Desserts

(Kerry Noonan as Paula, center, from Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives)

If you’re like me–and my apologies if you are–you’ll remember where you were when Paula died.

I came late to Friday the 13th as a franchise, but even as a whelp I understood a few basic truths about the context of Camp Crystal Lake. Foremost among them was the catalyst offered to the viewer in the very beginning, way back when Mrs. Voorhees was our antagonist: negligent counseling will not be tolerated. That premise gets folded in to a wide variety of transgressions, sex and drug use foremost among them, but we are asked again and again to remember that wee Jason Voorhees died because those entrusted with his welfare were not paying attention.

It’s perhaps for that reason that Part VI felt like such a strange departure–though of course the fact that Jason had been reanimated Frankenstyle might have at least a little to do with it. For at this iteration of the camp we actually had perhaps the most responsible counselor the place would ever see: Paula, pictured above. And what becomes of her? She is murdered, and while most of the murdering occurs offscreen (save for a moment when her mostly- or wholly-dead self is chucked through a window and hauled back in), the aftermath suggests that Jason went a little wild with the killing, even for him. Most of the other deaths in the film are forthright affairs–efficient stabbings, skewerings, beheadings–but I remember seeing the entire interior of Paula’s cabin painted with her blood and wondering what was up. What made Jason single her out for the bonus round? The answer, I believe, is a bucket of nothing: it simply makes for a more spectacular reveal than just another dead body in a film that would see a dozen.

Murder–and I hope it goes without saying–is not a top-shelf problem-solving strategy. But in horror it often gets doled out in ethical proportion: those who deserve the worst fates typically get them, often in an ironic way that lays bare their awfulness. Part VI, however, seems to set aside that ethos, indulging in murder without much reference to that artificial–and I would say artful–standard. A little while after Paula is killed a kindly police officer dies right after trying to comfort an actual camper. So it seems pretty clear that we’re moving toward a new ethos, one that’s meant to offer the audience a different kind of satisfaction. And I’m not sure I’ll ever find it satisfying.

I still watch horror movies when I can (my partner isn’t a fan, so I sneak them in when she’s otherwise engaged), but I find that more and more films lean on a more elusive ethical vision of death that, while perhaps more realistic, seems far less poignant and meaningful. And there are some I find downright nihilistic; those I simply won’t watch. As a viewer I still need something of an ethical vision, even if it’s not a positive or redemptive one. If the point is that people die because people die–and if the writer and director seem to reserve especially cruel punishment for those who try to be good, or caring, or helpful–then I feel I might have better served by a book or a movie with something more substantive to say.

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