Friday, June 3, 2011

30 Day Horror Challenge Strikes Back Day 3: Character you would kill yourself.

This was almost a tie. In my mind there have been two characters in the history of horror that stand head and obnoxious shoulders above the rest as the most odious pricks of all time. Interestingly, they’re both from movies in the Living Dead series. I was seriously considering Captain Rhodes from Day of the Dead. What an insufferable douchebag that guy was. I have a big anti-establishment rebellious bent in me, as does George Romero, so authority figures always rub me the wrong way anyway. When they’re power abusing bullies, however, they’re worse. For the record, it takes all the self control I can muster to refrain from taking any shots at the current United States political regime after that statement. This isn’t a political blog, though, so I’ll stick to the flicks. Anyway, then I realized that the question said it could not be an antagonist. While the zombies are technically the antagonists of Day of the Dead, the most direct threat to our heroes is Rhodes, making him the main antagonist. Therefore I decided to go with Romero’s other magnificent asshole, Harry Cooper.

Harry Cooper has been played twice. In the original 1968 Night of the Living Dead, he was played by Karl Hardman. He seems like a product of his times. He’s stuffy, gruff, and clearly used to being in charge. There are also racist undertones to the character, although they are never explicitly stated. While he is a jerk, you do kinda get the feeling that he is just trying his best to protect his wife and injured daughter. You can almost see where he’s coming from. Plus, I already used the original for day 1.

In 1990, Tom Towles played Cooper in the Night of the Living Dead remake. This is where the character becomes truly hate-able. Towles plays him as such an over the top asshole that he makes your skin crawl. It almost drives you crazy that you can’t jump through the screen just to kick him in the jewels. His smug smirk alone is enough to make you hope he dies. His idiotic insults, like “You Lamebrains!” or “You buncha Yo’Yo’s” just make him that much more ridiculous. He’s a coward too, as is evidenced when he hides in the cellar instead of helping even though he can hear Barbara and Ben upstairs. He believes that they should all go to the cellar and wait it out. Ben thinks they should stay upstairs. Cooper is so stuck on being right that he threatens not to open the cellar if they need to get in. He gets all twinkley eyed, grins, and says “you’re all gonna die up here.” I would have shot him myself that very moment. Not just from a “You’re a colossal dickhead” standpoint, but he is endangering the survival of the group. Later, he tries to steal the guns from Ben and Barbara. He slaps his wife. He almost gets Tom killed when he hesitates to hand him the nails. He shoots Ben when Ben tries to shoot his zombified daughter. Then, after all that, when it all starts going to hell, he runs and hides in the attic. What a complete bastard! This all works beautifully however, since the fate of his character has been changed from the original. I won’t give it away, but it is oh so satisfying.

Perhaps the worst thing about Cooper is that he was actually right. The cellar would have been the safest place. Problem is, no one would listen, naturally, to someone that’s such a complete SOB. Except for Barbara, everyone died trying to find alternatives to going in that cellar with this guy. So basically, in the end he was such a jerk that he indirectly cost everyone in the house their lives. Way to go Cooper. If I were Ben, I would have either shot you myself or thrown you to the zombies.

The character is well written, but would not have been nearly as effective without Towles’s performance. He specializes in these types of performances. This might have something to do with the fact that he plays scumbags and assholes better than anyone else in the business. Come to think of it, I can't remember once seeing this guy play a likable character. Lets take a look at his horror credits, shall we…

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer – serial killer who rapes his own sister

NOTLD 90 – loudmouthed jerk who tries to kill the hero

The Pit and the Pendulum – lecherous strong-arm for the Spainish inquisition

The Prophecy 2 –idiotic detective

House of 1000 Corpses– small town dickhead cop

Devil’s Rejects – ghost of small town dickhead cop

The Borrower – slimy redneck, later body inhabited by a murderous criminal alien

Werewolf Women of the SS trailer – Nazi officer

Halloween (remake) – obnoxious parole board member who mocks Michael to his face

…and the list goes on. I’m not seeing a likable one in the bunch. Towles excels at making his characters as heinous and reviled as he can. He’s fine with that too. He said in an interview with “There are goals you set when you accept doing any characters who are not very likable, and I've played only villains almost my entire career. And I really don't mind it, I kind of enjoy it…The objective is to enter into conflict and resolution. If I'm the conflict, why not be the best conflict you can be?” Amen Tom, and you do a hell of a job being a jackass. Your skill at raising the ire of an audience has never been more evident than it was with Harry Cooper. Well done. Prick!


cash said...

I agree with everything you say in this one, Sir. Check out fortress with Towles, Chris Lambert, Kurtwook Smith and Jeffrey Combs. He plays another great asshole and its actually not a bad movie. With that cast, how could they fuck it up?

SonOfCelluloid said...

I saw Fortress, lets see, it's been about 15 years ago. You're right, it's about time I revisit that one.

cash said...

"This is an unauthorized thought process!" PzzzzzzT!!!!!

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