My Favorite Things – Schadenfreude

Welcome to my new series titled My Favorite Things. A series where I just basically bull shit about things that I love in horror films. At first, this was going to be a top five or ten list where I write out all my favorite “whatevers” in films. But then I decided to just do something a little more in depth and discuss aspects of horror that I love and maybe give some shining examples. I don’t know, maybe I can do a top five something list down the road but for now, this is something new I would like to do. Hope you enjoy!

Do you know what a movie trope is? Sure you do, if you’re a horror fan then you’re inundated with them constantly. The entire genre is built on tropes. It’s not just horror, other genres of story telling have tropes. For instance, if you’re a fan of action films then you always have the villain trope. This is the big bad guy of any film whose death is always the last great death. Examples of these would be Hans Gruber from Die Hard. Major Arnold Toht from Raiders of The Lost Ark or Richter from Total Recall. Usually, these villains are the equal match or direct opposition to our hero. By being the jerky bad guy it creates a balance. We hate these sons-of-bitches, yet without them the story would be boring and unappealing. There’s something about seeing them die which makes you cheer. Think about it! You’re cheering when someone dies! You’re a homicidal psychopath! Or maybe you’re just experiencing something called Schadenfreude.

Let’s Begin

Human emotions are kind of strange. Often times the feelings of joy or content comes from the most peculiar of places. One peculiar place is in a word I recently discovered called Schadenfreude. No it has nothing to do with taking dumps on people. Schadenfreude is best described as “malicious joy.” Damn that’s awesome! This should be a movie title! Coming in October… Malicious Joy! So Schadenfreude is a very interesting concept. It is a psychological term that defines the sense of elation one feels when seeing your enemies experience misfortune.

My Example of Schadenfreude

A couple of years ago I was working with a guy named Josh. He was this annoying coworker that always got on my nerves. He was one of those guys that openly sang all the time. That is enough right there for everyone to understand why I hate this guy. People that openly sing drive me nuts. Right up there with musical theater people and adult Disney fans. These people always have to sing out loud and Josh was one of those people. Not in a low manner or in a goofy way, but in a serious way like he was trying to make all the women swoon. But Josh felt like he was Gods gift to the entire planet, kind of like how comedians feel to free speech. He also drove a silver Convertible that his rich parents paid for him. That’s not really the thing that bothered me about him. A persons wealth means nothing to me. But the car is important to the story. Most of his gimmicks would be tolerable annoyances, if not for the way he inserted himself into every department in the work place. He thought he was everyone’s manager and I remember him giving me crap over the amount of banter I and my co-workers were having in our closed door office. But one day… one day, Josh fucked up and it was the greatest event of my life.

One week at work, my Friend Zac was leaving the parking lot and once he got onto the rode; his car broke down and he needed a tow. We’ve all been there and I believe it’s a very normal thing. All Ford and Chevy owners have this issue constantly. But a few days after Zac’s car broke down, he got a tow and then got his car fixed; we were standing outside of the office. It was that time of the day when things were winding down and people were headed home, so working wasn’t really on our minds. All of a sudden Josh comes walking out and he looks at Zac and says “Hey, wanna see how you rev a car without it stalling on you?” in a manner that was meant to mock Zac’s recent car issue. Zac was a well mannered and a passive guy so he simply smiled and said “sure” in a quick whip.

We all watched Josh pridefully get into his silver Convertible and back out of the parking lot. To be honest, I thought he was going to drive out of the parking lot and peel out on the street. But no! This jackass decides to peel out in the parking lot! A parking lot full of parked cars. Yea, you know what’s coming next. The dude revs his engine and it roars like a monster. Then the car violently pops forward in an uncontrolled state. I don’t know a great deal about cars but when you rev a super powered engine like that, it doesn’t just stop. You can’t simply hit the brake and expect the car to stop. It’s like telling grandpa to not walk around with a boner, it’s something that takes time to wind down.

So Josh flies forward and swerves all over the small parking lot. The wheels are squealing and theres burning smoke coming from his tires as he slams the front of his car into a parked white Ford Mustang. A Mustang that happens to be the property of a fellow co-worker named Cameron that is working his butt off just inside the office. Josh hits Camerons car so hard that it jarred the Mustang into the adjacent open parking space. The entire side of the car is damaged and this douche bag turns off the engine, get’s out of the car and has the nerve to say “HOLY SHIT!” while grabbing his enormously incest bred forehead. The jerk acted as if he was surprised that he would lose control of his car and hit something. Mind you, me and Zac and a bunch of other co-workers are standing there watching this all go down. Front row seats. Better than the fifty yard line or court side. I love watching comedians and in all my years I have not witnessed something so poetically awesome! This is something that only happens in a real good sitcom comedy… and I fucking loved it!

I never laughed so hard in my entire life. So much so that I tinkled in my pants a little and that is no joke. The elation that came over me was priceless. Joy for the comedy that I had just witnessed. Like I said, the setup and the outcome of this is something only the greatest of all comical writers could invent! But the elation I felt was something more. If this was another person, I may have laughed in the aftermath, but there would be a sense of concern. The fact that this guy was someone that I despised, made it all the more sweeter. I loved seeing this pecker make an ass of himself. I loved having to watch him go inside and tell Cameron he hit his car. I felt bad for Cameron, he was such a nice guy. Never bothered anyone. But I loved knowing Josh would have to pay for this because Josh was a douche bag. I was happy because of his misfortune, the fact that he made a total fool of himself. What I was experiencing at that moment in time was what psychologist call Schadenfreude or “malicious joy.”

I spent the next five years telling everyone I knew this story and to this day it remains within the chamber walls of my heart as a token of sincere happiness. A couple weeks ago I actually backed my van into my neighbors car and I felt terrible. But then I remembered this story and thought, “Well, at least I’m not a jackass like Josh!”

We All Feel This

Now, don’t read that story and think I’m a bad guy. You yourself feel this same feeling all the time and you know what? You shouldn’t feel that bad about it. I’m not talking about when you watch some kid crash their bike or a drunk person taking a spill. Those are funny America’s Got Talent moments but what I’m talking about is an enemy having something bad happen to them. Never more do we feel this way than in politics. Whenever some person you don’t agree with has some sort of scandal or gets called out, you get a certain sense of elation. The entire world of Twitter and most social media is one side being elated over the misfortunes of the other. When a liberal loses and eye, Conservatives laugh. When a Conservatives does something wrong, Liberals have a parade and think they’re something special. I’ve got to be honest, I’m more conservative so for me it was seeing the New York Representative Anthony Weiner being convicted as a sex offender. I hated that guy and seeing him boil was better than eating a medium rare steak. The entire existence of Michael Moore is like watching a comedy show. The dude just gets fatter and he looks more like a lesbian stereotype every single day. His misfortune brings me joy and I’m not afraid of saying it.

Schadenfreude In Horror

The idea of Schadenfreude is littered in the genre of horror. There’s always that one person in a movie that is set on getting their comeuppance. This person is an actual trope and is meant to give us the best death in the entire film. Or at least it feels that way because this persons demise burns like a thousand suns in your heart. You don’t care how terrible the punishment is. All you want is to see them die the most horrible death and when it happens, you cheer for the killer, monster or creature like they’re an angel sent from heaven.

Here are some good examples of people we all felt Schadenfreude

  1. Benny Gabor – The Mummy (1999)

    For anyone that has been living under a rock their entire life, the 1999 The Mummy film was one that many fondly remember. In recent years I have noticed a resurgence with this film and twenty something years later, the movie is still a pretty good. Some of the CGI is a little dated and the dialogue can be scene as hokey, but that is what makes the film such a fun watch. What I love about this movie is how it has a great sense of adventure. While other remakes of Golden Age horror films have a more serious tone to them, The Mummy felt more like an Indiana Jones monster film. But Benny Gabor is a character that makes you cringe. The way he betrays Richard O’Connell and joins up with Imhotep is enough for us all to be enraged.

    But for me, Benny pisses me off the most because of this one scene where the mummy first appears to him. Benny starts pulling out religious charms and reciting prayers to ward off the monster.

What a douche bag! Pick a lane Benny! You can’t claim to be all of those religions! Imhotep should have sucked your essence from you like a fat guy at a bacon buffet just for not sticking to one belief system. You pulled out that cross and Jesus was up in heaven saying “Ugh, I’m not helping this guy.” Unfortunately Imhotep doesn’t kill him and instead uses this slime to find the thieves Imhotep’s sacred jars and to also capture the sexy smart Evelyn. But don’t worry, Benny gets his comeuppance and it’s what I call a slice of pie for an end to a film.

You see what I’m talking about? These characters strike up that Schadenfreude. Their ends usually come at the conclusion of the film like Benny. It creates the ultimate send off and one last portion of horror to our film. I think one of the best tropes for a Schadenfreude character is how their death remains off screen. You don’t always witness their death but it’s implied. The camera cuts away or you see it from a vantage point that only shows a shadow or maybe an arm moving. Benny’s death is classic because his death comes for him in total darkness and all we’re left for is the sound of his screams and a million mummy beetles tearing at his flesh. It lets our imagination fill in the blanks and making it much more personal and terrifying. For me, I like to think that Benny does much slower. It is implied that the beetles don’t actually devour their victims in one setting (although they could) but will slowly eat him to prolong their survival. So maybe after being enclosed in the city of Hamunaptra, Benny is left to suffer for days before he actually ceases to exist! AWESOME! He deserved it for teaming up with Imhotep.

Another Schadenfreude character that I think we can all agree on is:

2. Burke – 1986 Aliens

Seriously, stand up if you felt sad for Burke dying in this movie? Out of the people that die in all the Alien series, there is no person that deserved it more than Burke. The guy is a corporate sleaze ball, hell bent on rising the corporate ladder and doing so at all costs. After Burke sets that face hugger free in the room Ripley and Newt are sleeping in, all the walls come crashing down and a guy you were sort of iffy about, suddenly becomes public enemy number one. Most of us wanted Hudson, Ripley or Vasquez to waste the sucker but that wouldn’t be poetic. Burke valued the alien species more than his own and thus his reward and death was exactly what he needed.

Of course, I am curious about Burke. He may be a pile of shit deserving of our Schadenfreude feelings but I have to admit, he’s pretty sloppy. So the entire division of Marines are being picked off and the guy decides to bail on them. He runs through the door and locks it behind him but then thinks he’s going to get away? If you’re a bad guy then one thing you’re good at is using the people around you for your own benefit. His time to strike and show his true colors come at an odd time. What did Burke think would happen? An alien picks him off and we’re happy. But guess what! Burkes real death is much better. If you are a fan of Aliens then you know that the alien never actually kills its victims. Aliens value life because it’s through a host that the species grow.

What if I were to tell you that Burke was supposed to make another appearance later on in the film? Yea, the alien doesn’t kill Burke. It brings him back to the alien lair and Burke is given a nice kiss from a face hugger! It was a deleted scene where while Ripley is searching for Newt, she finds Burke concreted to the wall and in pain.

Who is the person that decided to leave this out of the movie? What’s awesome about this is that Ripley has absolutely no desire to help him. Knowing all to well whats in him, she doesn’t even have the compassion to shoot the bastard! Instead she gives him a grenade, the same one Vasquez uses before she dies. She lets Burke off himself and then just leaves for Newt. She has no time for this shit sucker.

I would like to think Burke holds on to the explosive and erratically contemplates pushing the flashing red button. His thumb comes close but he doesn’t have the testicular fortitude to press it. He’s not a Marine that can bite a bullet. He’s not a sacrificial bad ass like Ripley. Nah, Burke is a coward and all that hate you feel toward him is coming to its glorious reaping as you know he can’t off himself. But maybe a glimmer of courage comes over him and as he goes to push the button, Burke is struck with violent tremors in his chest and he drops the explosive. His last thing he sees is the glowing red button of his last graceful choice as a baby alien pops out of his chest.

Damnit James Cameron! Why didn’t you leave this in the movie? We needed that Schadenfreude conclusion for this jack ass! Oh well, it’s still a great character to hate. It does make me curious because Burke is played by Paul Reiser who is also playing Dr. Sam Owens in the Netflix series Stranger Things. Since Stranger Things is basically a homage to 80’s horror and sci-fi, I am waiting for his character to go full Burke and betray all of the Stranger Things characters. So far he’s been a pretty upstanding guy. Offering help to Eleven and everyone else, but my senses are telling me that Sam Owens will show his true colors eventually. Giving us that awesome Schadenfreude guy we all desperately need.

Sometimes It’s More Than One

Often times, that sense of Schadenfreude isn’t focused on just one person. Often is can be an entire group of people. For instance, one sense of Schadenfreude we feel is in sports. If your favorite team is playing their rivals and your team is killing them, you have a sense of malicious joy for seeing that other team lose. You love it seeing them miss tackles or get struck out. You love seeing the disappointed faces at the end of the game and knowing the railing they’ll get from the coach. You don’t really focus in on one player alone, but the entire team. Your sense of Schadenfreude even extends to the teams fanbase. Even when it’s not your rivals that are playing!

Nothing made me happier than seeing the Giants win the super bowl against the New England Patriots. Except for watching it happen while living in Philadelphia! Knowing all those ugly Philadelphia fans were seeing their division rivals winning a Super Bowl, especially a few years after they lost the Super Bowl. Why, I had no choice but to go outside and yell to the neighborhood about how happy I was!

I loved knowing a group of people were miserable and we have that in horror films all the time. One group that sticks out to me is the group of kids we all know.

3. Halloween Gang – 2007 Trick r’ Treat

Made up of four kids named Schrader, Macy, Chip and Sara; this group of tricksters set out to pull a prank on a sweet little girl named Rhonda. The group include Rhonda in a supposed Halloween tradition in the attempts to frighten and embarrass her. These kids are terrible jerks and there’s nothing better than what happens to them in Michael Dougherty’s horror masterpiece.

The best part about this is that they’re kids. I’m allowed to say this because I was once a kids so don’t get offended. But kids suck. Seeing terrible snot nosed kids “get theirs” is exactly what horror is all about. By default they deserve to die but for what they do to Rhonda is a terrible thing. The best thing is you know it’s all a prank on Rhonda so you’re grinding your teeth at these acne ridden jerks. Especially that Schrader guy. He uses his good looks to woo Rhonda into thinking he likes her. His only sense of remorse is when Rhonda hurts herself but that doesn’t make him innocent from death! Schrader got what he deserved, along with his group of jerky friends! We’re given this awesome comeuppance that will always be remembered.

The demise of our gang is a testament. A statement to all who would go beyond simple pranks but into pure cruelty. Especially on a night as mystical as Halloween.

Failure to Schadenfreude

But then again there are times when Schadenfreude fails to happen. This is when someone you know that is a jerk doesn’t get their comeuppance. This person deserves all that they get and it pisses you off when it doesn’t happen. Like President Vladimir Putin. The dude is a monster and deserves to be disemboweled with a rusty spoon. But no, nothing will happen to him. It’s unfortunate that the Leukemia is going to kill him before anyone else gets the pleasure. Putin is a cuck. He’s Stu Rubin from Drag Me To Hell.

4. Stu Rubin – 2009 Drag Me To Hell

If there was one person I wanted to die then it would be Stu. I hated this guy! How dare he steal the hard work that Christine does for the bank! The guy is just like Burke but even worse. When Christine confronts this ass hole about his theft, Stu cowers like a baby girl and pleads for mercy. If you have the balls to cheat your way to success then have the balls to take it like a man you cock! Stu deserved to die and I was so happy when Christine contemplated giving that jack ass the cursed button. I was so ready to see the Lamia go after this guy and see Christine get the promotion.

But no! Christine is too nice and lets this douche bag off the hook and because of this, sweet Christine is the one that gets dragged to hell! It should have been Stu the entire time! Or at least Christines loser psychologist boyfriend named Clay. But then again Clay wouldn’t be around anymore to teach people about Schadenfreude! But WHY NOT STU!? This was a time when I was so happy to see this work out. But the movie doesn’t let it happen and Stu goes on to live in bliss while poor Christine is in hell playing house with the devil! I bet Stu didn’t even learn his lesson. The jerk probably got the promotion from his boss Mr. Jacks and is one of those dicks that places his feet up on his desk with his arms up supporting his head while he flicks a pen around in his fingers. He’s one of those guys that walks around a locker room and whips other guys with towels and says “Gotcha!” He’s probably obsessed with pronouns and staying away from using paper because it’s bad for trees. I HATE STU! He should have died!

Equal Schadenfreude

Last but not least, we feel a sense of Schadenfreude in moments that considered wrong or taboo. This is like seeing a sports referee getting injured on the field. This is simple but I think I have one in a movie that paints a clear picture.

5. Mrs. Martin – 1989 Leviathan

I was raised to believe it’s wrong to hit a woman and I still believe that. But listen, this lady got was coming to her! When Steven and Elizabeth beat all the odds and make it to the surface, they’re met by corporate shill Mrs. Martin. The thing is, this bitch knew all along that they were in danger and didn’t send help. She was actually ok with everyone dying. So when Steven (played by Peter Weller) decks her write in the face! I was standing and applauding. If it was a dude then I would have been happy too but Steven shows a true sense of equality here. He’s a feminist! The guy doesn’t care that it’s a lady. He hates her as equally as he would a corporate man. But guess what, we hate her as well and although it’s hard to watch at first… hitting this terrible lady feels pretty damn good! I would expect any woman that demands equality appreciate the outcome.

Man do I love Schadenfreude. It’s such a cool concept and one that I for one love having in the genre. Whether it be Julia and Frank from Hellraiser or Patricia and Johnny from The Frighteners; these characters fill us with such anger and hostility but with a great purpose. For as much as we hate them, it can only be met with the same amount of joy in seeing them perish. So think about these things and ponder the sense of elation you feel for seeing them die.

But more importantly, who do you feel Schadenfreude towards in horror films? Who is that one character that you despise with all your energy and seeing them die is the best thing in the world!

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