You know how the story goes. Four to six teenagers go into a creepy old cabin in the woods for some sort of party or shindig or something of the sort. They usually fall into about four different stereotypes: the pretty cheerleader, the practitioner of certain illicit recreational substances, the bookworm and the headstrong jock. Some sort of shenanigan goes down, leaving usually the bookworm to live to tell the tale.
Throughout the history of horror movies, the first one to bite the dust is usually the big, dumb, football player.
Now, one would say to just make all the teens jocks, and the teens would win handily. They would be right. That’s not to say that there aren’t horror stories in which most of the cast are jocks. The horror, however, comes not from some sort of ghost or ghoul, but from the sport they play.
These films usually fall within the science fiction genre, but there’s always a bit of horror in these dystopian sports flicks. They’re not exactly “Air Bud.”
Two of the biggest movies in this not-so-new sports horror genre are 1987’s “The Running Man” and 1975’s “Rollerball.”
In “The Running Man,” the game is a sort of “American Gladiator,” in which the contestant must face a gauntlet of deadly mercenaries, either by evasion or by the contestant killing them themselves. These contestants are usually death row inmates. Winning the contest gets you off your death sentence. Since the subject of the film is prime Arnold Schwarzenegger, he obviously succeeds. It harks to an ancient Roman gladiatorial arena style of combat, a sport that most of us could agree should be left in our past.
“Rollerball” follows a different horror of the modern athlete, that of the sponsorship deal. The main protagonist is asked by the corporations that have taken over the world to retire and preach the corporate gospel of profits and the company line. He refuses, and so the corporations, with their stake in the game, change the rules so that the protagonist is forced to retire. The protagonist eventually wins the Rollerball championship, but knows in the back of his mind that he hasn’t really changed anything.
Horror comes in many different forms, depending on the subject. For the nerd, it may be the corruption of the jock in such forms like Jason Voorhees or Leatherface, vile people with imposing size and seemingly limitless strength. For the athlete, however, the horror comes from not just one, but a very powerful few. Corporations and entertainers are all out to get the athlete on their terms.
The athlete’s perspective in a horror film is a very interesting one: either death in the first 30 minutes or facing the most powerful people on the planet. So, when watching the horror movie, consider the jock’s perspective, one that varies so wildly from film to film.