Recently, I did a podcast with my friend Stevie Love about holiday movies, which you can listen to HERE. Stevie and I are both fans of horror movies, and it seemed logical to get Stevie over here on Wildfire to talk about the life lessons that we can learn from good old fashioned scary movies!
Warning: Spoilers follow.
I’m a horror films chick. I’ve seen every installment in the Hellraiser franchise, including the awful one where the demonic Pinhead somehow kills people using the internet. My son and I once stayed up past midnight, laughing at Friday the 13th: Jason Takes Manhattan You have not lived until you’ve seen the part where Jason punches a man’s head off in a fight.
Ah, memories of summer. There’s nothing like the Replay button on the DVR remote when it comes to parent/child bonding.
Jason and Pinhead are dear mates of mine, but my favorite horror franchise of all time is Texas Chainsaw Massacre. If you haven’t seen it, the plot is pretty simple: Insane poverty-stricken family in rural Texas kidnaps lost travelers, hack them to bits, process them like meat, and then eat them. The villain/hero of the series is Leatherface, young son of the unbossed and unbathed Sawyer family.
Leatherface is a hulking man-child with a skin condition that the films never specify. The only treatment for the illness, it seems, is to wear masks made from the faces of one’s murder victims. Leatherface is a victim of the rural Texas healthcare system, just as Leatherface’s mostly teenage abductees are victims of Leatherface and the enormous gas-powered chainsaw he uses to expedite his daily to-do list.
If you can get past his gruff exterior (and his chainsaw), you will find there are worse things than being Leatherface’s pupil. For example, he is extremely loyal to his family; he even spares one girl’s life once he realizes she is his cousin (in Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning, released in 2006). There are other bits of wisdom hidden in the piles of stripped bones and entrails that form the sickening core of these films. I invite you to discover them with me. There will not be a pop quiz, but you may be hacked to pieces in a toolshed if you don’t pay attention.
- Take care of your elders.
Leatherface has a grandfather. In the original 1974 film, Grandpa appears as an ancient, withered, corpse-like retiree who slaughtered cattle for years, until the processing plant shut down and killed the town’s economy.
The Sawyers could have put the old man in a nursing home or psych ward. They could have eaten him. Instead, they keep him at home, take care of him, dress him in fancy city clothes (the film never explains why the old man wears a suit and tie), and even give him a chance to relive his glory days by smashing a young woman’s head in with a hammer. If more people followed Leatherface and his kinfolks’ example, more human beings would be able to live and die with their dignity intact.
- A healthy contempt for authority may save your life.
In the 2003 Chainsaw reboot, archetypal loudmouth actor R. Lee Ermy shows up as a sheriff, ostensibly there to help the young protagonists out of the mess they’re in. Instead, he toys with them, assaults them, mocks them, and finally delivers them into the hands of Leatherface.
Why are the characters so invested in the idea of the police as helpful figures, even when the Sheriff starts revealing his sadistic nature? Because, as products of the American public school system, they never learned to question, resist, or flee from corrupt authority. I thank God for helping me sleep or cut class all through high school, so that She could teach me this and other lifesaving truths via low-budget horror films.
Never take authority figures at face value. Enough said.
- You will not escape alive and unscarred.
Without giving too much of the plot away, I can say that every Texas Chainsaw film follows the standard “final girl” motif. But what must life be like after watching one’s friends being tortured to death by a monstrous preadolescent boy in the body of a deformed adult? It would likely involve a lot of nightmares, inability to form relationships or keep a job, and a constant feeling of paranoia, obsessing over whether Leatherface will show up to finish you off. In other words, the rest of your life would be a struggle with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, served with a side of survivor guilt.
There are many ways to live one’s life, but they all involve taking risks. Sometimes risks pay off. Other times, they end with you barely escaping the monsters who walk in our world or, worse, learning to live with those monsters as a constant presence.
There is only one way a life comes to an end-it’s called death, if you need it spelled out. While you’re here, it’s best to keep this in mind. It will help you avoid things that may waste your time, energy and peace of mind, things like going into a decrepit farmhouse filled with cannibals and old bones to use the phone.
Acceptance of one’s impending death, and the appreciation of life that comes with it, are timeless, valuable, universal lessons. That Chainsaw uses graphic scenes of torture, kidnapping, mutilation, untreated pyschosis and unrelenting brutality does not detract from the lesson. As in teaching, the learning outcome is the focus; curriculum and content are just the tools we use to get there.
As long as you’re here, in the processing plant of life, you may as well take care of your loved ones, even the ones who look and act like animated corpses. And remember—a healthy contempt for authority can mean the difference between success and failure. Never let a boss, police officer, parent or other person in charge intimidate you, no matter how loud their mouth gets.