Friday, October 28, 2011

Return of Obligatory Halloween Post

Greetings, Hallo-Weiners!

Last October I began to document the first formative experiences that scared the poo out of me as a young 'un. Well, kiddies, according to the calendar it's time once again to venture out into the realm of terror and incontinence.  So, grab a blanket, pop some popcorn, ease down onto that cold bedpan and I'll put on a couple of scary movies for ya...  

First, a word of introduction.  After seeing George A. Romero's Night of the Living Dead and Poltergeist back to back on Halloween night when I was twelve, I quickly came to the realization that I was still just a horror movie tenderfoot.  Although both of those films had effectively traumatized me, I suspected that there were even more intense cinematic nightmares out there just waiting to pounce.      

Even before I was old enough to rent a VHS tape or sneak into a theater, I tried to prepare myself for this eventuality the only way I knew how: I started reading about them.  I devoured one horror film anthology book after another.  Here are just a few notable examples:

While reading these books I began to suspect that certain film-makers (Mr. Romero, I'm looking in your direction) were certifiably nuts.  Crazy because they had no common courtesy nor respect for their audience.  Their only goal seemed to be to traumatize the viewer so badly that they'd end upon the floor in a fetal position with a thumb in their mouths and their undergarments distinctly "soiled".

I also got the distinct impression that guys who wrote these books were older dudes who thought that horror movies began with the classic Universal pictures and then ended with the Hammer films.  Anything more intense and gory then that was often regarded as a perverse incarnation of pure cinematic malevolence.  Growing up as a good "Catlick" boy, I didn't completely disagree with them, especially as I started to see these movies for myself.

So, I present to you, the first of several horror movies that I really thought had evil woven directly into the film stock.  I'll try and list them roughly in the order in which I saw them and I'll also include their rating (out of a possible 5) on the Evil-O-Meter...

An American Werewolf in London(1981) 

Now, you might think this an odd choice for an "evil" film, especially considering that it's also a very effective comedy.  But you also have to remember that it was one of the first contemporary horror movies I saw after the twin bludgeoning that was Night of the Living Dead and Poltergeist.

Director John Landis does a great job building atmosphere during the early goings of the film wherein two young American backpackers David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are seen hiking across the creepy moors of England.  The authentic-looking pubs and foggy on-location exteriors really help sell the film's realism.

And it's this dedication to realism that makes the subsequent lupine attack on David and Jack pretty intense.  David wakes up in a London hospital and is horrified to hear that his friend has been killed by some sort of wild animal.  Since his wounds are limited to a superficial bite mark, David is soon discharged and quickly shacks up with a cute British nurse named Alex, played by Jenny Agutter.

As a side note, if anything threatens the film's overall "evil" quotient it's the presence of Jenny Agutter.  She was definitely one of my first cinematic crushes.  Her unabashed willingness to get naked at the drop of a hat in such films as American Werewolf in London and Logan's Run really puts her in a cherished pantheon alongside other 80's hotties such as Jennifer Jason Leigh, Mathilda May, Phoebe Cates and Linnea Quigley.  *Sigh*

Having said that, the film's evil quotient gets dialed back up to "11" when Jack returns from the dead as a reanimated corpse.  He tries to warn David that he's been bitten by a werewolf and it's only a matter of time before he starts sprouting fangs and gnawing on jugular veins.  This is coupled with some terrible, violent nightmares in which David envisions himself stalking and killing a deer with his bare hands and witnessing his entire family get gunned down by Nazi monsters.

Despite how vivid all of these experiences are, David tries to dismiss it as a symptom of his trauma.  But we, the viewer, suspects that he knows that Jack is telling the truth.  When Alex leaves David alone in her apartment one night during a full moon, he begins to pace and fidget nervously.  Landis, the cruel bastard that he is, drags this scene out mercilessly.  The suspense is agonizing.

All of a sudden, as if by self-fulfilling prophecy, David starts screaming at the top of his lungs and then tears his clothing off.  What follows is a painfully protracted metamorphosis in which actor David Naughton convinces us that he's dying.  The first time I saw this, I was slack-jawed.  The practical, on-screen transmutation scenes coupled with the bone-crunching sound effects and David's genuine screams of agony, makes for a truly distressing sequence. Even the creature's disappointing final incarnation as a big shaggy dog can't diminish the genuine horrors that preceded it.  

For it's flagrant use of nudity, deadpan realism, agonizingly real performances and no-hold's-barred, flesh-warping transformations, American Werewolf in London scores a "3" on the Evil-O-Meter:
So, there you have it for another year, Zom-boys and Zom-bettes!  Join me again same time next year for another installment of my Obligatory Halloween Post.

Until then just ponder this:  if you thought that these movies were scary, wait til you see what earned a "5". 


EPIC DOC PART ONE  While I was watching this movie, it would have been impossible for me to conceive that there were even more horrific films out there.  Here's a fantastic doc about how real societal upheaval inspired some of the nastiest films ever made.  Warning: the blending of gory fiction and even more repellent reality sometimes makes this doc a pretty difficult watch:

EPIC DOC PART TWO Great little "behind the scenes" mini-doc for American Werewolf In London.

FAIL  These movies gave me nightmares as a teenager so I can only imagine what they'd do to little kids.  Man, we really need to set up a licensing system for people who want to breed...

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