Friday, February 10

Four That Scared Me

I was on a tall barstool some months back enjoying drinks and chatting with a good buddy of mine when a former coworker came up from behind me and put his hand on my back without saying anything.  I practically flew up to the ceiling. I made a noise that one might hear deep in the jungle when animals alert others that an enemy is nearby.  I knocked over a bowl of shelled peanuts.  After we helloed and how-are-youed, the friend I had come with said, "You were really scared.  I don't think I've ever seen you scared before.  Does that happen often?"  I guess it doesn't.  Of course I was often scared as a child, but very rarely as an adult.  My friend continued, "Just at the movies?"

I had to say that it is not much at the movies either.  I dearly love it when a movie scares me.  Actually, I rarely seem to forget that it is, after all, just a movie.  I am so intrigued that a great many teenagers flock to scary movies.  They appear to live to be afraid.  But among my friends and family, I have denoted a strong dislike of them.  Who wants one's stomach upset, heart racing, temples pulsating I guess they're saying.  I could, in one way of looking at it, say I don't like scary movies either but I don't like them for a wildly different reason... I don't find them scary.  You promise me scary... you better deliver.  What is often put off as scary I might call tense.

What is a scary movie?  Sometimes they are referred to as thrillers.  I would agree that a scary movie is likely a thriller but a thriller is not necessarily (or usually) a scary movie.  Sometimes they're referred to as horror films and here is where I take even more exception.  Oh, they're scary alright but scary needs more than just gratuitous scares and bumps and violence and gore.  Let's file this under cheesy-scary.

Picture it.  A cabin deep in the woods.  There are a eight teenage girls, pure and chaste all.  Designer water, trail mix, yogurt, carrot sticks, pushup bras and iPads are everywhere.  The first night at the stroke of 12, the electricity goes out and the only girl still awake, reading by the fire, lights a candle and tiptoes down to the dank and dirty basement.  She is brutally murdered.  Her severed head rolls under the stairs. The next day the girls are out of their minds with dread but at midnight, the lights go out and the only girl awake goes down to the basement and her pink teddy is soon crimson with her blood.  The next night, a third girl decides to see why the lights went out and.....hold itWait a bloody (if you will) minute

This points up one of my commandments for scary movies... ye storyline must not be stupid.  The young and unwashed may not care how ridiculous the tale is, they may disregard the fact that any normal person would gather up all the remaining friends and get the hell out of there lickety-split.  But I do care.  I get my knickers all atwist over the unbelievable lack of verisimilitude. The bottom line for me is I have to believe what I am seeing on the screen could actually happen.  If it's space, science fiction or just a situation I cannot wrap my brain around, I am probably not going to find it scary.  Admittedly (gulp!), I did find the Alien series fairly scary, but on the other hand it was science fiction, light years away from my reality, dealing with, of all things, monsters, the horror genre staple, and I am just not very moved.

Another commandment is thou shalt knock off the gore and blood-letting.  Seeing someone's insides spilling out over the carpet, heads flying through the air and all does not alone a scary movie make.  Maybe there is some fear involved but at what price?  Gratuitous violence standing in for good writing and disallowing us to use our lovely imaginations is just a turnoff.  These films might be scary but they're also disgusting.  I do not regret that I have not seen any version of Texas Chainsaw Massacre or the Saw series or the Friday the 13th through the 108th films.  I suspect they violate my commandments.

There was a movie once that had one scene that scared me.  It's Wait Until Dark and anyone who has viewed it knows the scene I am talking about.  Blind Audrey Hepburn is in her small apartment and she has just immobilized (we think) killer-thug Alan Arkin who lies on the floor.  Frightened for her life, she steps over him and out of nowhere he lunges at her.  When my wife and I saw it, she reacted by throwing her hands up and the large drink that was in one of them went over her shoulder and onto the couple sitting behind us.  Now THAT'S scary.

I toyed with including the 1979 version of When a Stranger Calls.  (Have you checked the children?)  It really creeped me out... someone calling a babysitter and terrorizing her from a phone inside the house.  And, believe it or not, I thought 1987's Fatal Attraction was a genuinely frightening movie.  (Have you checked your pet rabbit?) Glenn Close nailed the stalker role, a truly horrific, threatening and nail-biting experience.

Here are four (with more than just one scene) that scared me.  Do note that I am not saying the scariest movies I've ever seen, although maybe they are.  Tomorrow I will think of something else and be annoyed that I didn't include it.  Right off I sheepishly fess up that any number of you may question my very character, my intelligence, my testosterone level, but I shall soldier on.  That scared him?  What a wuss.  I am just saying they meet my litmus test and I found them, for one reason or another, to be courting my fear gene.  Let's see what you think.

Right off I have to backtrack.  If Jaws (1975) was just a movie, as my mama wanted me to know, why is it I still am leery of going in the ocean?  No kidding, a big guy like moi.  The Pacific, my ocean of choice, didn't see my long legs submerged in it as often after this film.  Dum dum dum dum dum dum... I can hear the theme music playing in my head now.  When Richard Dreyfuss went out to investigate the boat and went underwater and a head dropped down into the hull opening, I almost had the Big One.  Watching Quint slide down the crippled boat and into the mouth of the shark made me lift my legs up off the floor of the theater while my heart was pounded like a drum.  Every time I saw that shark, I was genuinely frightened. 

I mean, come ON, just look at that face.  Aren't you getting the willies?  Don't you want to look away?  The Exorcist (1973) just blew me away on S-C-A-R-E.  Regan, that little girl-- and partly because she was a young girl-- took me places on the yucky level that I'd be ok with never visiting again.  The house, that room, the cold, those priests, the visuals... what a scare package.  That first day I was standing quite a way back outside the National Theater in Westwood Village in Los Angeles in the longest line I have ever been in in my life.  If you think there was craziness for the openings of the Harry Potter or Twilight movies, you should have seen the pandemonium that day for The Exorcist.  Warner Brothers had to helicopter in another print and a second theater, the Village, had a showing, disrupting the regularly scheduled film.  Finally we were in our seats, pulses already tensed up, chewing on our knuckles.  The screen darkened, we were taken to Georgetown and one of the eeriest, most compelling films I have ever seen began.

Halloween (1978) borders on those cheesy little independent, squealing girl, how-stupid-can-you-be, largely unknown cast, distressing C-movies I spoke of earlier.  But when all is said and done, we've moved past the theorizing, the pontificating is over, this is just one damned scary movie.  There were some valid reasons why she didn't clear out of harm's way and because she didn't, let the peril continue.  The one scene where she sits down on the couch, worn out and scared to death he is near, and he pops up from behind the couch... well THAT perfectly fits my definition of scary.  The same feeling rules me when it's a car scene and suddenly someone pops up in the back seat.

The Silence of the Lambs (1991) is not only the most honored of the films we have chatted about, it's one of the most honored of alltime. Oscar bestowed it with best actor, actress, director,  adapted screenplay and the film itself... done less than a handful of times.  The American Film Institute has said Hannibal Lecter (as played by Anthony Hopkins) is the greatest screen villain in Americam film history and I concur.  His brief presence in the film was chilling.  The scene in the home at the end of the film made me want to run for the smelling salts.

C'mon now.  Drop a comment about my choices and what movie(s) scared you.  Inquiring minds...

NEXT POSTING:   Review of The Vow

1 comment:

  1. Like you, Jaws flipped me out, along with most of us (remember SNL's Land Shark?). And The Exorcist was truly an innovative movie for the time. Sure, we'd seen movies where the star made a deal with the devil (who always kept his part of the bargain), but this movie showed evil in an unadulterated form. Pure and uncompromsing.

    Two movies in the past few years that have given me chills are The Exorcism of Emily Rose and The Descent. Jennifer Carpenter gave a knock-out performance as Emily and her scene in the barn even scared the filmmakers. The Descent, with its claustrophobic feel and truly creey cannibal cave dwellers, made me decide never, ever to go exploring caves.