Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Post 100: The One I Might Have Saved.

If anyone's keeping track, yes, this is the hundredth post here on The House of Sparrows. That the House is open at all can be blamed, if you wish, on the inspiration of two leading lights in the horror blogosphere: Stacie Ponder (proprietor of Final Girl) and Arbogast (of Arbogast on Film).

Indeed, the latter has an ongoing blogathon called The One You Might Have Saved, inviting any and all to describe a horror film victim whose plight stirred unusual empathy. I've been meaning to post my own entry in this (this blog was started in large part out of a desire to do so), and believe that this is an ideal occasion for it.

Though the movie that contains this person does not, at the outset, seem auspicious... was smarter than I'd hoped, offering an engaging whodunnit mystery alongside its old school slasher thrills. There's an interesting subtext throughout the film as we're made to wonder what our future will be like as these uniformly horrible young women, our best and brightest, take the reins of government and business in the ensuing years. The film's cynicism in depicting the sisters' ongoing betrayal of the social values the sorority was ostensibly established to uphold is deliberate, and often bracing. (I also noted that Claire, an Asian-American character played by Jamie Chung, had a number of character details that fleshed her out more believably than non-white characters in many, many other genre films.)

In any event, it begins with a rather lovely, though one doubts seamless, single take crawling through Theta House, taking in all manner of debauchery during a party. The camera ducks into a quiet, dark kitchen, the music is muted, and we see her for the first time.

This is Mrs. Crenshaw, the house mother of Theta Pi, played by Carrie Fisher. She's beautifully captured here, holding it down in the (moral?) center of Theta Pi, quietly mixing a drink even as her charges are indulging far lustier vices throughout the house. It's a good hook for older viewers of this teen-oriented (if R-rated) slasher, and those of us who came of age when this actress was in her prime share, perhaps, her isolation from (but presence within) the youth-heavy antics surrounding her.

Which include the murder that drives the film, and the secret forged by the film's numerous heroines (all Theta Pi sisters, all seniors). We catch up with Mrs. Crenshaw at the end of senior year, sternly but lovingly giving her end-of-year address to the sisters...

..along with some bracelets to the graduates, bearing one link for each of the 22 graduates. Clearly unaware that it's the spirit of generosity, and not the gift that counts, the girls junk the bracelets as soon as Mrs. C splits:

But Mrs. Crenshaw's feeling more wistful, and generous, and is captured (alone, again) taking a final look at the house as she's known it.

And she's off. A huge and insane party, with DJs, bubble machines, and lots of sex begins at Theta House.

And before night falls, the killer strikes. And again. And again.

Back at the house the sisters realize that their past is coming back for them. And the aforementioned Claire suffers the film's most visually weird death.

Amid all the carnage two of the girls have time for a catfight over a boyfriend, but the return of Mrs. Crenshaw is clearly a signal to Cut The Shit:

"Wow, who knew Mrs. Crenshaw was such a bad-ass?" Some belated and unheard respect from the girls, as Mrs. C goes downstairs to save the fucking day.

She enters the kitchen, finds the killer, and starts blazing away:

For the first time in the film, the killer retreats.

And Fisher gives us the best lines in the film:

No, she is not. Why?

Damn right.

The killer throws his pimped-up tire iron at her and misses, wedging it in the wall behind her. She's about to kill him and give the movie an awesome fucking ending. Until her gun jams:

She's trying to fix the damn thing, and her desperate grunts in the next few seconds tear a gasp from me. Faster than 7capture can grab it, the killer runs over, shoves the table against Mrs. Crenshaw, thus impaling her with the weapon wedged in the wall behind her.

There's a weird, sad silence here:

Is the killer gloating? Quietly paying respect to the awesome, otherwise unrespected woman who simply deserved better than she's getting here? Taking a moment to acknowledge the genuine sacrifice of the sole decent person on his/her long slate of victims, past and future?

God love her, she rallies for one last, desperate shot against the departing killer, but we feel how empty her threats are now, and mourn how widely her last shot misses its mark.

And finally Mrs. Crenshaw dies as we found her: in the kitchen. Alone.

I'm not completely sure why she resonates with me. Though it's a three-scene role, Fisher plays it more than solidly. Mrs. Crenshaw's the most clearly (if not the only) sympathetic character in the whole film (an intentional ploy of the film's design), and, as suggested earlier, perhaps she was the only character in this film that I, in my ever-increasing dotage, could really latch onto. Maybe it's her resemblance to my mom.

All I know is that as I grabbed images for this piece I could easily speed through the film, but found myself gripped anew by her scenes. Too involved to really break down Fisher's performance, or Stewart Hendler's direction of her scenes. Instead I was simply struck by her gentle but tough humanity. And, particularly, saddened by her death.

So here's to you, Mrs. Crenshaw.

You, dear, are The One I Might Have Saved.


  1. I like that you called her dear. When I was younger I found such endearments to be a cloying affection... but as I grew older I find myself saying these things and meaning them. Life may or may not be precious but it sure is short. Thanks for playing.

  2. Wow! This is a great post and actually makes me want to see the film.

  3. Arbo - again, thank YOU.

    Ryan - thanks for reading. The film as a whole is a modest pleasure, but there's some real craft to it. It's buried beneath psycho killings and sleazy sorority parties, but it's there.

  4. I love this woman and always will, and that love is tinged with more and more tenderness, I guess is the word, the older both she and I get. She really deserves a review of her recent work this affectionate.

    Also, you've made me want to see this now too.