Friday, July 9, 2010

The Willies Or Should You Prefer It "The Wiggins"

As much as I truly love horror movies, the strange fact is that I am very rarely scared by them. Grossed out? Occasionally. Startled? Now and then. But scared? Not so much. I’m a Cleveland Sports fan, horror movies are a breeze compared to my real life.

So when Andre over at The Horror Digest called on her fellow horror bloggers to reveal which moments in horror really truly have scared them, well I couldn’t resist.

So here, is the list of the moments that have turned me into a big pile of trembling goo. And occasionally still do.

10. Scream: Down From The Toilet Seat:

If you’ve read my reviews of Scream you know I have mixed feelings about the film to say the least. But I have to give credit where it’s due. Scream was one of the first (if not the first) R Rated Horror films I saw. And no matter what problems I have with it now, there’s no denying the film scared the shit out of me then.

The film has some truly effective moments despite its flaws. I could easily be writing about the famous Gialli like opening scene, or the video delay kill, which is still a great beat. But to me the best moments in Scream is its simplest.

Sydney stressed by the killings, and the taunts of her classmates runs into the girls bathroom. Genre Conditioning has taught us that this will be a character building moment. One that’s “safe”. But Sydney’s not so sure. She checks all the blind spots, checking around the corners and under the stalls, and just when she’s sure she’s safe, just when she’s sure she’s alone, a foot steps off the toilet into the frame.

Its one of the greatest “Oh Shit!” moments I’ve ever seen in a horror film. Both the film and the character go to such great lengths to convince us we’re safe, only to have the killer strike her at her most vulnerable at the last possible second. Like I said, its about as simple as it gets, out of context its just a foot stepping off a toilet, hardly the most frightening thing in the world. Nobody even dies.

But it’s a great “all bets are off” moment. The Killer can strike anyone anywhere, and the dread that comes from that boot oh so softly touching the ground, never leaves the picture.


The sequence starts off with one hell of a bang. One of the artic crewmembers goes into cardiac arrest, and the kindly old doc starts CPR. Only to have the patients chest open up into a jagged maw and bite the poor bastards arm’s off!

Already the WTF quotient for the scene is high, but it only multiplies when Suddenly the monster’s head springs up like a demonic Jack In The Box and every other part of the creature’s anatomy starts sprouting extra limbs.

The Artic crew does the only sensible thing and tries to kill it with fire. Severing The Thing’s head in the process. Normally that would be the end of things, as a rule even Things’ don’t like living sans head.

But then the severed head sprouts legs and starts crawling across the fucking floor. Even the ice cold MacCready can’t help but lose his cool, letting loose one of the greatest “What the fucks” I’ve ever seen onscreen. The message is clear. There are no rules. Shit will happen, and it will not be pretty.

8. Nightmare On Elm Street: Tina does Astaire:

It’s a moment so potent even the remake couldn’t fuck it up.

Its been building from the beginning, the elegant bate and switch, with our would be, should be, final girl. The way Tina has evaded Freddy before, all signs point to this being another narrow escape, before Tina starts to warn her friends and they end up dead. All signs point in the wrong direction.

The side step, the sheer viciousness of the attack, the violation of it. Painting the wall, and the ceiling of what still very much looks like a girls room in blood. The helplessness of both the victim and the on looker. It’s a horrific moment. A lot of people have died in a lot of slasher movies, this is one of the few that hurts.

7. I Walked With A Zombie: Tour Through The Cane:

Not much happens. A nurse guides her charge through the cane fields at night, taking her to a voodoo ritual in the hopes of curing her. In the distance the drums of the ceremony beat in eerie cadance with the sounds of nature, they come across signs of voodoo, eventually they meet a strange and silent guard.

Like I said, hardly an eventful trip, its never so much as suggested that the characters are in any overt danger, and yet…

The scene itself is so eerie, so unsettling. It has the real contours of a dream, familiar people and places made ominous. Strange detail treated as unremarkable. Horror is just a part of everyday life.

6. The Fly: Brundlefly:

I’m cheating a little bit, but as this entire list could be composed of nothing but moments from David Cronenberg movies, I think I’ve earned a little leeway.

The reason I’ve chosen Brundlefly to stand in for the whole of Cronenberg’s work, is that well it just does so nicely. Like all of Cronenberg’s work, The Brundlefly is so terribly plausible. So organically horrifying a living worst case scenario. Goldblum’s performance and Cronenberg’s direction combine something truly pitiful.

Brundlefly inspires pity, he’s pathetic, so repulsive, so alone. And never less then anything but a genuine threat. Whether vomiting on John Getz's hand dissolving it to the bone (something that surely we’ve all had the urge to do) or taking care in cataloging the various bits of the Brundle museum of natural history. The way that Brundlefly loses his humanity piece by piece is one of those rare perfect marriages between metaphor and narrative.

The Brundlefly might inspire pity, but he no longer understands it and woe to those who fail to see that distinction.

5. Nosferatu: Through The Doorway.

I straight up love Nosferatu. It is and always has been one of my all time favorites. And I challenge anyone who doesn’t think its legitimately scary to watch it alone on some dark night.

True, aspects of the film particularly the acting (so much fist biting) have dated, but the moment I’m pointing out not only uses this heightened sense of melodrama, its built around it.

The film’s Renfield Harker hybrid has just settled in for the night. Only to find that his host Count Orlock has decided to join him in his rooms. The young man does what any sensible person would do when confronted with the gristly visage of Max Shrek. He screams, apparently shits his pants, and holds the covers over his head. But still Orlock keeps advancing… and advancing.

The scene works because it’s the literalization of every child’s nightmare. No, that shape in the back of your closet wasn’t a benign pile of clothes. It was a fucking monster. And no pulling the covers over your head and turning on your nightlight didn’t stop it. Its coming to eat you.

4. Night Of The Living Dead: Gore Shot:

Lets face it. Gore shots aren’t scary. They’re cool. They’re examples of great wizardry and craftsmanship. But they’re not scary. When I see a great Savini effect I feel admiration, not fear.

That said, there’s one gore shot that really gets me, going beyond a mere gross out to hit something deeper. You know the one I’m talking about. Barbarra, having temporarily escaped her zombie pursuer explores the isolated farmhouse she finds herself in. Exploring all the rooms the tension builds unbearably, until she starts up the stairs and comes across the dead body of the former resident, with his face entirely gone.

It’s a shocking moment still, I can hardly think of how badly it would have shocked back in 1967. To the viewer it’s like a bucket of ice water thrown to the face. To Barbara its that final straw, she breaks, and perhaps the best part of that shot is who can blame her?

3. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – Leatherface’s Entrance:

Familiarity can breed contempt. But not here. Despite it being used in just about every horror related montage ever, the entrance of Leatherface will never lose its ability to shock.

The build up is exquisite. The odd sounds, the strange house, the grunts from the backroom. The long creep down the hallway. And before you know it, he’s there, that horrific grinning face, stretched and grey with black pools for eyes. The crack of the hammer, the sound of that metal sliding door closing, gone before the reeling mind can even comprehend what its seen.

It’s a sick moment, and a real one, and it hits in that ugly primal way, that makes The Texas Chainsaw Massacre the greatest horror film ever made, in my own humble opinion. It's a moment that doesn’t just scare, it terrifies.

2. The Strangers – The Entire Fucking Movie

The thing I love about horror is the same thing I love about comedy. Unlike every other genre, there comes a point where it becomes unquantifiable. You can’t rationialize or intellectualize away an emotional response. Did a comedy make you laugh? OK, then it was successful, as much as you may want to deny it, you can’t help the fact that something reached you. Horror is the same way, if it scares you, if it gets past your defenses and reaches that soft meat within, guess what it just won.

Which is why I have to admit defeat with The Strangers. No matter what qualms you might have with the movie, and I’ve had plenty roll their eyes at me when I tell them that its my favorite horror movie of the past decade, easily, there’s no way I can deny that it scared the ever living shit out of me. That it snaked its way past my armor and found a place where I was weak and vulernable that I didn’t even know about, and squeezed until I begged for mercy. No way to deny that after viewing it I went home and locked all my doors, no way to deny that whenever I went outside of my apartment to have a cigarette at so much past ten o clock I couldn’t resist peering down the long streets watching for The Strangers.

The Strangers did what great cinema is supposed to do. It followed me out of the theater and made its mark on me. It didn’t just scare me, in its own small way it scarred me.

1. The Bride Of Frankenstein – The Hand Comes Out:

I’ve told this story before. The Bride Of Frankenstein is the first film I can remember seeing. At least in part. The kindly old man wanting to be sure his daughter’s murder is dead, falls through the hole into the cave under the windmill. He flounders helplessly in the water, amid the charred timbers. And then that hand reaches from behind that pile of rocks, and out comes Karloff in all his Piercian glory.

The power of that moment was too much, and I ran from the room screaming. But I’ve never forgot it, that delicious concotion of fear and adreniline. The power of the cinema to reach through the years and the screen to shake the ever living shit out me, and the power of horror to do it in the most direct way possible.

How could I not become a junkie?


Scare Sarah said...

You are quite right, as regular horror viewers, you kind of stop getting scared. Then now & again something crops up to genuinley give you the willies. Paranormal Activity did it for me recently. I think I get more scared if I don't know what's going on or if I can't see because the lights have gone out... Subtle things like that give me the wills for sure.

Liam [Less Than Three Film] said...

Good list - I especially like the inclusion of Scream. It was probably one of the first horror films I actually properly watched, and there are some scenes in it that are amazing. Drew Barrymore's hanging and the fast zoom crept my younger self out for days.

Unknown said...

I liked your inclusion of THE THING. That's a great film and has lots of jolts and scares and the scene you mentioned it certainly a showstopper with Rob Bottin's incredible makeup work!

Andre Dumas said...

Great choices! The Scream one is particularly enlightening and I guess I never thought about it that way but you are completely correct. I too was also absolutely terrified by The entirety of The Strangers..!

I love your explanations, they are cleverly described and with a true sense of passion. Thanks for sharing your willies!

Andrei said...

Those are some great picks right there, and I definitely understand the way you feel about "The Strangers". The moment that masked dude appeared in the kitchen out of nowhere scared the living crap out of me.

Simon said...

Lovely picks. The Strangers scared the shit out of me, and I won't deny it.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Sarah: I hear you, it really makes me appreciate the times I do get scared more. Paranormal Activity almost worked, but I couldn't quiet stop looking at it like a technical exercise.

@Liam: When I hear you, when I rewatched the film this October, I was really impressed by just how intense that film really was.

@JD: Oh hell yes. Bottin is a genius.

@Andre: Thanks for the kind words. And for coming up with this awesome idea!

@Atroxion: Thanks. I love the way the director uses negative space in that movie, so when they "step in" it looks like they belong there.

@Simon: Many thanks. I've been gratified that that movies been getting more and more respect.

deadlydolls said...

Couldn't agree more on TCM. That first entrance, with no music and such stark lighting, totally screwed with me. I was about 11 when I saw it for the first time, having already seen my share of 80s/90s horror. I couldn't get over how wrong it felt. Where was the sound cue? The warning? Why was this thrown at me like that? Still holds up and will easily make my list (when I eventually make it)>

Bryce Wilson said...

Can't wait to read it Em.

Definitely curious as to what will break through your tough shell.

Though I bet the Gordon movie Dolls will make an appearance ; )

deadlydolls said...

You know, the thing about Dolls is that I saw it when I was little and the whole point of that film is that the dolls DON'T go after kids. Even though the dolls give me the chills, they never really got me because I knew they would be nice to me (at the time).

Fred [The Wolf] said...

Awesome list. I can't knock any of these. Nice to see THE STRANGERS get some love. People ragged on it and I never understood why. That film creeped me out.

Here's my list: