I Didn't Sign Up For This!
And you're gonna need a bigger boat...
15When the chips are down, these people go above and beyond the call of duty.
In honour of all those county sheriffs, small-town lawmen, strung-out detectives, stressed-out squaddies and other sundry professional people who suddenly find themselves up to their necks in the sort of bloody mystery, terror and pure, unlooked-for, unwanted and totally unexpected chaos that screenwriters and scenarists like to fling at them to muck up their day and perhaps give them a lasting shot at glory and maybe even redemption, I present this tribute to those improvisational and ever-adaptable, last-ditch saviours of society who suddenly have to face-off against threats that weren’t exactly covered in the training manual, and should entitle them to shift allowance, double-time, bonuses and danger money, medals and, in some cases, a bigger boat.
William Girdler’s Grizzly sees Chief Park Ranger Kelly (Christopher George) lose all of his staff and close friends and a good portion of tourists and locals to the jaws and claws of an enraged and super-large bear that has come down the mountain with a hefty appetite. A walk in the park literally becomes a tooth and nail fight to the death for this likable Squirrel Counter who has to battle not only 18-feet of furious furry muscle but the bureaucratic ego of the park’s penny-pinching administrator. Whilst coordinating campers and keeping tabs on the wildlife are all part of the daily grind, Kelly hadn’t exactly planned on finding mangled corpses behind every tree and ending up on the menu of a ferocious ursine. It’s a situation that doesn’t, ahem, bear thinking about!
The Car from Elliot Silverstein has James Brolin’s Sheriff Wade Parent battle to save his community from the Devil’s own black sedan as it tools around his home town, satanically super-charged and intent on visiting hellish road rage upon everyone it comes across. He will lose many of his deputies to this revved-up, four-wheeled angel of death, the mentor figure that he looked up to and admired, and even his own girlfriend in the process of working double-shifts, dealing with alcoholic subordinates and town bullies, trying to raise two precocious young daughters, and being forced to ride around the Utah desert on his motorbike without a helmet. It’s a little over the usual daily schedule for single-parent Parent.
“He’s gone! He’s gone from here … the evil has gone!”
In John Carpenter’s Halloween you’ve got a couple of professionals who are asked to go above and beyond the usual remit of the day job. Firstly, there’s psychologist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), a man who has dedicated his life to keeping the inhuman eee-villll of Michael Myers locked-up, only to have to pursue the escaped madman throughout a slew of horrendously bloody Halloween nights, pumping endless bullets into the Shape, scarring himself in the process of incinerating a hospital and tipping over the brink into the void of his own madness as the saga progresses. His comprehensive training in psychology only managed to prove what we could guess right away – that the Myers kid was a relentless monster with “the blackest eyes … the Devil’s eyes.”
Then there is poor Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) who will find that his usual seasonal resume of kids stealing monster masks from the store and breaking windows on the local haunted house will be grimly undermined by the slaughter of his own daughter Annie (Nancy Loomis) and the eventual slaying of most of his deputies in subsequent pumpkin-lit massacres. There is no way that he bargained on this particular trick or treater coming home for a night of merry mutilation.
One thing is for certain, Haddonfield is a more dangerous place to live than Midsomer! And let’s not even get into the details of how basic babysitting duties can become a life and death struggle with the Bogeyman!
In Ridley Scott’s Alien blue-collar spacemen go out of their way to respond to a mysterious distress call and have their voyage home colossally and, in most cases, fatally disrupted by a breed of biomechanical predator that just happens to have acid for blood and an extremely rapid growth rate. Oh, and a big mouth with yet another mouth inside it. Navigators, Warrant Officers and Engineers will have to suddenly try to improvise weapons and go on extremely risky search-and-destroy missions in the labyrinthine hull of their shadow-swathed space-tug.
Sigourney Weaver’s iconic Ripley will assume nominal command and be attacked by “a goddamn robot” as well as the now giant Alien. She will find her friends slaughtered and then, after setting the ship’s self-destruct mode going, have to delay her escape in the shuttle to go back and rescue the damn cat! And, then, just when she settles back for a nice long and cosy hypersleep, she’ll discover that the bloody Alien has got aboard the shuttle with her! This is all the good that sticking to the rules does for you. She was a jobsworth forced to veer from protocol to survive.
“Give me a nice quiet death in bed. Preferably with a partner.”
When a pack of super-intelligent lupine predators turn the Big Apple into their own hunting ground in Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen, Albert Finney’s washed-up, alcoholic and devoutly cynical detective Dewey Wilson is going to stare fanged death in the muzzle, lose some close associates and suffer a massive crisis of conscience before he solves the spate of mysterious and grisly deaths that have disrupted his newfound jogging routine. He might witness some terrible things – Edward James Olmos running around in the nude under a full moon being one of them – and be forced to question his identity as a policeman in a world of environmental and societal corruption, but he will, at the very least, get to bed Diane Venora’s sexy counter-terrorism agent. We can only hope that he did it doggy-style!
Even if lightning seems to strike this guy so often he should be lit up like a Christmas Tree, we must allow NY cop John McClane into this hall of fame for his off-the-cuff anti-terrorist endeavours in Die Hard. Although I will happily and gladly discount and forget entirely about his subsequent “adventures”, there is no mistaking that estranged husband John (Bruce Willis) gets a helluva lot more than he bargained for when he takes a flight over to LA to meet up with his wife for Christmas at the Nakotami Plaza in Century City at just around the same time as a crack team of Euro-thugs under the urbane command of Alan Rickman’s highly stylish, well-read, impeccably dressed uber-villain Hans Gruber take over the building, waste hostages and turn the place into a SWAT and FBI-proof fortress.
With only a vest, no shoes and a receding hairline, John McClane will battle through the night, taking out bad guys left and right, receiving numerous injuries himself, and trade witty sarcasms with Hans all the while, and still find time to make new friends, learn to abseil on a fire-hose and patch things up with his wife, Holly (Bonnie Bedelia). Not only is this guy on-vacation, but he has no jurisdiction in this town! Boy, is he gonna be in trouble if he makes it out of a building he has been instrumental in blowing-up! None of this was in the festive plans, that’s for sure.
“You’re perfectly safe, Sarah. There are forty cops in this building.”
One minute you’re waitressing in a diner and pining for your pet lizard; the worst thing you have to contend with just some kid shoveling ice-cream down your apron … and the next, you’re on the run from an indestructible cyborg assassin that has travelled back in time to kill you. It never mentioned this in your horoscope, did it? And it is just this sort of life-changing and unforeseen situation that young Sarah Connor (pre-workout, big haired Linda Hamilton) finds herself in James Cameron’s The Terminator. With an unstoppable robot in the terrific shape of Arnold Schwarzenegger relentlessly hunting her across 80’s LA and only Michael Biehn’s future freedom fighter able to mount any sort of resistance as the T800 carves a bloody swathe through the city and anybody that stands in its way, she’s really going to wish that she’d changed her name.
Suddenly her whole world is turned upside down when she learns that she is instrumental in mankind’s last stand against the apocalypse. “What? He wants to kill me to stop my unborn son being born and leading the revolt against the machines that take over the world? But I’m not even pregnant … and I don’t even have a boyfriend. Mind you, you’re kinda cute, aren’t you, future-boy?” But after one brief night of passion, our Sarah is back on the run, and forced to learn all sorts of covert weapon skills and guerilla tactics, whilst carrying the salvation of the species in her tummy and knowing the exact date when the machines will rise up and decimate most of the world. It’s that kind of pressure that puts people in the loony-bin. Oh, hang on a minute …
“And if Little Red Riding Hood comes around packin’ an AK47 – I expect you to chin the bitch!”
Okay, so you sign the dotted line and join the Army. You have to expect that at some point in your career, you might come up against an enemy that wants to kill you … but that doesn’t mean that you are going to be trained in the skills of lycanthropic close-quarter combat and be armed with silver bullets as our little patrol of squaddies up in the wilds of Scotland in Neil Marshall’s Dog Soldiers will wish, now does it? When your tough Sergeant has his intestines gouged out and you’re stuck with limited ammo in an isolated farmhouse under siege from a pack of cunning and very hungry eight-foot tall werewolves, it’s dog eat dog, especially when there could be something just as hairy on the inside, as well. Considering that this was supposed to be a training exercise, this is certainly worse than having a fox in your hen-coop.“Yo! Stop your ginnin’ and drop your linen!”
And pretty much the same can be said for the squad of egotistical and over-confident Colonial Space Marines who find themselves at the mercy of a bug-hunt gone disastrously wrong in James Cameron’s Aliens. The multi-sex brigade may be armed with pulse-rifles, robot cannons and smart bombs but their xenomorph assault courses didn’t prepare them for this sort of acid-spewing, skull-chomping confrontation with a force that far outnumbers them. “Why don’t you put her in charge?” blurts the zonked-out Private Hudson (Bill Paxton in perhaps his most famous role) when it transpires that a little girl, Carrie Henn’s Newt, has survived the Alien infestation that has seen everyone else off for weeks on her own. What should have been another glorious day in the Corps turns out to be a grueling last stand as an already nasty situation just keeps on getting worse as the ammo runs down, the robot sentries pack in, the Aliens get in closer and the whole place threatens to go supernova! Then again, this is what you should expect when you bring along Sigourney Weaver’s beastie-bait, Ripley. Everyone else died on her last trip out … and it all blew up in the end. Not exactly a good luck charm, is she?
What is it with small-town policemen and outlandish threats? Honestly, these guys would be far better off dodging bullets in Southeast LA than moving to the sticks for “the quiet life”.
Here’s another example. In William Sachs’ The Incredible Melting Man the local Sheriff gets caught up in the hunt for pus-oozing titular fugitive after being kept in the dark by the officials who were supposed to be keeping tabs on the human pizza’s reign of flesh-eating terror around the countryside. And when he finally learns of the menace to his little county, all he gets for his troubles is messily murdered. Mr. Melto grabs a-hold of him, roughs him up a bit with his one remaining arm and then hurls him onto some high voltage wires, upon which our jobbing hero is promptly incinerated. It is not what seemed to be on the cards for him that morning when he had his Cheerios and his coffee and kissed Mrs. Sheriff goodbye.
The Walking Dead sees another poor Sheriff in Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes awaken from a coma to find himself in the midst of a zombie apocalypse and with most of civilization annihilated. Not only must he battle hordes of the endless undead, but he must also wrestle his marriage and his son back from an aggressive usurper who was once a close friend and ally. And his troubles certainly won’t end there. When he pinned that badge on his shirt and donned the Sheriff’s hat (and learned how to get his English tonsils around that impeccable Texan accent), he didn’t bargain on leading a ragtag gaggle of human flotsam and jetsam through the end of the world, losing his nearest and dearest and almost all of his marbles in the process. Ahhh, perhaps he should have just rolled over on that hospital bed and gone back to sleep.
“We could be looking at a Biblical prophecy come true.”
In the classic creature-feature Them! a grizzled small town New Mexico cop (James Whitmore), a beefy FBI agent (James Arness, the original Thing From Another World) and two entomology professors, father and daughter no less (Edmund Gwen and Joan Weldon), must join forces to do battle with a horror horde of atomic mutated desert ants that have grown to hellish proportions and now threaten to overtake human civilisation as the dominant species on the planet. Somehow, Sgt. Ben Peterson manages to stay on-board for the big military smackdown with the ants in their LA storm-drain nest, even becoming a self-sacrificial hero when he gives his life to save a couple of trapped kids from their hideous mandibles.
Surely he should have remained in New Mexico, patrolling the highways? How did he get promoted to world savior in such short order? Then again, after losing his partner to the ants and witnessing their terrifying capabilities firsthand he, like so many of these “extra-milers” takes the whole thing personally and finds that he has a score to settle. We are on safe ground here when we declare that all four of these disparate characters have some very large ants in their pants that they didn’t bank on confronting when they clocked-on that morning.
“In town, you’re the law. Out here, it’s me.”
You come back from Vietnam after serving your country to find protestors at the airport calling you a baby-killer, you can’t hold down a job in a garage, most of your friends are dead and gone, and then, to cap it all, you find that there’s a law that says you can’t even get something to eat in Jerkwater, USA, in the form of antagonistic Sheriff Teasle (Brian Dennehy). What’s a long-haired, half-Cherokee, half-German Green Beret supposed to do? Well, even if he has the skills and the determination to make a private war happen, John Rambo (you know who), winner of the Congressional Medal of Honour, still didn’t plan on going on the run into the wilderness, pursued and harried by a posse of redneck cops, a bully in a helicopter, swarms of the National Guard, flesh-nibbling rats and every hunter in the vicinity. Although he gets to show off his muscles and his scars and do some damage with knives, guns and his bare hands, it can hardly be thought of as being a “good day” for Johnny Rambo in First Blood.
“I don’t know. Coz it’s from outer space! What do you want from me?”
All he wants to do is go up to his shack and get drunk, but this laconic helicopter pilot didn’t bank on some pesky alien shape-shifter ruining the Antarctic peace and quiet in John Carpenter’s The Thing. Yep, he may be sporting what looks like an entire Grizzly Bear on his face, but Kurt Russell’s flamethrower-packing R. J. MacReady wasn’t exactly expecting to confront a monstrous extraterrestrial that could absorb and imitate his buddies down at their isolated research outpost at the ass-end of the world. A cheating chess-computer is soon the least of his worries once the base gets all splattery with great big dollops of mutating mucus taking on different shapes, attacking people and assuming their identities. With the alien clearly having infected one or more of the team, nobody trusts anybody and tensions regularly explode.
Someone even tries to set up MacReady by messing with his long-johns – NOTE: never muck about with MacReady’s long-johns – and he gets left out in the cold, quite literally when his former friends all turn on him, believing him to be “one of those Things”. With the helicopter sabotaged, no communication with the outsideworld, a ferocious snow storm lashing the camp and no hope of a rescue, MacReady takes matters into his own hands and attempts to trick the beast out of its human hiding-place with some impromptu blood-testing to “find out who’s who,” resulting in his ex-chums ridiculing and scorning him and hating him even more.
But Mac is right and more chaos and death ensues. Eventually with the camp burned down to the icy ground, and only his most antagonistic of his ex-comrades for company, who may or may not be a Thing, Mac has little choice but to salvage some of the hard stuff, wrap-up against the freezing conditions and “wait here for a while. See what happens.” It’s certainly a cold day in Hell for Mac. He sure could do with those spare long-johns now.“Dead or alive, you are coming with me!”
We must also spare a few thoughts for Detroit policeman Officer Alex Murphy who suffers greatly in Paul Verhoeven’s splattertastic future satire Robocop. Following arch-fiend and dedicated scumbag Clarence Boddicker into a deserted warehouse, the courageous copper get infinitely more than he expected when he drove out of the police station that morning. Surrounded by Clarence’s gang, Murphy gets his hand blown off then, in a protracted sequence of ghastly Monty Python-esque brutality, the rest of him then gets perforated and shot to bits, a final bullet even removing a chunk of his noggin. Now, somewhat unbelievably, he survives this and, rushed to sinister hi-tech corporation OCP, he is rebuilt and transformed into the titular titanium law-enforcer. Ahhh, so things aren’t that bad, after all. But, wait, Murphy had a family … and agonizing memories of a lovely home-life that he can never return to then torment the poor cyborg, who then suffers his own men turning on him as well. It is fair to say that Officer Murphy was hardly contracted for bodily disassembly via shotgun and a super-steel reconstruction when he took the job.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat …”
And, of course, possibly the most put-upon, harassed, terrorised and, ultimately, courageous of official representatives forced to deal with situations way above and beyond the norm is Amity Island Chief of Police Martin Brody in – aye, skipper – Jaws.
A non-islander who hates the water – “It’s only an island if you look at it from the water,” – and is regularly browbeaten by the town elders, cantankerous locals, barnacled sea-soaks and academic eggheads even before he comes up face to chompers with the biggest fish in the sea, Brody is the epitome of the everyman thrust into the heart of a terrible situation that is rapidly getting worse.
Suddenly not being able to pronounce “yard” in the correct native vernacular, or keep his paperwork in order – “Just the pending …” - is the least of his worries when Bruce the Shark – “that’s a twenty-footer.” “Twenty-five …” - discovers that he’s rather partial to the taste of local skinny-dippers, little boy rafters, leathery old fishermen, row-boaters and well, just about anybody who dangles their tootsies in the briny, and stakes a claim on Brody’s stretch of coastline. With the summer in tatters and even the Mayor of Shark City quivering like a jellyfish because his kids “were on that beach too,” Brody has no option but to take the fight to the depths and confront his enemy in the deep blue sea – mano et fisho.
He can’t navigate, he’s never steered a boat in his life, he gets saddled with the job of ladling out fish-guts, and he has no impressive scars to boast of, but this guy will pump bullets into the hide of the Great White from his service revolver, stab the beast with a harpoon and then, at the last minute, blow the thing to smithereens with the best shot of his life when he uses Quint’s vintage rifle to explode the compressed-air tank that he has conveniently lobbed into the monster’s flesh-dripping jaws.“Smile, you sonofa – KABOOM!!!”
And there’s not only Brody. Whilst we can, to a large extent, discount Quint, who does sharkin’ fer a living, there’s arrogant ichthyologist Matt Hooper. Now, this may be a guy who studies sharks, but this particular encounter is still something that “swims up and” and almost “bites him on the ass!” No matter what his field of expertise and his underwater skills and knowledge of Carcharodon Carcharias, nothing in the halls of aquatic academia has prepared him for this type of wet-suit-filling close-up research when he takes two perilous dives into the sea. The first time he encounters what the shark has left of poor Ben Gardner, and the on the second valiant occasion all of his carefully prepared toxins go for a burton when his cage comes under attack from the ocean’s answer to a T-Rex and he loses his spear-gun! D’oh!
“Sharks don’t take things personally, Mr. Brody.”
But apparently they do and we must return to Martin Brody, who gets the I don’t deserve this badge of honour head and shoulders above all others because he would go on to endure ANOTHER shark trauma in Jaws 2! Not only would nobody believe his ominous warnings – “I know what a shark looks like coz I’ve seen one up close!”- but some slimy town bigwig would be putting the moves on his missus, and he would be ridiculed and sacked for his obsessive and yet totally justified fears, and his kids would wind-up in severe waterlogged jeopardy at the chomping jaws of the female of the species with Dad being the only person above or below the water who could and would do a damn thing about it. He can drive a boat now, but he still can’t navigate – “Don’t give me that sh*t! Point!” he demands of the freshly promoted Hendricks who has an entire horizon to choose from to give his former Chief directions to find the lost and drifting flotilla of teens under relentless assault from Bruce-ette!
Even if he makes a big blunder on the beach and shoots up a school of bluefish in a fit of over-zealous mistaken identity, Brody’s rescue of the terrorized kids is a marvel of maritime improvisation. Using himself as bait he lures the sub-sized shark into chomping on a power-cable. That’s the second Great White he’s turned into an aquatic light show.
So, from the ranks of these dedicated souls who have pledged their daily lives to the furtherance of our safety and our understanding of the world around us, I present Martin Brody as the Greatest Unsung and Totally Reluctant Hero of Our Times. Yes, the Nostromo’s Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley went on to battle xenomorphs for four films, but after the first encounter in Alien, she was choosing her own destiny and mostly going out after them, or even becoming a part of their family, once her clone was revealed to have the species’ DNA.
Thus, Martin, after taking out two Great White Sharks which both came at you like runaway trains, whilst still hating the water and getting the boot from your job and being too damn drunk to fool around, you have proved that you can, indeed, do anything you want … because you are MORE than just the Chief of Police.
Martin Brody, we salute you!
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