FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Sep 18, 2005

Wanna See Something REALLY Scary?

This past Thursday I decided to take the day off from inking and do something totally and completely indulgent: I went shopping. This may not seem like a big deal to you, but I tend to spend everyday at my desk in my studio working on something- if I have no ink work, then I paint or draw or whatever. But not this Thursday! I was so determined to take the day off from "art" that I even gave my studio the finger the first time I walked by it that morning. In your face, studio! Yeah.

One of my goals that day was to buy a DVD or two, so I went to all the usual stops- Best Buy, Media Play...slim pickin's indeed. (As a sidenote, I still adamantly refer to myself as NEW to Columbus, Ohio despite having been here for 2-odd years now...and I don't know of any decent non-chain stores that would have a good selection of DVDs. If any enterprising reader is clued in, please help!) The choices in the horror section just seemed so bland. Most of this new stuff- meh. Silly antiseptic WB schlock with a heavy metal soundtrack and a twist ending. I'm not a big gore freak, so the more exploitation-y titles were out. Most of the Asian titles were too expensive for me to take a chance on, and the rest, I'd already seen. Gah! Sheesh! I scored nothin'! Well, no movies, anyway. I did end up with some pants that I really like- they're working out quite nicely so far, thank you.

But I was bummed anyway. Aren't we supposed to be in the middle of some sort of horror resurgence in the cinema? Why does it all seem to suck? I very rarely go to the theatre to see a movie- yet there was nothing on the shelves I wanted? What do I want? For the love of Charles Nelson Reilly, WHAT DO I WANT? I asked myself these questions pretty much the rest of the day. And after lengthy ruminations about horror movies AND Charles Nelson Reilly, I came to this conclusion: I want a movie that will scare me. I know, it's profound. Deep, even. It seems so simple, so why is it so rare? Why am I so seldom scared by horror movies these days? There's a million answers for that, but honestly, who really cares? Am I writing a blog or a treatise here?

I like horror movies because I like to be scared. It's that simple. The rush of adrenaline, the stomach clenching...man, I love that. It's why I say that the time I spent inside an abandoned insane asylum with a friend, taking pictures, was one of the greatest things I've done. I was scared out of my fucking mind, to the point where sometimes...I couldn't move. Bliss! It's why I always foolishly play the "Wouldn't it be scary if..." game with myself when I'm alone. Wouldn't it be scary if I heard footsteps in the attic when I was supposedly home alone? Yes, it would. Then I get all freaked out- and it's miserable, sorta...but I love it. And that's why I get bummed when I come home from a movie-hunting expedition without bagging the big game, or when I see a new movie and it just plain sucks. What hurts the most are the movies with a tiny little nugget of the good, scary stuff in 'em...and then they blow it. Like Tiffany sang, "It coulda been so beautiful...it coulda been so right..."- but so rarely does the nugget grow into a hide your face behind your hands but peek through your fingers anyway thrill. Paging Darkness Falls ...Darkness Falls, you have a telephone call at the front desk.

But let's not dwell on the bad. I'd rather dream of days past, of movies past...of some of the scariest things I think have ever been laid on celluloid (or digital something something or whatever the kids are using nowadays, daggummit...yes, I've become the old woman yelling at the neighborhood kids- "Get the hell out of my garden! That ball is MINE now!". I just need 37 more cats to complete the picture.). So what bits have scared me the most? Lock the doors, close the curtains, and look on, if you dare....mwah ha ha haaaa! Oh, and there's a chance, I suppose, for some of you to find some spoilers for movies you haven't seen. So, you know, watch out.

First of all, I realize that the focus of this blog, somewhat, is supposed to be slasher flicks. Therefore I racked my brain, trying to think of actual scary moments from slashers, and I gotta tell ya...there's a dearth, for sure. Slashers tend to be so...I don't know...unsubtle that the truly frightening stuff is hard to come by. There are exceptions, though- of course. Halloween has some moments that still send a chill right down my spine. For instance, towards the end, after Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) has stabbed Michael Myers with his own knife and sends the kids for help. She's taking a breather, and we see Michael lying on the floor in the background...then he sits up and slowly turns his head to look at her. That one moment, owing much to the physicality of Nick Castle, the actor playing Michael- still gets me. And one of the earliest, if not the first proper slasher, Black Christmas, well, that movie still works, all the way around. It's not an extremely well-known movie, I guess, and I don't want to ruin anything for anybody. But if you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and seek it out. It's pretty damn scary. Plus you get to watch Olivia Hussey and her shiny shiny hair for 90 minutes or so.

The first time I saw Session 9 was at the theatre, and I don't know...maybe I was expecting something else, maybe I was preoccupied with thoughts of Charles Nelson Reilly...whatever was going on, the movie just didn't work for me. I find that hard to believe at this point, however, because it's become one of my favorites (one of my "faves", for you teens out there). It does what a good horror movie should- it sets a tone, a mood that leaves you feeling uneasy. It's that feeling of dread, the source of which you can't always put your finger on- it comes from the music, the setting, even the film quality and color itself. All those planets align and you sink further and further down in your seat, just knowing it's going to get worse. The last time I watched it, it wasn't a visual that horrified me the most- it was the last two lines of the movie. Right before the credits, we can hear an audio recording from "Session 9" between the doctor and patient at the asylum. The doctor asks "And where do you live, Simon?". The patient replies, in a warbled, deep voice, "I live in the weak...and the wounded. Doc.". Creeps me OUT, homies!

Classic: Cheryl's possession in The Evil Dead. She's been...umm...raped by a tree, you see, and acting a little weird ever since- go figure. Two of her friends are playing a game- one holds up a playing card, and the other tries to "telepathically" guess what is is. Cheryl is behind them, her back turned, looking out the window- and she starts calling the cards out correctly. Then she spins to face them, and she's all 10 kinds of demonic-y gross looking. Bleh.

The Shining is another movie that sets a tone, like I was talking about. Stanley Kubrick does it so well that a simple word appearing on the screen- say, TUESDAY- can give you the willies. But of course, you all know where I'm gonna go with this. That's right, the twins. The first time Danny sees them, when he's riding his Big Wheel in the hallways of the hotel...tell me, how can two little girls, just standing there, be an image so terrifying that it stays with me to this day? "Come and play with us, Danny..."

Don't Look Now is an amazing movie that rewards repeated viewing with it's symbolism and metaphors. The ending, though, is just such a shock, it's another of those images that won't go away. Throughout the film, John Baxter (Donald Sutherland) has been haunted by a small person in a red coat, whom he believes to be the ghost of his dead daughter. He spots the figure one last time, and decides to give chase through the darkened, labyrinthine back streets of Venice. He gets the figure cornered and approaches, promising not to hurt her, he's a friend...and when he gets close enough, the figure turns to face him. It's not his daughter's ghost- it's the twisted visage of an evil dwarf lady serial killer that has been terrorizing the city- and she slashes John's throat. That reads so weird, and it is- it's gotta be the biggest, most frightening "What the FUCK?" moment ever.

I know alot of people can't stand The Blair Witch Project, and I'm not sure why. Too slow for these kids nowadays, maybe- too much buildup and not alot of payoff? Meh. I love it. I can really get into it- I find it easy to be frightened by the dark, by the woods at night. Of course the ending is scary, but my favorite moments are when our hapless film students are in the tent, trying to sleep...and they hear noises outside. The scene with the children laughing...outside your tent, in the middle of the night...phew. Oh yeah- and then those children, or SOMETHING ELSE, begin to beat their hands on the side of the tent...

The Ring gave me hope that I'm not a completely jaded, seen-it-all cynic who will enjoy horror movies less and less until I finally just give up on them completely. The movie scared me. There, I said it. I remember...now this is silly, so reserve judgment, please...I saw it in Bethlehem, PA soon after it opened. I lived in NYC at the time, but 2 friends and I drove to Bethlehem for the weekend and stayed in a hotel. The Ring was playing nearby, so we went- despite my having little faith in theatre audiences these days, we went. When I really want to see something, I tend to wait for the DVD so I can watch it at home- for less money and better atmosphere. Anyway, this theatre was packed with exactly the kind of audience I dread- teenagers. Dagummit. I figured it would be noisy, chatty, just awful. But shortly after the movie began, the theatre went silent. The horror mojo was workin', or something, and I think the entire audience was scared, as uncool as that may be. It was fantastic- and Samara coming out of the television at the end just blew me away. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but that night, while lying there in the darkened hotel room, I started in with the "Wouldn't it be scary if...I opened my eyes and she was right in front of me?". So I kept my eyes closed. Now that's what I'm talkin' about!

Without a doubt, though, the absolute scariest thing I've ever seen- the thing I can't stand, still, is from The Exorcist. It's the subliminal face that director William Friedkin snuck in there, during Father Karras's dream sequence. It's unnamed...it's just a flash, a few frames...and it scares the hell out of me, every time. I know it's coming, so I close my eyes...but then I usually open them again, because while I hate it- I have to look. I know it's just some actor in silly makeup- I know that, I really do. Really. I can think rationally about it. But there's something about it that, honestly, makes my legs weak with terror- every time. And against my better judgment, I found a picture of it, and I'm going to post it here. I'll regret it for sure.

So what scares you guys? Ugh. I can't stick around any longer...it's that face...

9 comments:

David Lee said...

The attack on the nurse in Exorcist 3. It's a jump scare but it's one that's burned into my visual memory.

tismey said...

Kids in horror movies scare me generally - you've mentioned the twins in The Shining, but then there's the dreaming/freddy-possessed kid in Wes Craven's New Nightmare, the vampire kid hovering outside the window in Salem's Lot, the very ending of Hallowe'en 4. I was even a bit creeped out by the zombie baby in Pet Sematary, and that film sucked.

Here's a really good list of 100 scariest movie moments, it's got some you've mentioned here as well as a bunch of others. Nice to see The Shining getting props - that film has so many genuinely disturbing moments in it it's unfair.

You mention not having found any recent horror films that interest you - have you seen Haute Tension? It's a french film from a year or so back (translated as High Tension or, rather more inexplicably, Switchblade Romance). It's a stalk-n-slash which has more in common with the early examples of the genre than with the more recent crop of clever-clever, self-knowing post-Scream slashers...

Stacie Ponder said...

I was going to write about the nurse scene but I had to stop myself, or I would've written more and more and more...I love Exorcist 3. A great blend of horror and crime story.

Kids are damn creepy- I mean, I realize he's the Anti-Christ and all, but the final shot of Damian in The Omen, where he turns to look at the camera just gives me the heebie-jeebies. That sinister little smirk...

That's a great list at RetroCrush- though how the "face that gives me nightmares" only comes in at #57, I don't get it! And lots of people cite the Carrie's hand-out-of-the-grave as a big scare, but it's just a shock/jump scare in my book. There's plenty of other haunting scenes from that movie, like the Jesus-with-glowing-eyes in the closet...

I haven't caught High Tension yet. I saw the poster at the local theatre when I was there for...Star Wars? Land of the Dead? Anyway, I was intrigued, but missed it's brief appearance on the big screen. I'll definitely be picking it up on DVD, though!

protected static said...

Heh... I've been playing catch-up on my horror - parenting put a real crimp in my movie-watching style, and I've been out of the pop culture loop since late 1999...

I know entirely what you mean about Session 9 and The Ring - I'm pretty jaded in a lot of ways when it comes to horror, and they both completely freaked me out.

Scariest movie ever for me? The original cut of Alien - I saw it in the theatre when I was 12, and it scared the snot out of me. It wasn't until I bought the Alien DVD box set w/ Ridley Scott's commentary that I was able to prove to my wife that the scenes that scared me so much actually existed, since they were edited out of the film shortly after the initial release!

Anonymous said...

I adore Exorcist 3, the nurse seen never fails to get to me...

I don't know that I've seen the scariest movie yet. Sometimes stuff sinks in for weird reasons, like Madman, and other times it's just a well made movie like Session 9, but I'm still searching for that ultimate chill down the spine!

Amanda By Night

Smurfwreck said...

I wish I was scared more during movies. My fiancee and my best friend both get scared (my fiancee still hasn't forgiven me for making her watch Misery and my best friend for watching Donnie Darko.)

Mostly I just get disturbed. I almost had a good thing going with Saw in the theatre, but then song girl started laughing half way through and ruined it for me. Thems the breaks.

Vicky said...

The meathook scene in TCM; you see it in the foreground and you just know, KNOW that Leatherface is going to hang her on it. Absolutely petrified, so I was.

And The Shining, you have it on the button; the pattern on the carpet, the twins...brr.

Jay Amabile said...

i remember that face...it was SCARY! I am obsessed with The Shining and what do you think is scary those twins...or the fros of the women on the posters in Scatman Cruthers bedroom? haha

A Case of You said...

that face might actually be the scariest thing ever in the history of the world. the first time i paused the DVD (yes, the DVD) on the face, i thought i might actually pee my pants.

it was awesome.