Our society is obsessed with cliches. We find them in all kinds of stories and even in our own lives, so much so that they have almost become ritualistic. One of these rituals, as we may call it, is included within horror culture and is the predictable method of character preservation. The timeline of murder seems to surround the ideas of a cliche. An example of one of these cliches is when we are introduced to a black character or a slutty female character. We can always assume they are going to die first. The plot can hardly be developed, but you will see them die before it is. It makes the audience feel in control of the storyline and satisfies their desire for the cliche that we all know and love.
But the most notorious ritual is the preservation of the misfit in any story of murder. In most stories, this “misfit” is characterized by the flaws that separate them from the others. These flaws can include anything from being a virgin, nerd, loner, or struggling with establishing their own identity while being pressured into conformity. Think of my previous example of the entire Scream franchise. Our misfit, Sidney Prescott, has struggled her entire life with not accepting conformity. In the presence of a series of murders surrounding her personal life, she ends up isolating herself entirely and becoming an anonymous misfit in society. Even though these misfits are almost never the ones to be killed, they are always central to the killer’s motivation. Why, you ask? Because the killer is also a misfit.
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Our viewership tends to be curated entirely around the character of the misfit. The plot of the story can always circle around their habits, their friends, their family, or their desires and fears. We are even at some point forced to sympathize with them, whether it’s because of a history of being bullied, the loss of a loved one, or the inability to be accepted for who they are. All are cliche methods of emotional torture that led to the creation of our misfits and killers and what ultimately foreshadows their gruesome union.
My favorite example of this is John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s classic 1978 story, Halloween. The misfit, of course, is Michael Myers. In the book’s version written by Curtis Richards, Edith Myers describes the struggles following young Michael Myers: “I told you, he’s been getting into fights at school. At home, too, with Judith. He’s been wetting his bed again, which he hasn’t done in three years.” When asked what these struggles are created by, Edith replies, “Voices. […] He hears voices.” At one point in the story, our famous Halloween killer was once just another character in a story. Our misfit is created.
His first murder at the age of eight years old is defined by his confusing, but undeniable desire to be the creator of death. His curiosities are amplified by the voices in his head. He relishes in the idea of terror in the body of his dying sister, Judith. The relationship between Michael, the knife, and his sister’s body is pure exultation. It satisfies the voices in his head like no other desirable act could. Our killer is created.
Enter now Laurie Strode. A virgin, a babysitter, and naturally good person. Laurie struggles with her identity while her closest friends mock her inability to conform to natural teenage misbehavior. Yet, as Halloween approaches in the hometown of a famous child murderer, she begins to question her desires. She begins to question her lust for misbehavior — not for drugs, or sex, or parties, but for murder. Laurie asks young Tommy Doyle that she often sits for, “Have you ever felt like – like killing somebody?” A question she never thought to ask, not until she thought of Michael Myers. She begins to imagine herself like Michael Myers, attracted to the perversion of murder and the fascination of innocence, and how the two so easily married in Michael. She begins to think, could she be capable of the same horrors? We have our second misfit.
It isn’t until she eventually wields the killer’s knife in her own hands, just as her dark curiosities led her to imagine, that she experiences the same thrill. Her innocence is stripped away and replaced by the perversion of death. She is now in control of the story. She is now our killer.
It won’t surprise you that by the end of the story Laurie’s life never comes to a gruesome end, no matter how hard the killer tried. It also won’t surprise you that the killer never meets his own desirable fate, no matter how hard Laurie tried. In this story, our misfit cliche has come full circle. As we have seen, that circle is also called a franchise.
I spend a lot of time reading and watching horror, and became interested in discovering where I would be placed within a story. There’s no accurate way to measure it, but thankfully Buzzfeed has a quiz for everything! Albeit quite biased, I decided to give it a try. Looks like they too see the relationship between misfits and killers! Take the quiz here and see what you get!