The 13th Floor

Where Have All the Monsters Gone? An Appreciation of SEE NO EVIL’s Jacob Goodnight

Glenn Jacobs was made to play monsters. Standing seven feet tall and weighing well over 300 pounds, the professional wrestler has arms like tree trunks and a gnarled mug that relaxes into a pained grimace. Even before he debuted as the burn-scarred demon Kane — a character he’s now played in the WWE for nearly 20 years — Jacobs wrestled as a psychotic dentist, a Unabomber knockoff, and a red, green, and bauble-clad monstrosity called The Christmas Creature. He’s played a good guy on occasion, but Jacobs is never more effective than when his snake-like fingers coil around a throat, his eyes burning with hate and rage.

So why did it take this monster so long to play one on film? Perhaps because monsters — big, scary ones, at least — aren’t what we’re scared of anymore. Long gone are the slasher heydays of yore, when Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, still unencumbered by druid cults and silly feuds with Freddy, could impose by the sheer virtue of their size and the way they could fill a frame with nothing but head, arms, and torso. As the horror community began to look inward, our monsters became psychological manifestations, ghosts that could be chased away with an emotional reckoning. And if the monster was real, it was something unexpected. It was a couple sick teenagers or some creepy kids or, like, Dexter.

It still is, too, and there’s nothing wrong with that. All monsters are not created equal. But there was something undoubtedly refreshing about watching Jacobs hack, slash, and gouge his way through his first starring vehicle, 2006’s See No Evil. Now, let me be clear: See No Evil is no “forgotten classic” or “underappreciated gem” — really, it’s a fairly rote, by-the-numbers slasher that benefits from a few neat kills. Its 2014 sequel fares better, if only for the confident direction of Jen and Sylvia Soska and some clever costuming for Jacobs’ monster that includes an eerie-as-hell translucent mask. Both films’ greatest strength, however, is the casting of Jacobs as Jacob Goodnight, a deranged beast of a man who, as a child, was indoctrinated with sexual shame and a desire to dole out punishment to sinners by his overzealous mother. More bold than complex, Jacobs’ performance resonates on many levels, not the least of which being the visceral pleasures of seeing a monster who’s actually, well, monstrous.

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Because it’s easy to forget just how large Jacobs is. In the WWE, he’s routinely surrounded by musclebound wrestlers who stand well over six feet tall; he towers over them, too, but not by that much. In both See No Evil and its sequel, his arms seem to swallow the tiny, slender teens he slaughters. Jacobs looks unnatural alongside them, beast-like and unknowable. It’s the same sensation that helped guys like Randall “Tex” Cobb or even House of 1,000 Corpses’ Matthew McGrory make such an impression on film. When Leatherface appears before Kirk, walloping him with his hammer and dragging him away, much of that moment’s terror comes from the sheer size of this monster.

Jacob Goodnight is no Leatherface, obviously, but Jacobs the actor has those same inimitable qualities. Whether you accept it or not, success as a performer revolves almost entirely around how one looks, which is why it’s so important for actors to understand their type and exploit it to their best ability. There’s a sense of realism about the everyman killer or unassuming sociopath, but there’s an undeniable power in size. There’s a reason that, within the professional wrestling world, Vince McMahon always prefers to push the big guys.

But there’s something else to Jacobs, thus the reason this piece concerns him and not, say, Kane Hodder, who’s had a great run in the wickedly fun Hatchet franchise as of late. Jacobs has always been one of WWE’s best pure actors — I even wrote about one of his best turns on this very site — but there’s a moment in See No Evil that, though it teeters on the cusp of bad taste, required a level of vulnerability you’d never see in the squared circle. As previously stated, there’s an undercurrent of sexual shame that informs Jacob Goodnight’s rampage, so it’s both shocking and gruesomely logical when he stares down one of his victims while stroking himself, the girl whimpering all the while. It’s an exceedingly ugly moment, but Jacobs is able to both justify and elevate it by manifesting the innate shame he associates with such an act. And he sells it, too, shrinking within his massive frame to reveal the wounded child beneath, the pain and longing he hides beneath his violence. It won’t win Jacobs an Oscar, but it does cement him as one of the few of his kind to be capable of such vulnerability.

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But you may not want your slasher to have emotion. Silent, faceless, and deadly is a tried and true tool as well, but what helps Jacob Goodnight, I’d say, is that the presence of his humanity never once negates his bloodlust. The damage has already been done. Like Jason and Michael Myers, there’s a strain of the supernatural coursing through Jacob Goodnight in See No Evil 2; whether it makes sense or not, he’s evolving from something fleshly to something indestructible. That the question of “why” barely arises is another benefit of casting a monster to play a monster. Something that big must be impossible to kill.

The hope for a See No Evil 3 seems slim at this point, unfortunately. Though both Jacobs and the Soska sisters are on board, WWE has evolved considerably since the original premiered in 2006. Then, the company was still edgy and known for its adult-oriented storylines. These days, in what many call the PG-era, WWE would much rather focus on animated content like Surf’s Up 2: WaveMania or run-of-the-mill actioners like the upcoming Countdown. Jacobs stars as a gruff police commander in the latter, actually, and that honestly might be the best route for him. He’s approaching 50, after all, and slashing is probably best left to the young.

Luckily, the WWE is making new monsters every day.

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