Monday, July 9, 2012

Murderous musing: Kenny Hampson (Terror Train)

Greetings you ghoulish gore-shrieking gut splitting blood hounds, and welcome to more terror soaked thoughts on Terror Train.  These maniacal musings are by no means a full blown proper review; rather they are merely thoughts trailing out to wherever they may take me, unstructured, unrepentant.  I’ve recently pre-ordered the new collector’s edition boo-ray for Terror Train from SHOUT! Factory but before that bad blue disc comes in the mail I wanted to revisit the DVD one more time before it collects dust on my shelf for the rest of time.  SHOUTI Factory has also released goregasmic special collector’s editions of Halloween 2 and 3, and I couldn’t be happier with what they have in store.  These releases are packed to the brim with crap cult film collectors have been dreaming about for years and the promotional pre-order bonus gifts are pretty slamming as well (Halloween 2’s BD pre-order includes a paper nurse’s hat from Haddonfield, others include posters of the new cover art).  If you miss out on these killer releases, well in the immortal words of Alana from Terror Train “sucks to you”, whatever that means! 

Why do people join fraternities and sororities, especially in movies?  They just seem to perpetuate cruel in-crowd/out-crowd games and hideous college pranks that are hardly ever harmless.  If there is one lesson the sound mind can wean from slasher films it’s that joining a college cool kid crew can be a death trap.  That’s why I always preferred to be the weirdo loner that nobody knew in college.  Yeah, that’s it.  Before sacrificing your basic human rights to a fraternity that makes you identify to everyone if you’re a virgin with a stupid looking beanie, you’ve got to ask yourself; is this worth dying for?  The answer should be no, I guess unless you’re some hopeless sheeple( that is to say a sheep/people hybrid that can’t think for his or herself).  Which brings me to my next thought; why did Kenny Hampson join the fraternity?  I think he was probably the quiet, shy, reclusive loner that got cajoled into believing he would suddenly “fit in” with everyone.  I don’t believe the events in Terror Train detailed the whole story about how Kenny’s mind gradually snapped.  I think he was probably trying to forget an incident that happened in his past, something that haunted him for years, and saw college as a fresh start.  Maybe it was in a new town or somewhere nobody really knew about Kenny’s troubled past.  So he made the effort to be social again, by joining a fraternity.  It was his final attempt not only to “fit in” with the scholastic types; but it was also his final attempt at fitting in with humanity in general.  It was Kenny fooling himself into thinking he could function in a normal society, he had a place, a position, and he was going to be someone respected. 

The night of the bonfire pledge party those illusions where shattered with a slow motion “NOOOOOO”; leaving Kenny hospitalized, alone, rejected and betrayed.  I think the prank the fraternity pulls on him with “Doc’s friend”, the armless corpse, sealed the idea in Kenny’s mind that he didn’t belong, he was not wanted, and he had no position in their society or any society for that matter.  I think he thought Kenny Hampson was a joke; a loser that people only used to bemuse themselves, an embarrassment, so he erased his identify.  He erased his gender.  He began practicing how to use disguises.  If society wouldn’t take him as himself he would be someone else.  His years of being the unnoticed loser would pay off, where he could slip in and out of a crowd without raising suspicion or being in any way memorable.  He would focus on his magic tricks.  In a strange way magic seemed to him like a means in which he could control his reality through altering the perception of those around him.  After all, what was reality besides perception?  If he became a master magician, an illusionist with no equal, he could create the illusion that he was just like any other normal person.  It would be his little secret. He loved magic before, but his rediscovered interest in the subject became a full blown obsession.  He viewed it as more than a hobby, it was his salvation.  For hours he’d practice changing his voice and mannerisms in front of a mirror.  He would practice magic tricks over and over again until the illusion was perfect and his hands would practically move on their own accord with blinding precision and speed.  He practiced the breathing techniques of Houdini to appear calm even when his insides broiled with a maelstrom of rage.  

The rage was always there, so much so that it scared him.  It threatened to squeeze through the cracks, seep through the surface, breaking his concentration and self-control, and a true magician must control himself before mastering his environment.  He had faltered once in the hospital, when an orderly made a sly remark to him that let loose all his rage at once, like a pit bull suddenly snapping his chain in one even, mad dash for his quarry.  Kenny still had enough wits about him to make it look accidental, but the illusion of his normality was dispelled for many of the staff, and for that he again considered himself a failure.  He craved perfection, for magic was an art of perfection, but he realized he would not obtain it working by himself in the time he wanted.  He needed a mentor.  Someone as obsessed with magic as him, but also someone who would never suspect the undercurrent of madness that resided within.  And that’s why he partnered Ken the Magnificent. 

Ken the Magnificent had an ad in the paper looking for a potential female assistant to help orchestrate his shows.  Since the bon fire prank Kenny had developed several other personalities to replace his regular persona, one of which was female.  He knew Ken the Magnificent had a reputation for being easily distracted by beautiful women and immediately saw the opportunity to expand his female act.  He practiced for weeks being a woman, copying the mannerisms and voice until they were second nature, and then auditioned for the job.  To his great relief Kenny found he could fool the magician into believing him to be female, and he took great pride in being able to dupe the master illusionist.  Kenny knew he would be better than Ken the Magnificent; a man who demanded his audience to remain quiet before he performed his illusions, where Kenny felt he could work under any conditions.  He was certainly more dedicated to the craft; he knew he was capable of killing for it.

I can imagine that during this time period he continued to keep close tabs on his old fraternity buddies and maybe even maintained contact with one or two people still at the school, perhaps some professors or a dorm room mate.  When he found out about the party on the train he saw the opportunity for his revenge and booked himself and Ken for the magic show.  In the film they mention that Kenny was a train enthusiast, but my guess is that building train models is a fair shake different than knowing the layout of the actual train, but getting the schematics for an 1881passenger freight train was probably not too difficult.  Kenny struck me as the library card toting type, so he probably grabbed as many books about the subject as he could from the local library and planned his attack.  I could even imagine him making a mock-up of the train to choreograph his movements and setting up several different what-if scenarios.   His movement through the train during the film demonstrates he had more than a passing knowledge of how they are laid out and the fact that he has a key to the restroom doors (before apparently killing any of the train’s crew) points to some sort of pre-planning on his behalf. 

And again I go back to the idea that Kenny really had a lot invested into joining this fraternity, more than what was apparent on screen.  Otherwise the effort he puts into his revenge seems very disproportioned.  The corpse switcheroo shocked him over the edge, but Kenny was carrying some crazy with him before that all went down.   Maybe he viewed the potential consummation with Alana as a confirmation of group acceptance, and even more so, as the keystone moment where he would gain some sense of normality in his life.  I don’t think he saw it as “just getting laid”.  It would have been an act that confirmed that he wasn’t an unlovable nerd; he was a normal kid with something in common with the rest of humanity.  Denying these base needs drove him mad, like denying him entrance to the human race.  It goes to show you how powerful social rejection can be to a social animal. 

Scientific studies have shown that in most cases the brain needs social interaction to remain healthy.  Lone people, like prisoners that spend extended periods of time in solitary confinement, suffer from mental issues unique to those starved of social interaction; like night terrors, cold sweats, hallucinations, and extreme paranoia.  These in turn causes long term physical problems.  You could take a normal, rational human being of average health and place them in solitary confinement for a year and the person walking out of the cell at the end of it could be a borderline schizophrenic; the result would not be surprising.  While the studies are by no means complete or precise, the link between mental health and social interaction is clear.   So it’s not too hard to imagine how important getting into the fraternity might have seemed to Kenny at the time, especially if he was already a bit unstable.

Let’s focus our murderous musings on the costumes that Kenny dons, and what they could mean.  Keep in mind this is all crazy conjecture, no right or wrong answers here, just speculation, but it works fine for me.  His first strike is against Ed, dressed as Groucho Marx.  Ed cracks jokes and acts as the life of the party while on the loading docks, so it could be with a hint of irony Kenny chose him as his first victim, thus killing the “life” of the party in preparation for the rest of the night he has in store.  And it’s also with a hint of irony that the killer dresses up as a comedian, ready to literally knock them dead with his act.  The second costume he nabs is the reptile costume.  Kenny no doubt romanticized the party in his mind, as well as entrance to the fraternity.  Under his lunatic lenses and warped sense of reality entrance to either was akin to something like entrance to Eden, a perpetual paradise on earth.  Being cast out of it was akin to being sent to hell; so his lizard costume is representative of a snake in the Garden of Eden.   His third costume, Father Time, is worn during the remainder of the film.  I saw this as kind of a way of saying that everyone’s time was up; here he acts as a grim reaper coming to collect what’s owed.  It also signifies Kenny running out of time before the train gets to its destination.  With the preparation he went through it’d be safe to assume he was working on a time schedule of some sort.  He had to complete his murderous masterpiece before the train hit its final station, so the end is a mad dash to make it all happen, a race against time.