Stock Background Characters 101: Nerds, Geeks & Dorks
In this feature, we examine the lesser beings of the slasher movie realm, which, if you’re making your own slasher film, could provide a good cast roster for you.
No killer or final girl profiles here, this is a celebration of those underlings who made the most of their fleeting flirtation with stardom. And usually died.
This month sees the turn of NERDS, GEEKS & DORKS
Now, before we start, is there a difference between Nerds, Geeks and Dorks? To my understanding, a geek is a cool nerd, like I’m a slasher film geek, right? A dork is anybody who just acts like an idiot but in an inoffensive way. Geeks and dorks can apparently be handsome and socially active whereas nerds combine the former attributes and are textbook bespectacled, socially inadequate as well as being mentally and physically feeble. Feel free to provide your own reading of these terms.
Overview: In the slasher movie realm, these people are almost as short-lived as slutty cheerleaders and horny jocks but they are normally killed off fairly early on as, in true stereotypical slasher film form, they’re not as pretty to look at as the others.
Nerds, Geeks and Dorks are more often than not male (with a few recent exceptions) and can sometimes double as the joker or the prankster. Look at bubble-permed Shelly in Friday the 13th Part III – he’s the practical joke master but also essentially one big dweeb. Dweeb! That’s another one!
Let’s also remember that some slasher films chronicle the revenge of a nerd scorned. Slaughter High and Terror Train are two prime examples of this, but it crops up in other films from the UK’s Tormented to Korean pastiche Record.
Linguistic Snapshot: “You guys only invited me here this weekend so I’d do your term papers for you! I know it! Well, if I weren’t scared of the dark and had my inhaler, I’d walk right outta here now, through the creepy woods to the car and call my Mom to come and get me!”
Styling: Like last month’s Black Girl with Attitude, the slasher film trades on stereotyping to create shortcuts to its character identification. Therefore, our High-IQ’d friends almost always have glasses that, like Velma in Scooby Doo, they cannot see without. Basic bland clothing and styleless hair are also common and they’re always skin and bone.
Hallmarks: Virginity fully intact, Nerds, Geeks and Dorks may be at the top of the academic tree but they’re unfairly relegated to the bottom of the social strata, lucklessly after the girl they have no chance in hell with. See: Linderman in Freddy vs. Jason, Leonard in Prom Night III, or even Maddy in Friday VII for a girl-geek reversal of the cliche.
Downfall: An unquenched yearning for social acceptance can be fatal for the nerd when invited on a weekend away or miraculously scoring a date with the final girl… In the Friday series, Maddy, Wayne (Part VIII), Eddie (Part VII) and Jake (Part V) are all betrayed by love very shortly before they check out for good. Alfred in Happy Birthday to Me was after the heroine’s heart and instead got shears in the belly and comically-camp campus nerd Radish was anxious to warn Courtney of the inclement danger in Final Exam when he met his maker.
It is worth noting a couple of exceptions to the rule here, in the scarily similar Friday the 13th Part 2 and The Burning from 1981, both the nerds lived another day. In the former, Ted simply wisely decides not to head back to camp and saves himself whereas Alfred in The Burning (played by practical career film nerd Brian Backer) becomes that rare Final Boy, in spite of the fact that the kid’s a Peeping Tom and has a generally creepy aura about him. Later, girl geek Ellie managed to survive the fatalities that plagued Sorority Row.
Genesis: Early nerds weren’t coded so strongly as such: Ed in Terror Train and Slick in Prom Night were more like dorks, treated as mere expendables in both films, they were done away with quite mercilessly. Soon after, Hell Night gave us creepy little prankster Scott, another bespectacled nerd who is unliked by many and clearly used by the fraternity president as the brains of the operation.
By the mid-80s, films were liberally peppered with know-alls, horny dorks and weaklings, all lined up for the chop along with their more commonplace high school classmates.
In the 90s, however, we arrived at the shores of Randy, Scream‘s all-knowing film geek who, while virginal and kinda repulsive to all females in the vicinity, not only survived the film (returning for the sequel) but became a fan favourite for his rule breaking (nerd rules, not horror film rules) and geek became chic.
Subsequently, dorks and geeks became a bit more involved and assigned some good lines here and there: Billy O’ played such characters in both Lovers Lane and Shredder, stealing much affection from the main characters in the latter and Chewie in the Friday the 13th reboot was even crowbarred into the Asian nerd subset but still managed to evoke more interest and empathy than his non-dimensional cookie cutter friends.
Legacy: There have been a couple of films where the final girl is a sort of nerd herself. Back Slash comes immediately to mind and when you think about it even Laurie Strode was a bookish nobody of sorts but these attributes often serve her better than male counterparts, who are far too preoccupied with equations or covert masturbating to notice the presence of the masked psycho.
Still, I’d like to see a killer take on a real group of nerds who think about logical, smart ways to prevent him from killing them. You could cast all manner of computer nerds, Dungeons & Dragons role-playing dorks and off-the-chart-smart academics to pit their advantageous wits against a blade-toting loon. Hmmm… good idea that.