Oh the Horror!
Written by Dan Collacott
Here on Liberation Frequency, I’ll be taking a light hearted look at horror films including the things that scare us (and why?), the rise of the remake, and how 3D is changing films! To start off with, I got some of our horror film loving writers to share some of their scariest childhood memories.
You’ve Got The Fear
Just what it is that makes us love horror movies? Is it the excitement and adrenalin that builds from the killer chasing his /her/its victims? The knowing that at any moment anything could jump out from anywhere in any form at you? Or is it just the good old-fashioned fear of the unknown?
Of course we’re also attracted to the relief when at the end of the picture the killer, demon, ghost, etc. is finally stopped! Unless of course you are watching Freddy, Jason, Chucky, The Ring or any other ‘this son of a bitch just won’t ever die’ franchise. In fact in truth few horror films these days end well. Simple fact is we all just love to be scared! Sometimes we actually want to be thrown violently outside of our comfort zone and into the unsafe and unpredictable world of another person’s freaky imagination!
There is probably no universal answer to the question of ‘why we love horror’. I think, aside from the love of gore and getting the willies (ooh er), horror can be quite a personal and specific experience.
In my case, I have an unhealthy attraction to movies that offer a different reality to the one we live in. More specifically, the fall of our beloved civilisation through some apocalyptic event like a virus (Dawn of the Dead), war/holocaust or some form of unexplained event (The Road). I am genuinely intrigued by the notion of our capitalist and greed driven society falling, and the need for humanity to unite in the face of some usually hideous threat. But that isn’t where I began with horror films.
Young and Freaked Out
The two horror films that make up my earliest and scariest memories were probably conceived around the seventh or eighth year of my childhood. I, like many kids discovering horror for the first time, had wandered undetected into my parents’ living room late evening (ish). My mum was out of the room and my dad had gone to bed. On the TV at that very moment was the 1973 film ‘Tales That Witness Madness’. This Freddie Francis directed film consisted of five short stories – I confess I didn’t watch all of those stories, in fact I barely witnessed more than a few scenes of one chapter. But those scenes were so gruesome, haunting and just plain wrong that they stuck with me like evil chewing gum on my brain throughout my entire life.
It was from the story ‘Mr. Tiger’ and it involved a small child sat playing in a room completely disinterested and numb to the fact his mother was (in the same room) being brutally savaged to death his pet tiger! The reason it remained burnt into my memory was the fact that as the boy played, the blood and entrails of his mother hit the walls behind him. Some of her blood even lands on his face, yet not once does he ever respond or show any emotion, in fact he doesn’t even blink. He just carries on playing!
In the story, the boy blames a series of events/behavior on his imaginary friend, which in this case is a tiger (pretty cool huh?). Only his parents don’t believe him and he is roundly blamed for his ‘friend’s’ naughtiness (yeah, I mean tigers are right buggers to keep around the house). So, in what turns out to be a real life Calvin n Hobbs, it is in the end revealed that the imaginary tiger actually exists. But I had to find out all of this separately, twenty five years later, as I was quickly ushered back to bed; having experienced just ten or less minutes of this bizarre and horrific film.
Now I couldn’t find a clip from that particular chapter but I did find a video of a chapter from the same film that stars Joan Collins and basically concerns her husband’s un-natural obsession with a… large sawn off bit of tree! One might even say he’s got wood for… erm, wood?
My next encounter with horror was probably the superb John Landis classic ‘American Werewolf in London’. Now, I must have been very early teens as I was trusted to watch some of this, but I only remember a few scenes. Firstly, the one where he leaves the hospital to go hunting as the wolf (mmm chewy deer head), and secondly, when David is rampaging through central London as the wolf. Now keep in mind, I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the genius of the dark humor oozing out of every silver bullet wound of this movie. All I was left with was the imagery of a salivating and scary looking werewolf rampaging through town.
Check out the werewolf transformation that inspired Michael Jackson to recruit John Landis to help him make the video for Thriller:
I have to say many other films scared me possibly before or after the above – ‘Critters’ for one used to make me scared of climbing the ladder of my captain bed for fear of getting my rear bitten off, but that’s a story for another time.
Liberation Frequency Writers Open Up
I was so Intrigued by what I saw as my earliest memories of horror, I decided to ask some of the Liberation Frequency writers what their earliest memories of horror were, starting with fellow sci-fi geek, Shane Lightower.
Shane Lightower’s Many Horrors
I honestly can’t recall what the first horror movie I ever saw was.
It might have been the original ‘Alien’, staying up late with my dad watching midnight sci-fi TV during our Return-of-the-Jedi-was-so-awesome-lets-watch-every-sci-fi-flick-we-can-possibly-find phase. These were heady days, except for the fact that for every ‘Alien’ there was a ‘Space Raiders’ or ‘Ewoks: Caravan of Courage’.
Or, it might have been ‘Dawn of the Dead’, of which I only saw a single scene – the one where the guy gets his head blown off with a shotgun. My parents were watching it mid-morning as the tape was due back in a couple hours, and my friends were all playing ball games outside, which to a seven year old me, was INFINTELY more entertaining than watching post-modern social satire.
Or, it might have been ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre Part 2’, which my parents, to their eternal credit, went to watch only after I’d been put to bed. Luckily my dad took pity on me as he knew I was looking forward to it after we saw the pulse-pounding trailer before some Shaw Brothers kung fu flick… maybe ‘Invincible Pole Fighter’… the one where Gordon Liu memorably rips out bad guys’ teeth with his fighting staff. F*#king badass!
It could also have been ‘Xtro’, which I really did find quite frightening, mostly due to the sheer moistness of its special effects, which I imagined must have been very messy for the makeup artists to apply. I always got this one mixed up with ‘Alien’.
Or, it might have been ‘Friday the 13th Part 4: The Final Chapter’, where I vividly recall being very impressed with the destructive potential of machetes, and also being sucked in to thinking that this really would be Jason Voorhees’ final outing. Not that I had yet seen the earlier films, but the back covers of VHS slicks were always very educational. Imagine my surprise when ‘Friday the 13th Part 5: A New Beginning’ appeared on the new release shelf? Crazy shit.
‘The Evil Dead’ also instilled a fear in me that persists to this day: don’t ever wear a skirt while out in the forest. Not really my style anyway so I guess I lucked out there.
Whichever it was, all I can say is that I’m glad to have grown up in a time when horror movies actually had balls and weren’t pre-occupied with patting self-esteem-ravaged audiences on the head by making them feel clever (thanks ‘Scream’! What happened to you Wes Craven!?). Pity about the present generation’s weak-sauce Michael Bay remakes.
Horror doesn’t just provide thrills, suspense and indulgence in the paranormal and unknown. In many ways, it painfully deconstructs the darker side of humanity, tearing through many of society’s most ancient taboos and challenging every notion of censorship. Horror films are probably one of the favourite genres for writers, actors and directors eager to shock and push the boundaries of the imagination to their most disturbing limits in the name of art. LF writer Colin Dibben examines the more unsavoury side of horror within his own childhood horror film memories.
Colin Dibben’s Childhood Terrors!
I remember two very different horror films, like a reverberating single memory, like you would remember the first anal rape of many: one a BBC2 chiaroscuro masterpiece of the uncanny, that my family used to spook out over every Christmas from, say, 1979 to 1982. The other a sunlit splatter fest that brings Freud’s Mourning and Melancholia to life better than the death of your entire family (including your partner and kids) in a terrible accident in a meat processing plant. I saw this in 1991 or thereabouts in the Scala Cinema, Kings Cross.
So, what I remember first about the Beeb’s ‘Shalcken the Painter’ is that it freaked my wannabe-arty family out. The film purports to tell the true story behind a real painting by a real painter. The painting is small and dark with two, maybe three, figures, dimly lit by a candle the central figure is holding. The film story was about a young painter in love with his master’s daughter. She is sold by her father to a ghostly figure. Years later, when the young painter has become successful, the long-gone daughter appears to him and appears to attempt to seduce him, leading him to the crypt of a church where he witnesses her topless, straddling and jumping the bones of her creaking, dusty, desiccated ghost lover. So, sex, voyeurism, humiliation, repulsion, death, watching someone f*#k dead people – appears to have it all! At the time it was the boobs and the bumpin’ that got to me, but now I wonder whether it wasn’t the living dead f*#kee that even then I identified with, all skeletal joints and no cartilage, limb-clicking my way to sepulchral orgasm. Buying his way to young flesh like us prostate vampires all do, one way or another. I guess it’s not an either/or situation.
Darkness played a part too – the film was so dark that it was difficult to tell quite what was happening – which cranked up the uhheimlichkeit a notch or two as my family members and I fumbled for the Battenberg.
The opposite of darkness is light and ‘Nekromantik 2’ is full of sunshine ... despite being, uh, very dark. You know, morally speaking. Now, I saw the original film, ‘Nekromantik’, after the sequel and was not impressed – at least the version I saw was grainy and under lit and unengaging at every level, with mid-distance shots all over the place and sub-Ballard crash ideas messily strewn around ...
‘Nekromantik 2’ starts grisly: a young woman digs up the putrefying corpse of her lover, carries it back to her flat and dismembers him in the bath. She stores his head in the fridge and gets rid of the rest, eventually, I think. The point being, she loves this guy so much that she must keep his stinking, liquefying head near her.
Then, and this is the film’s genius, the narrative veers in a completely different direction: we follow the woman round town, shopping, doing chores, meeting a disturbingly Aryan young man who obviously fancies her rotten. It’s sunny and they go on a ferris wheel and laugh as the wind blows their hair about. She seems to be going through the grieving process and slowly reconnecting with the external world, you know the world outside her own grief.
This goes on for 45 minutes and it’s only the presence of the same actress throughout that stops you wondering if two completely unconnected films haven’t been spliced together. Of course, there are warning signs of the superbly demented ending along the way: the horny new would-be boyfriend phones the woman to arrange what he hopes will be a date during which she will “succumb to his charms” – we see her in her flat surrounded by female friends watching a video of a seal autopsy. From time to time she also checks on the head in the fridge ...
I won’t spoil the visually arresting ending for you all, suffice to say that the film ends by turning all-grisly again. And that I don’t think I have ever squealed with grossed-out pleasure so loudly or for so long, before or since – it was a true orgasm of the soul, the sort of ecstasy St Catherine of Siena experienced draining purulent wounds with her mouth or swallowing leprous scabs.
But then I like films in which dead people get f*#ked - which is unlikely to get me canonised, beatified or whatever else it is that that Catholic clergy get up to when they’re not rimming the better looking youths in their care.
‘Nekromantik 2’ Trailer
So from the raw shock factor of films such as ‘Nekromantik’, to other high concept fare. The late eighties and nineties followed on from the genius of horror masters such as Hitchcock with a rich vein of incredibly innovative ideas. Back then, writers and directors began to reconstruct reality by taking the most safe and fundamental aspects of our lives and turning them against us, mining a path into our most primal fears. But as well as being scary horror is also a medium for social comment and black comedy.
Tristan Hanks Childhood Howlers
In the video shop in my village, they had a horror corridor full to the brim with blood and gore and sometimes the odd blue movie lurking on the top shelf. When I was with my parents, I wasn’t allowed down it but on the rare occasion I went in unaccompanied, it was a visceral treat on many levels. I realised then than horror films didn’t scare me, they fascinated me.
No other horror character fascinated me more than Freddy Krueger. Even the name looked scary written down! By the age of 12 I had seen a few Jason flicks and some other slasher classics but the Freddy films always eluded me somehow. At school they were talked about in hushed tones, and stories about how people had actually defecated themselves while watching it were rife. It was not until my friend’s sleepover that I got to see the blade fingered one in action and it wasn’t even the first one, which is a bona fide horror classic now.
The instalment we watched that night was ‘Part 3: Dream Warriors’, the one set in a mental home for the Elm St teenagers still alive and it became the first horror film to make me laugh. It was specifically the scene in which Freddy appears on TV with Zsa Zsa Gabor in one of the rooms. As she gets closer to the box, two metal arms and Freddy's head appear out of the TV. He hoists her up and exclaims the famous line "Welcome to Prime Time, Bitch!" This made me and my friends (except one who watched the whole thing through the gaps in his fingers) cry with laughter.
The first film that actually scared me was Nicolas Roeg’s classic ‘Don’t Look Now’ which is more ghost story than horror and is based on Daphne Du Maurier’s classic novel. It is not for everyone, as my girlfriend can’t even get past the first half hour, more out of boredom than fear to be fair. The whole film is creepy as it is set in an eerily vacant Venice where nothing is as it seems and there is a serial killer on the loose. Add to this a pair of freaky psychic old ladies, a child drowning and troubling symbols of death everywhere then you have a recipe for a true chiller.
It is however the final scene that really gets the viewer and cements this movie as a scary classic. The sight of a killer dwarf clad in a red robe may not sound the most frightening of pay offs but this is not ‘Leprechaun’ territory, it is real shit the bed territory and an image which will always stay with me, more for the terrifying facial expression than anything else. If you ever catch this on TV, bear with it and you may never be able to watch anything with small people in it again.
We love a psychopath; we love a haunted house or weird family legacy don’t we? Moreover horror aficionados have been for years f*#king with the notion of family and using our own children against us. Dyed in the wool LF stalwart Imran Mirza looks at horror classic ‘The Shining’ and more.
Imran Mirza’s Youthful Nightmares
What is it with kids in movies?! Why is it, for me at least, they are the most spine-tingling, chilling and ridiculously scariest things in any horror movie?! When I was around 10 years old, I didn’t care about possible poltergeists in my television set, the fact that Michael Myers was running around with his kitchen knife, and I wasn’t even too bothered that Freddie Krueger was waiting for me to fall asleep so he could chase me around in my own dreams. Damien. Now *he* was scary. And I thank God that ‘The Ring’ wasn’t around when I was 10, because I don’t think I’d ever have put myself within a 3 mile radius of a television screen until I’d hit my teens.
For me though, the clear winner for the movie that had me unable to sleep alone for a week (I kid you not!) was ‘The Shining’. There’s a lot to scare the crap out of anyone with ‘The Shining’ – Jack Nicholson’s terrifying descent into madness, little Danny's croaky chants of "Red Rum", hallways with waves of blood pouring out of the elevators, and has there ever been a better portrayal of a woman more petrified than Shelley Duvall?
The most iconic horror images of my childhood though (and I imagine many others too) are of the two axed-up twins standing at the end of the corridor. My bed was positioned so it faced the hallway from my bedroom, so every time throughout the night I lifted my head off the pillow, all I saw were those twins calling to me: “Come and play with us Immy. Come and play with us... for ever and ever!”
If you've never seen 'The Shining' and like to be scared stiff, then you really should treat yourself – besides, it'll be a good way to break up the working week – as that old saying goes, 'all work and no play...' YIKES!
Next time on Oh the Horror – REMAKES!
Now it is weird that the noughties seem obsessed with awful, as Shane aptly puts it weak-sauce Michael Bay remakes. Add Rob Zombie to the list of those who shouldn’t be able to f*#k with films that were perfectly decent enough the first time round. So to kick off the next Oh The Horror article, here is just a taster of some remakes that did and didn’t work!
Remakes they never should have done:
1) ‘Halloween’ and ‘Halloween 2’ (Rob Zombie)
Two awful and needless remakes of films that were already classic. Both were unsubtle, overly brutal with no really new ideas or indeed anything new to offer the franchise.
2) ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ (Michael Bay)
Managed to extract everything that was good about the original and replace it with a glossy soulless slash and hack by numbers reboot.
3) ‘Friday the 13th’ (Michael Bay)
Awful. Why can’t they just leave these films alone!?
Remakes that surprisingly worked:
1) ‘Dawn of the Dead’ (Zack Snyder)
Now I am a massive Romero fan, and I liked the original. But even I am the first to admit that the original is overly long and the social statements it is making have dated a little. What makes the remake quite special is the fact it is perhaps the first ever zombie film to get Hollywood backing and a decent budget, plus the fact it manages to capture all the best elements of the original. This film, along with ‘28 Days Later’, pretty much took zombies into the mainstream!
2) ‘The Hills Have Eyes’ (Alexandre Aja)
This Wes Craven film back in 1977 was by no means a classic. For one, despite the superbly cannibalistic concept, it really lacked any polish and even felt a largely unfinished and surprisingly uninteresting effort. The 2006 remake actually manages to go beyond the original in terms of how mild mannered Doug turns feral and a gore flick becomes a glorious revenge movie. In short I love this remake.
3) ‘The Ring’ (Gore Verbinski)
There have been a plethora of quality overseas horror films being snapped up by lazy Hollywood film makers keen to make a fast buck and refusing to believe that an English speaking public is capable of appreciating a film with subtitles. This 2002 remake of the 1998 revenge series ‘Ringu’ turned out to be a lot smarter and scarier than anyone could have possibly hoped. ‘The Grudge’ remake was also decent enough, but the subsequent sequel remakes from both franchises have been fairly dire and unnecessary.
Do you agree? Let us know your favourite and most hated horror remakes!
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