Wednesday, October 31, 2012

3 MOVIES THAT SCARED THE PANTS OFF ME

A topical Halloween costume.

Halloween. The last couple years of this blog's existence I've either been too busy (or too busy not giving a shit) to do a proper themed post on this, the re-purposed Samhain. But no more. I'll play your game, conventional society, and talk about horror movies.

Horror's not my home genre, and I rarely watch horror movies of my own accord, but whenever someone else is like “Hey, let's watch The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” or “Hey, come see a Lucio Fulci mindfuck” or “Dude, watch some emotionally brutal K-horror and write about it” I'm like sure why not and I usually really enjoy myself (the K-horror one was rough, but I'm still glad I saw it). I appreciate horror as a genre more than I love it, though, and I always feel kind of left out because it feels like every other movie nerd out there grew up watching and loving shitty horror movies. That could just be me being neurotic, which would be a landmark fucking occurrence, as would any ventures into sarcasm.

But anyway. Horror movies. The dilemma I have with horror movies is that very little genuinely scares me in life. That's not bluster, and that takes into account and regards as wholly disparate entities things like anxieties (“fear” of rejection, etc) and phobias (fuck elevators, fuck heights, fuck odd-numbered scores in NBA 2K; yes, the last causes me to irrationally gun three-pointers instead of simply running my offense, fuck off). I don't really want to watch a movie that sets off any of those anxieties or phobias, because I watch movies to enjoy them, not to feel like I'm trapped in a glass elevator on the 110th floor compulsively missing pull-up threes. When I do find myself enjoying a horror movie it's either largely aesthetic (cool camerawork/design/editing), or under the ownage statutes. Maybe it'll be suspenseful, but rarely scary. Rarely. On a couple occasions, movies have scared the fucking shit out of me.


1—Dreamscape (1984) dir. Joseph Ruben

Joseph Ruben has had a monumentally weird career, being responsible for the risible Julia Roberts-fest Sleeping With The Enemy, the gimme-a-fuckin-break “Macaulay Culkin is evil” picture The Good Son, and most impressively, the “Julianne Moore loses her kid, is told the kid never existed, turns out it's motherfucking aliens” epic The Forgotten. And more. None of these wacky clusterfucks had yet clustered when I saw Dreamscape, which also predated my having any notion of movies as being directed. If memory serves correctly, I was about six, watching it with my dad.

At the time I was having pretty frequent chronic nightmares, one feature of which was my inability to wake myself up even after I realized I was dreaming. Which was pretty fucked up, and which was uncomfortably similar to what Dreamscape was about.

All I remembered about the movie was that Max von Sydow was the head grownup in charge (good casting if there ever was) until years later when some needle-in-a-haystack Googling allowed me to figure out just what the movie was that had freaked me out so badly. The main thing I remembered was that the dashing young lead (who turned out to be Dennis Quaid) and the lady from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (Kate Capshaw, natch) were screwing around in other people's dreams, only there was this psycho (David Patrick Kelly; speaking of which I'm long fucking overdue for an essay about how awesome and iconic DPK has been over the course of his career) who was going around killing people in their dreams so they died in real life.

I have no idea whether Dreamscape is actually a good movie or not. All I know is that when I was six or whatever DPK fucking fucked me up. While I don't openly advocate an age restriction like for booze or cigarettes on DPK movies, I can tell you this: watching DPK movies when you're a sensitive kid—I'd had a recent fairly massive trauma that I won't get into here because it'd derail this whole essay, but rest assured if I told you what it was you'd need a very large drink—can be risky. (By the way, DPK, if you Google yourself and find this post: I'm sorry, dude. It's nothing personal. You're a great character actor. It was me. But goddammit you scared the shit out of me back then.)


2—Child's Play (1988) dir. Tom Holland

Another one that latched onto a specific recurring nightmare I'd had as a kid about my toys coming to life and menacing me. But more than subject matter, much like Dreamscape, a large part of what made this movie—which, I should mention, had been spoiled in its entirety by a dickhead classmate long before I actually saw it, and which still scared the piss out of me—so scary was the work of character actor nonpareil Brad Dourif.

People well-versed in things that are awesome are well familiar with the work of Mr. Dourif, leaving no need to catalog the thousands of reasons why Brad Dourif owns. Here is a condensed version: he makes vivid use of his eyes, one of the most powerful (and underutilized) tools in the film actor's repertoire, which when combined with his eerily, unnervingly slow vocal delivery give Brad Dourif the ability to make your fucking head explode in screaming, fundamental terror. Rather than give an example from something good that he's done, I direct you instead to the worst movie Brad Dourif—or almost anyone else on Earth for that matter—ever made, the Whoopi Goldberg “serious” cop drama Fatal Beauty, in which Dourif (contain your shock) plays the psycho villain. At one point after something ridiculous happens to Whoopi and she goes somewhere to go brood to Sam Elliott (who, like Dourif, somehow alchemically manages to own; Sam Elliott is truth), Brad Dourif calls someone on the phone and impersonates someone else while still sounding indelibly like Brad Dourif, and upon learning Whoopi's whereabouts, turns to someone (a henchman, I think) and goes “The cunt's at Vista Verde.” The line reading is completely absent of any kind of human feeling, just a flinty statement of villainous purpose, and the way he hits the word “cunt” is like an arctic blast of pure hatred. Again, note, this moment of brilliance is in one of the worst movies ever made. When he's in a good movie, he's that much more effective. Which brings us to Child's Play.

Brad Dourif is cast against type as a murderous psychopath who, rather than be taken by the cops, transfers his soul into a really rather grotesque child's doll. The doll, purchased from a street vendor by a struggling single mother for her son—and you better believe coming up broke as shit resonated with me; some times were all right but a whole lot of 'em were tight—proceeds to wreak absolute havoc. Chucky is a disturbing enough entity—Garbage Pail Kid meets Fellini clown—without being voiced by Brad Motherfucking Dourif, who compounds things by speaking Latin, which freaks me out to the point where I think that hippie chick who did my astrological chart and told me I was a quintuple Scorpio and was a druid or some such shit in ancient Britain in a past life might have had a point about the last bit if whichever druid (defined here in the hippie-speak version of “anyone in old-timey Britain” rather than the actual historical definition) I was got iced by some Romans.

Anyway, when I saw this on VHS at 12ish I spent the whole goddamn running time climbing the walls in creeping dread and then had an extravaganza nightmare the next night where Brad Dourif was chasing me chanting in Latin. Fuck you, Child's Play. Well done, but fuck you all the same.


3—Event Horizon (1997) dir. Paul W.S. Anderson

And finally, the movie that fucked me up worse than any other movie ever. The summer of '97 was kind of strenuous: I spent several weeks at a theatre program that involved heavy drama both onstage and off, and even when the program ended, an old flame who was visiting New York with her new girlfriend (whom I hadn't been told about in advance) for the first time barreled into town; not understanding why the $10 she'd brought with her wasn't enough to go out clubbing every night, she proceeded to be a giant shithead the entire time. When she finally fucked off, I just wanted to go to the movies. So my mom (who'd been remarkably patient about having a couple inconsiderate hicks crashing in the apartment where she paid all the bills) took me to Event Horizon. Hey, Laurence Fishburne and Sam Neill on a spaceship. What could go wrong?

Well. Funny you should ask. So, earlier, I mentioned in passing I have a problem with enclosed spaces. Spaceship travel, being through space, is defined by the inability to go outdoors. So the being confined bit's already a bit ehhhh. Problem two is that, as any number of wiseass young film critics will tell you, Paul W.S. Anderson actually really knows how to make movies. Why is this a problem? Well, it's a problem when you're emotionally vulnerable as it is and severely claustrophobic and the goddamn director keeps maximizing the feeling of confinement with his compositions and cutting. Then there's Sam Neill being a really good actor. His performance as the bad guy is more effective than DPK or Brad Dourif (may I be forgiven my blasphemy) because, let's keep it real. You see DPK or Brad Dourif coming a mile away as a psycho. Sam Neill? He's Alan Grant. He's that dude who gets the Australian ladies to take their clothes off without being skeevy about it. That's why it's so disturbing when he's five parsecs out of his duck-fucking mind in Event Horizon, opening portals to Hell and trying to kill Joely Richardson and all that horrible shit.

But the thing that really fucked me up in Event Horizon? When they reconstitute the recording of the old spaceship where everyone gouged out each other's eyes—by the way, another MASSIVE MASSIVE MASSIVE phobia of mine back then because I started slowly going blind in the first grade and if I hadn't gotten Lasik in 2000 I'd be totally in the dark as of this writing which is why eye trauma was fucking gaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa at the time—and THAT FUCKING VOICE is saying “LIBERATE TUTAME EX INFERIS.” Save yourselves from hell. Now, look. I don't do the religion thing. My frame of reference contains none of that shit. It's not the hell thing so much as a) the fact that the dude saying that line was in media inferis, for fucking real; hell may not be real in real life but it fucking was in that fucking movie, and b) HE'S SPEAKING IN FUCKING LATIN!!! FUCK!!!

After Event Horizon ended—which, it should be noted, it does in perhaps the least reassuring way possible—I literally did not sleep through the night for the next week. It wasn't even that I'd fall asleep and have a nightmare about an eyeless dude croaking “liberate tutame ex inferis” while Sam Neill monologued, on fire, about Hell. It's that I'd be wide awake and suddenly I'd hear a voice as if from the other room saying it. This problem went on for long enough that my mom had time to transition from making fun of me (she thought the movie sucked) to being genuinely concerned for my mental health. Finally, after a while, I returned to “normal,” started sleeping, and stopped losing all the shit in the universe whenever someone so much as said “e pluribus unum.”

A couple years later, I was hanging out with a friend of mine and he proposed that we watch Event Horizon. Circumstances were such that I could not say no (social etiquette is a harsh mistress) and so I braced myself. The second time through, though, it was just a decently-made, sketchily-scripted SF horror picture, and watching it with the lights on while drinking 40s with a friend definitely helped. It felt good, like I'd regained the upper hand over the movie, and by extension my fear. Yeah, ecce homo, motherfucker.

Happy Halloween, y'all.