Friday, October 21, 2005
Camera Obscura - Name Your Favorite Horror Film
NOTE: The Editor graciously created the masthead for this post and for Halloween, and I cannot express enough gratitude for her time and her work. Hope you all enjoy it as much as I do. Now: you got some readin' to do!! UPDATE: Fear not if you missed the special Halloween Masthead -- it will return later this week!!
What terrifies you? Is it something flickering past your vision at about 24 frames-per-second? A tale of horror made into a movie? Then you are in the right place and you have a job here. Since the Halloween holiday is approaching, I want you to tell me the movie you rate as The Scariest.
I understand that in these times, horror may appear in the form of a liberal-media, or the skull-faced grin of Tom DeLay's booking photo, or what your children really think of you. However, this place is for movies and I dare you to think of it - what story, what movie has permanently inked itself into your brain.
I am a bona-fide, deep-dyed fan of horror movies. When I was a wee lad, perhaps 4 years old or so, a neighbor near our home kept a pet crow which was almost as tall as I was, jet black feathers and empty, shining black eyes, and clawed feet that seemed like the fingers of death. Said crow and said clawed feet often decided my wee 4-year-old head had something it wanted. It got so every time I went out to play, this violent, flapping shadow fell from the sky and began pecking and digging at my skull. Why? I really don't know. My mother tells me she "had a talk" with the neighbor about it, but my only memories are of the nightmare thing on my head and deafening flapping of its wings.
About two years later, I watched my first Hitchcock movie - yes, "The Birds". It was on television for the first time and I had no notion of how Hitchcock could make a movie crawl into your mind and your fears and scare the bejesus out of you. I remember watching that movie between the quivering wee fingers of my hand -- but once I started, I could not stop. Lucky I didn't soil my garments. But that heart-pounding fear I realized after a day or so was somehow "contained" by the movie frame. I could be there at the very edge of pure horror - but I was really safe. The 'bird apocalypse" was real in the movie - and nowhere else. But I had been transformed into a creature who loved scary movies.
I grew up near Nashville, where a scary movie show would play hosted by a fellow named "The Phantom of the Opry" called Sir Cecil Creape and Sir Cecil and I became pals of that horror movie experience. Many of the movies I could easily laugh away, but not all. One of my early favorites which just got to me was the black and white thriller "Fiend Without A Face," where aliens have some hapless humans trapped in a house and the aliens are invisible. Yet when they do finally appear, they are brains with twisted spinal cords attached that could leap huge distances and strangle you to death. They break through the boarded-up windows and go after said hapless humans. More than once, the Hero takes a small hand-axe to these puppies and black goo spurted out -- years later these images re-appeared in movies like the original "Night of the Living Dead" and even "Eraserhead."
Weaned on 50s horror and sci-fi, the 1960s my were macabre childhood - enriched by the classic Roger Corman stories of Edgar Allan Poe, by the Hammer studios brilliant casting of Peter Cushing and Christopher in almost every movie they made, then there were the Italians, Mario Bava and Dario Argento. And George Romero's "Night of the Living Dead" introduced me to a whole new concept - the Dead rising in endless numbers to feed on the Living. Zombies. Ahhh, zombies. Romero brilliantly exploited the undercurrent of the world as it was - one culture or society rising up to consume and eliminate another society.
The 1970s were a heaven. No remake can ever have the insanely, heart-stopping, inescapable terror of his "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." Unlike the pitiful remake, director Tobe Hooper made the normal humans utterly unlikeable and the audience was manipulated into feeling kinship with Leatherface and his family. Family terror was all the rage in the 70s. This low-budget hit, and a few others, got their attention in Hollywood and "The Exorcist" had folks lined up for blocks and blocks around theatres (back before they were tucked snugly into shopping malls). And for the record, DO NOT watch the re-edited version issued a few years ago -- it is the original, tightly-edited movie that will scare you. The re-edits destroyed that one.
Romero today is still the best at the zombie game, and all his sequels, including this year's "Land of the Dead", are top-notch fear-fests. Through the 70s and 80s and even now, some of the best horror filmmakers remain - Wes Craven, David Cronenberg, John Carpenter.
In recent years, audiences have been jolted by all the horror sub-genres: vampires, werewolves, slashers, gore-fests, ghosts-who-don't-know-their-dead, more zombies (go Sam Raimi!!), and endless serial killer movies -- though they always seem lately to star Morgan Freeman and Ashley Judd.
So the gauntlet of death is thrown, dear reader -- I want to know your favorites, no matter what year they are made -- but you must confess your fears and add them in the comments here. I'll tell you which ones got the most attention or which choices seemed most interesting.
Just one more thought for you to consider - TRUE or FALSE: the best horror movies are made when a Republican is president.