Alone With a Homicidal Maniac

Almost alone. Which is to say, if you were trapped in a house with a homicidal maniac, who would you most want to have with you?


I have been pondering this question lately. Not, you will be happy to hear, because I am trapped in the house with a homicidal maniac. Rather, it’s the fault of the Internet Archive.

More specifically, it’s due to some of the movies in their catalogue – thinking especially of The Case of the Frightened Lady and The Ninth Guest. Both of these films (spoilers!) include the trope of the homicidal maniac. And in both cases, the homicidal maniac looks perfectly normal (fair enough) – until the audience finds out who it is. Then, of course, it is all wide, staring eyes and rabid laughter.

As the actor Paddy Considine said, “All you’ve got to do is turn up and have a few facial tics and be a lunatic and throw someone around the room or blow their brains out and people think it’s good acting.” Very unsubtle, not to mention unrealistic.

But this is the problem with the aforementioned films, which otherwise aren’t too bad, as films go. There’s no subtlety. One moment someone appears perfectly normal, and the next they’re frothing at the mouth. If we are to take movies as our guide, what causes homicidal maniacs to lose their rag is someone finding out that they’re a homicidal maniac. Up until that point, they’re just politely and quietly homicidal when no-one’s looking. (Especially not a cameraman.)

Billy Pigs. A Boscombe leg end. #billypigs #billy #bill #boscombe #legend #bournemouth #ruffrootcreative #windsorroad #lunatic #bloke #instaman #pentax #ilfordxp2 #film #filmphotography #portraitNeedless to say, this is not very realistic. In fact, according to this article, very few serial killers are actually insane. Of course, this is from a point of view that doesn’t consider someone insane just because they’re a psychopath. In order to be legally insane, you have to be sufficiently distant from reality to be unaware that killing people is wrong (and by wrong, they mean ‘against the law’). This is extremely rare. Most serial killers know killing people is against the law, they just don’t care.

That leaves us with the uncomfortable conclusion that most serial killers are sane. (For a given value of sane.) And it goes without saying – or it should, but I’ll say it anyway – that the vast majority of people with mental health problems are not serial killers. In fact, they are by some accounts more likely to be the victims than the perpetrators of violence. (Also, in case you were wondering, the whole multiple-personalities-and-one’s-a-psychopath thing is also a non-starter – for reasons explained here.)

But we still have that idea of insanity as all wild-eyed and slavering. I can even remember a case here in New Zealand where a normally ordinary-looking man (on trial for murder, attempted murder, wounding, kidnapping, aggravated burglary and shooting at police) took to wide-eyed stares and a bizarre haircut to bolster up his defence of insanity. The jury didn’t buy it; while he was undoubtedly of unsound mental health, he wasn’t legally insane.


Now obviously, if someone comes at you with, say, a samurai sword, you shouldn’t pause to consider whether they’re insane, sane, or just stepping out for a spot of tsuji-giri. At that point, it doesn’t really matter whether they are of sound mind; you should be taking evasive action.

Perhaps, then, the question should be “If you were trapped in a house with a homicidal person-of-indeterminate-sanity, who would you most like to have with you?” A hostage negotiator? Vin Diesel? Mummy? Someone you really don’t like, to act as a diversion while you leg it?

Personally, I think I’d like to have the Caped Gooseberry, for general comfort, quick thinking, and long limbs. The latter would be useful for making a quick exit through a window, which seems like the rational choice if trapped in a house with a killer (instead of the usual “let’s separate and have a look around in dark corners”). Of course, the window method only works on ground-floor buildings – or first floor, if you’re desperate – so if I receive any invitations to penthouse parties from people I don’t know, I will just have to regretfully decline.

Dr. Jeeves and Mr. Hyde Wooster

We are all, to some extent, Jekyll and Hyde. I don’t mean to suggest that we all make & take potions and turn into insane murderers (I feel sure I would have noticed), but we all have different sides to our selves. Not good vs evil necessarily, but, say, left-brain vs. right-brain.

Left hemisphere throbbing

The writing teacher Dorothea Brande suggests that in order to make the best use of these different elements of ourselves – she is speaking of the creative and critical functions – it is best to consider and develop them separately.

“By isolating as far as possible the functions of these two sides of the mind, even by considering them not merely as aspects of the same mind but as separate personalities, we can arrive at a kind of working metaphor, impossible to confuse with reality, but infinitely helpful in self-education.”

To arrive at the working metaphor: that was my goal. As I have mentioned before, there are few things I enjoy more than a really good metaphor.
Left brain / right brain, however, isn’t much of a metaphor, and it’s hard to visualize for someone who has never seen her brain (and doesn’t much want to).

inner child

The next classic metaphor is the “inner child” – which didn’t really work for me. While my creative side is frequently childlike, it isn’t like a child – and my “adult” self is frequently less than adult!

The thing is, in order to make the best use of the two sides, they need to work together; there needs to be a kind of equality between them. Adult/child is not a relationship of equality.

Yes, the creative side needs to submit to the ordered side’s discipline, or nothing would ever be achieved; but the ordered side’s authority is exercised solely to create the best conditions for the creative side. (Or at least it should be.)

I started considering relationships where this is the case.

Edwardian lady writing (6908558900)

The Governess, I decided, was an excellent metaphor for the ordered side: she governs, she educates, she assesses, she provides encouragement and rebuke as necessary, and she wields her authority for the good of her charge.

The only downside is that governesses do all this for children, and my inner self, etc etc. I suppose it is possible to have a governess for a lunatic (seems like something Chesterton would write) but I’m not sure that I’m that far gone.

Then I had a brain-wave: Jeeves and Wooster. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster is the immature undisciplined creative all-over-the-place person par excellence, and Jeeves’ whole raison d’être is to provide for his every need (if not want) and keep him out of prison, matrimony, and unsuitable apparel.

Books About Town, Book Benches, Jeeves And Wooster Stories

As mentally satisfying as that metaphor was, it still wasn’t quite ‘me’. My ordered side is more a Miss Silver than a Jeeves, and I’d like to think my creative side is less clueless than a Wooster. The Great Metaphor Hunt went on.

Eventually I realized that the metaphors for the two sides don’t have to ‘belong’ together, as satisfying as it would be if they did. I could pair the Governess metaphor with a non-child metaphor. But what?

The creative side really was much harder to pin down, which is fitting, I suppose. After some thought, I settled on the Jester – one of those simple souls who capers about singing songs of joy or sorrow and saying the sorts of things that reasonable people get their heads chopped off for. This is the side of me that laughs at toilet humour and howls at the moon. (I think it is best for everybody if I don’t sing.)

Decamps Les danseurs albanais

Interestingly, I’ve noticed a difference in what I like to wear, depending on which aspect is in the ascendant, or in use, whichever way you like to look at it.
The Governess side of me likes to wear 1930s style clothes: tailored, smart and tidy. The Jester, on the other hand, has a more medieval aesthetic: flowing garments one can move freely in, preferably topped with a funny hat of some sort (with or without bells).

Perhaps I can use that as a way to toggle the two sides. The Governess makes the plans for the day’s work, and then on go the ancestral dressing-gown and the funny hat, and the Jester comes out to play. When it comes time to review and edit, off with the funny hat.

John Ellys Hester Booth as a female Harlequin VA

Do you have recognized sides to your self? Do you have metaphors for them? I’d love to know!