final Destination franchise is known primarily for the increasingly elaborate ways the filmmakers can find to kill its mostly young ensembles off with. But none take the cake so much as the deaths of best friends Ashley Freund (Chelan Simmons) and Ashlyn Halperin (Crystal Lowe) in the third installment. The preppie duo don't last very long in the third installment, being the first main characters to bite it after the traditional disaster set piece that kicks off every Final Destination film. Yet their death, in which the two are killed by death inside of twin tanning beds, is undeniably the best of the film (and one of the best of the franchise as a whole). It's wonderfully filmed, with the neon blue lighting of the tanning bed, and has a great mix of practical and digital effects as Ashley and Ashlyn are slowly burnt alive inside the machines. Combine that with Simmons and Lowe selling the fuck out of their deaths, and you have one of the best death scenes to befall youths in a horror film.

Best Final Boy -> Peter (Hereditary)

Quote: "Just say it! Just fucking say it!"

The final boy is a somewhat rare occurrence in horror films, as the genre is typically female-dominated. But they're not totally uncommon, and one example is Hereditary's Peter Graham (Alex Wolff). While the film's plot doesn't lend itself to the concept of the final boy by any means, Peter is still one of the narrative protagonists of the film. As well as technically the last protagonist standing, so, as such, I'm counting him as a final boy. Peter gets put through the absolute winger in this film: He begins the film losing his grandmother (even though they were purposefully kept apart by his mother), then has a car accident resulting in the death of his younger sister (Milly Shapiro), is left grieving said sister while dealing with escalating tension with his mother (Toni Collette) all while a cult is enacting their plot to steal his body to host their worshipped demon. Yet, Peter is always a relatable and, most importantly, an understandable character to the audience even during his darker moments. The combination of Wolff's terrific and expressive performance, along with filmmaker Ari Aster's terrific direction and script made Peter Graham rise above the small crowd of final boys. Hail Paimon, indeed.

Best Final Girl -> Sidney (Scream)

Quote: "What's the point? They're all the same: Some stupid killer stalking some big-breasted girl who can't act who is always running up the stairs when she should be running out the front door. It's insulting."

There are a lot of famous final girls: Laurie Strode, Nancy Thompson, Alice Hardy. Among those happens to one Sidney Prescott from the Scream franchise; Sidney, played by The Craft's Neve Campbell. Sidney, like our Best Final Boy Peter, is put through the winger: Her mother is brutalized and murdered, her boyfriend begins demanding more from her than she's comfortable with, she has to contend with reporter Gale Weathers (Courteney Cox) trying to insist she falsely convicted Cotton Weary (Liev Schreiber) for being her mom's killer, and then she finds herself at the center of a series of escalating murders. And that's only in the first film! However, as Scream is the post-modern slasher, Sidney, herself, is filmmaker Wes Craven's post-modern final girl and knows exactly what movie she's in. While not without her emotional moments, Sidney is fierce as fuck and triumphant over Ghostface not just once, but four separate times over the years. To quote the woman herself, "Don't fuck with the original."

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