There is a phrase that is a staple of horror movie and thriller dialog. No, not ?Hmm, there’s a killer about. Wanna have sex?? I’m talking about ?He has no concept of right and wrong.? Whenever they want to make a person seem particularly chilling and scary, they’ll cart out that old gem. Generally they will put this line in the mouth of a counselor or psychiatrist to make it seem more official. Evidently we are supposed to be extra frightened of this person because they aren’t capable of discerning a good thing from a bad thing. It doesn’t work for me. I think that these TV psychoanalysts are misdiagnosing the nut jobs. Let’s investigate.
First, why am I supposed to be more frightened of a person who doesn’t know right from wrong? Is that sort of person implicitly terrifying? Not to me. Infants don’t know right from wrong, and I’m not afraid of them, though it might be because if one gets out of hand they are easy to punt across the room. Not knowing right from wrong just makes you stupid, and stupid people aren’t fundamentally terrifying either. I mean, you don’t see movies coming out called ?Day of the Idiots.? Why should not knowing right from wrong make someone any more frightening than not knowing right from left?
The answer is because, in fiction, people who don’t know right from wrong are darn near flawless at choosing ?wrong.? Take the remake of Halloween. Mike Myers is a person who doesn’t know right from wrong, so naturally he stabs half a town to death. It is always the same. You name the conceptually challenged antagonist, he or she manages to choose wrong each and every time. This doesn’t make sense to me. Picture a color blind person. This person has no concept of green and red. Would this lead him to always dress in red? No! Realistically it would be IMPOSSIBLE for him to always choose the same color, even if he was trying! In reality a color blind person would end up wearing a bizarre mismatch of colors if left unsupervised, but our moral blind characters don’t do that. You don’t see Mike Myers alternately nailing people to the wall with a carving knife and reading to the elderly, do you?
Now, granted, a slasher villain planting a tree every other scene wouldn’t really make for good entertainment, so we will assume, just for the moment, that the killer actually IS flipping the coin ‘o morals and we only see it when it lands on ?evil.? It still doesn’t make sense why he would KEEP doing it. One time I saw a squirrel touch the third rail. It was launched across the platform, hit a wall, smoldered for a few seconds, then ran away. That squirrel had no concept of electricity, and probably still doesn’t, but it sure as heck has a concept of ?don’t touch the third rail? now, doesn’t it? That’s basic survival instinct. So when our psycho killer kills someone and gets shot for doing it, one would imagine, regardless of his moral compass, he might possibly stop killing people just so he’ll stop getting shot. If Stabs McGee can’t wrap his mind around THAT concept, then chances are we don’t have to be worried about him anyway, since before long he’s going to die from having no concept of burning and not burning.
I am not saying that Mike Myers and his morally unknowledgeable brethren aren’t scary. I’m just saying that moral blindness is not what MAKES them scary. Were I the psychiatrist hired to give my opinion of an ax crazy maniac, I wouldn’t point out his inexpert grasp of morality ahead of, say, the fact that he is a crazy maniac with an ax. I don’t think he doesn’t know the difference between right and wrong. I think he knows the difference, but prefers wrong. But I guess in the end all of this reason and logic is pointless, since our killers tend to be madmen and thus unreasonable and illogical by definition. All I know is that if someone is unreasonable, amoral, illogical, and has a knife, it’s that last thing I’m going to worry about first, thank you very much.