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Saturday, July 2, 2011

"See Anything You Like?": P.J Soles as Slasher Victim Prototype

If Halloween is the prototypical slasher film (which it is), then P.J. Soles, in her portrayal of the ill-fated Lynda van der Klok, is the prototypical victim. I will admit that I was not terribly impressed with her acting the first time I saw the film. In general, as important a horror film as it may be, I found that with the exception of Jamie Lee Curtis and of course, Donald Pleasance, the acting was about at the level of a movie made around the same time--Debbie Does Dallas (or so I hear).

Nevertheless, in repeated viewings of the film, I've come to appreciate what P.J. Soles did with her role, and specifically, what screenwriters John Carpenter and Debra Hill gave her to do. The ground she broke in that movie opened the way for countless slasher films that followed, and countless doomed damsels who met their end at the hands of deranged knife-wielding maniacs. Over the past 30+ years, we've come to expect certain things from this type of horror movie. There are formulas to be observed, after all.

Well, they weren't always formulas. They had to start somewhere. And most of them come from the original Halloween. That includes what types of characters will become slasher fodder, and the reasons behind their demise. To put it bluntly, the slasher subgenre gave us the phenomenon of horror film characters that we actually want to die. In other words, they make us root for the monster. This phenomenon in large part has its origin in Halloween, and in the van der Klock character in particular.

Lynda van der Klock is an extremely irritating individual. This is not meant as a knock against Soles; rather, I'm sure she would take it as a compliment. After all, that is the entire point of her character, is it not? Laurie Strode is the sympathetic one, and her friends--Lynda in particular--represent everything she is not. Lynda is ditzy, she is loud-mouthed, and she is utterly self-centered. She hits on the cardinal sins of slasher cinema (outlined famously by Jamie Kennedy in Scream), engaging in drinking, smoking and fornication.

In short, Lynda is a bad girl. And in the soon-to-be classic tradition of the decidedly conservative slasher film, she is punished for it. Laurie survives the film because she is virtuous and hard-working. She is a woman of good character. Lynda does not, because she gives in to vice. And while Halloween may not have technically been the first horror film to play out this way, it certainly went a long to codifying it as a hard and fast rule.

So Lynda becomes the origin of the stereotypical slasher film bimbo. And for accomplishing that, P.J. Soles deserves recognition. She has certainly earned a place in the hearts of horror fans in general, and especially fans of Halloween. In fact, there is probably not a single enthusiast of Carpenter's magnum opus who will not fondly reminisce about Soles' irreplaceable part in the film, especially her iconic bedroom death scene at the hands of the sheet-covered Michael Myers, in which she speaks the line from which this post takes its title.

While it may be easy to dismiss the performances of Soles (and to a certain degree, Nancy Loomis as well), those who truly appreciate the evolution of the horror film understand what an essential part she played. For every time we see a nubile, topless, giggling airhead about to meet her maker in a slasher film, it is the legacy of P.J. Soles that we're witnessing. Carpenter and Hill created the role, but it was Soles who gave it life. Before Michael ended it, that is.

2 comments:

Caffeinated Joe said...

Great post on Soles and Lynda! You really hit on how important the character is to horror film history. And hey, her acting may not be the best ever, but as compared to Nancy Loomis, she is Oscar-worthy!

B-Sol said...

The acting in the original Halloween is nothing to write home about in general, except for Jamie Lee and of course, Donald Pleasance...

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