There are a lot of eye-rolling fictional cliches and tropes that we’re beyond tired of.
But some of them are like comfort food to us. We don’t dread them at all. We bask ourselves in their familiar glow. They put a smile on your face or give you a warm, tingly feeling, even though you’ve seen them a thousand times before.
And that prompts this month’s question:
“What fictional cliches are you never sick of, no matter how many times you see them?”
Our hosts had this to say:
I will always have a soft spot for a number of classic Bond/Flash Gordon style supervillain antics, including over-elaborate death traps and the always-classic “Seize them, you fools! They’re getting away!”
But this month, I’m going to talk about another cliche that I just can’t get enough of: Murderous Hillbillies as villains.
I’m not entirely sure why this tired cliche works for me so much. Ever since the release of John Boorman’s “Deliverance” in 1972, there has been a pretty consistent Hollywood usage of backwoods lunatics hunting down and terrorizing unsuspecting city folks, before the tables are turned in a bloody revenge tale.
(And don’t worry. That “Deliverance” link isn’t to that scene. You know the one I mean.)
This is usually preceded by a lot of unnerving scenes where the hero is humiliated and beaten while chained to a stake in the barn, or forced to fight an alligator or a bear, while one of his tormenters’ simple-minded cousins rocks back and forth while giggling.
And danging over all of these scenes, like the Sword of Damocles, is the threat of being eaten or…worse things.
This trope has popped up in “the Hills Have Eyes”, “the Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” H.P. Lovecraft stories like “the Dunwich Horror,” and even in a car commerical for the 2003 Saturn Vue.
But my favorite of these was in a recent issue of one of my favorite comic book characters, Jonah Hex.
We’ve mentioned Hex more than once on the show, but terrible movie adaptations aside, he’s a Western anti-hero with a hideous facial scar and a penchance for satisfying violent come-uppance.
Hex is hired by a dying man crawling out of the swamp to rescue his wife and baby from killer “swamp folk” that no one in town wants to talk about.
Naturally, this leads to Hex being ambushed and presented to the rest of the vile Lamont clan by their son, Dean.
“Whatchoo got dere, Dean?”
Why does this cliche work so well for me? I can’t give you a single answer. I think it’s a mixture of my complete uselessness in any sort of outdoors scenario combined with a general cultural “blue state” aversion to the backwoods of the Deep South.
I’m an indoor cat who grew up in the suburbs and my mom voted for Michael Dukakis. There’s nothing more alien to me than the villains in these stories.
But really, it’s the tension of absolute helplessness and humiliation building and building and building, until finally being released into cathartic vengeance against your captors.
We all want to be Jonah Hex reemerging, dripping, from the swamp, and seeing in our persecutors ‘ eyes the realization that they’ve finally fucked with the wrong person.
What is it about that annoying movie cliche? That it takes you out film? Destroys your suspension of disbelief? That you cluck your tongue, sigh, roll your eyes and start checking your watch? Discriminating film fans know what I mean. But, what about the cliche that has the opposite effect?
For me, that is summed up in a single, overlong word: defenestration. That extraordinary verb describes when someone (or something) launches through a window, shattering it into a thousand pieces. And, oh yes, you’ve seen this cliche thousands of times. Whether it’s Indiana Jones fighting on the hood of a Jeep, the Terminator being thrown through a department store window, or Batman crashing down through a skylight to foil Joker, you’ve seen this shit. Many times.
Call it 80s action film nostalgia, call it a relic of the VHS rental days, call it an overused, cheap practical effect, call it what you will… I call it badass. When the hero is going to get serious with takin’ out the trash: defenestrate. When the antihero has to get taken down another peg: defenestrate. When the SWAT team arrives to rescue the hostages in the skyscraper: defenestrate. Of course, my favorite flavor of defenestration is the Hans Gruber: when the final boss gets dispatched through a window from 15-plus stories up. Looking down, birds-eye-view, as the baddie plummets to his end. Of course you’re not going to see the pancake mess his body makes on the pavement below, but maybe you’ll get the sidekick to look down at the carnage, screw up his face in disgust and deliver a line like, “Oh yeah, he’s all over.”
Perhaps what I like best about this peculiar practical effect is that in almost every instance, it needs to be filmed in slow motion. If the stunt guy is going to toss himself through sugar glass, you better get every little shard and twinkle in glorious 1000 frames per second. And, of course, the foley artist really gets to earn his pay trying to create a sound from scratch that can approximate the relative size and weight of the window in question. Or, perhaps there’s a sound archive with over 9,000 different defenestration impacts. I dunno, but your tedious movie just went up a notch (in my estimation).
Y’know, it may be overused, in fact it may be so overused that when it happens, it doesn’t even register in your conscious mind. But, by god, for me at least the action doesn’t get hot until somebody goes through a goddamned window. Cost of admission: worth it!
What do you think? Got a favorite cliche? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!