Header image from The Night of the Hunter (1955), a WAY too creepy movie.
I think we know the plot device by heart. Hell, they’re probably the main reason why we ended up with so many damned Scary Movie sequels and other tribute/parody films over the years.
For this immediate example, I’m going to take scenes of Helen’s chase (Sarah Michelle Gellar) from I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997). I chose this one because it had the most gifs I could work with.
But seriously, I liked it when I was a teen because it had a great deal of suspense, though some red herrings were a little annoying, I admit. Still, worth a watch, and apologize for the (abbreviated) spoiler moments.
It’s that scene that’s been around a damned long time; we know the scenario: The killer–long established by now–is walking at a steady pace behind a running person (usually female), who is jumping, climbing, falling, limping, trying to start a car, etc. while screaming like a maniac for help.Then, if they’re lucky enough to actually GET help, they’re not believed and probably looked at like they’re crazy…at least until the hook, knife, sword, chainsaw, etc. ends up going through the “coulda-woulda-shoulda-been-paying-attention” rescuer.Well, if the initial victim doesn’t get killed right away, then it’s time to continue on with the chase, only they are usually impaired in some way, screaming their heads off AGAIN!
If they’ve made it this far, like our poor Helen, they’re running out of steam and know it and suddenly see a place that may offer safety or a chance to lose the killer. It’s usually a place that’s bright, possibly loud, and with lots of people.
An optional touch is also that this pursued victim may have stopped screaming… briefly.At this point, the pursued victim wonders if this prospective safe place has already made the killer stop the pursuit and maybe they can FINALLY take a break. So, said victim-to-be takes a breath and turns around to see…
Most likely nothing.
So the victim-to-be turns back around to keep going toward safety… and…Buh-bye, Helen. You gave it a good run…and I mean that.
Honestly, how many times have we seen this in horror movies? I started this post with the image from The Night of the Hunter because this is one of the oldest movies that I’ve noticed this “slow pursuer, frantic pursued” dynamic play out.
This even had a great parody moment in the Simpson’s episode where Bart skips class and ends up seeing a waiter’s beating (then it goes to court, yada, yada, yada). But the bit with Skinner was straight out of that flick, though made absurd per Simpsons standards:The gimmick’s been going a long time.
More than that, I think the methodology of the victim behind the “slow pursuer, frantic pursued” is flawed anyway.
So, to survive a horror scenario such as this, I would look at it from a fitness angle. How is the victim to become a hero/heroine when confronted by a movie villain in this type of model?
What can they do to improve their odds of survival (other than not get on the villain’s radar to begin with)?
Well, let’s take a few cues from what the villain’s usually doing and go from there:
- Keep a steady pace–The killer tends to walk at a relatively even pace, with or without their weapon visible. They keep going at a measured stride. That makes sense, because it’ll conserve their energy so they can deal a more effective death blow.
- Don’t say/yell ANYTHING!–The slow pursuer is not wasting vital oxygen stores in his/her lungs by expelling them in large quantities for the purpose of screaming. The smartest on-foot villains aren’t saying anything at all, they just keep moving.
- On the other hand, villains who are in vehicles aren’t exerting as much energy and may end up saying something, with or without maniacal laughter (which may cost them in the long run if they’re too confident because hubris is a bitch, hence the reason for #1).
- Obey traffic laws–I can’t stress this one enough if the street is not deserted. Most of the time the villain is not walking in the middle of the street, ready to attract all kinds of attention. They’re keeping to the shadows and sidewalks. Villains are waiting for what’s going to happen, and know it’s very likely a car will come by and hit the victim while he/she is too busy looking around and screaming.
- This leads to the possibility of a 2-for-1 deal if the villain decides to kill the “helpful motorist” character and then pursue the badly injured initial victim (who is again screaming). Injured prey is still prey, after all.
- Should said accident result in instant death, the villain may not be too happy about it and want to kill the hapless driver. However, if the goal was just for the intended victim to die, it’s unlikely they’ll raise much of a fuss…especially if they can find a way to get the trophy/body away to reveal before the final confrontation scenes.
I’m sure there are a few other possibilities that’ve escaped me so far, but I can’t think of ’em quite yet.
So, we have a good idea how our villain’s successful. Now, how can that translate into an upset for them and a win for the victim-to-be (assuming there’s no cell phone)?
- Keep a steady pace in good lighting–Unless the villain has a firearm or reliable throwing weapon, many victims would do well just keeping to brightly lit areas and walking away, keeping the villain in sight. Just go a little bit faster than the villain themselves and maybe if he/she is far enough ahead, walk and call attention to yourself in a way that won’t make people want to put you in an institution for your behavior. Don’t bother going to darkened businesses or houses, it’s pointless.
- And if the victim-to-be is wearing the most impractical shoes ever, they should kick them off and hang onto them to not tax their feet so badly (and if they’re stiletto heels, maybe they can use ’em as a weapon).
- Concentrate on your breathing and DON’T PANIC–If it works for the galaxy’s Hitchhikers, it’ll work for a victim. That goes with the whole walking at a steady pace deal. Even, deep breaths. Keep track of breathing and pace. The victim-to-be can’t start shouting with no one around; they’re only losing oxygen, unless he/she happens to be well within hearing distance of a place where people will actually come to their aid.
- Also, that means having extra energy to burn in case the villain suddenly decides to quicken pace. There’s enough in reserve for a burst of speed instead of burning it out way too early.
- Obey the Traffic Laws–Unless the villain is catching up at a crosswalk, victims-to-be (if they’ve followed suggestions 1 and 2) should be aware of drivers and those crossing the street. If the villian’s catching up and the crossing light still isn’t any good, then the victim should continue down the sidewalk, keeping to well-lit areas until they find a good place to cross. On the other hand, if they wait til the last few seconds to cross before the traffic moves again and the villain is still a ways behind, he/she can zip across and gain distance before the villain can strike. Victim-to-be then needs to go to the nearest police station or hospital and get help.
I know this is a very unlikely scenario, but let’s face it, so are the ones in the movies.
But it makes you wonder, if you found yourself caught in a horror movie, would you be able to do it differently?
What’s a person to do to lose the “patient-killer” archetype?
And if the victim-to-be is stuck in the house for a bit, part of me doesn’t mind this idea, too:
4 thoughts on “Walking Killer vs. Running Victim: a theory about survival from a fitness perspective.”
Never try to escape by going upstairs. That one frustrates the hell out of me. I watched way too many horror movies when I was a kid and, as a result, have had a home-to-nearby-streets-to-populated-area escape plan for everywhere I’ve ever spent more than one night.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Sensible. They even mentioned that in “Scream” as a reason Sydney didn’t like scary movies.
I knew I forgot a big one. We can call it Victim Rule 4: Avoid stairs. Nothing good ever comes from a stairs scene (scary movie piano parody excepted).
Also don’t drink or do drugs. Not only does it tamper with your judgment, but you automatically end up on the killers shit list. The person who drinks or does drugs always ends up dying.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Obey the traffic laws! Best idea ever when it comes to horror movies. Clearly you’d be able to keep your head [in both senses of that phrase] IF you should be pursued by a villain. Hoping that never happens to you.