First and foremost, let me apologize for the bloggish nature of this column. I am currently whooping it up at the geek-friendly Horror Find convention in Hunt Valley, Maryland, and wasn't able to complete all of the necessary research (read: watch a bunch of special features) on the intended column for this week. I had the idea a few months ago to write a column detailing some films that I consider pivotal to my formation as not just a movie-geek, but really as a person as well. I hesitated because, as I said above, I didn't want to post what would essentially be a blog, but at this point it is either that or not post anything, and the latter is pretty unacceptable. So I will try to be as entertaining and informative as possible.
I'm sorry I called you a meatloaf, Jack!
In any discussion of films that shaped me as a person, number one on the list has to be AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981). I don't have a lot of memories from that time (I was eight-years old), but I remember the TV spots for that film. Well, not so much the spots as the feelings that they inspired in me. Namely, thoughts like "werewolfwerewolfwerewolfwerewolf!" I can't say for sure what the set of circumstances were that led to me being so instantly enamored of monsters, but I guess at this point it doesn't much matter. Suffice it to say that something about the concept triggered mania in an otherwise inward and withdrawn child. I begged and begged to see it, and eventually my "uncle" Richard took me.
Less than halfway through the film I was dragged out of the theater, kicking and screaming.
For any of you who aren't familiar with the film, the title sums up the plotline rather succinctly. Young American man visits London, young American man watches best friend mutilated and killed by a werewolf, young American man becomes werewolf himself. As in traditional werewolf lore, the afflicted person, David Kessler in this case, as played by David Naughton, suffers from vivid and terrible nightmares. It was during one of those scenes (a naked David rips the head off a dear and starts chewing on it) that the film was deemed to awful for my young eyes. I can't entirely disagree with that notion, but the hasty, involuntary exit was enough to turn the already present attraction to horror into full-blown mania.
Some interesting facts about the film: Rick Baker won the first ever Oscar for special effects work (if you've seen the transformation scene, or the end-stage Jack Goodman corpse puppet, you'll know it was well deserved); the "2nd chess player in the first Slaughtered Lamb scene was played by Rik Mayall, who was not only Rick on The Young Ones, but also played the titular character in DROP DEAD FRED; Nurse Alex Price was played by Jenny Agutter, who was Jessica 5 in LOGAN'S RUN. That's not very interesting, but I just wanted to mention her.
The next two films that leap to mind when I think about defining moments in my life are PHANTASM and THE BROOD (both 1979), both seen as a double-feature at the drive-in when I was eleven and my family lived in Florida. I don't have a strong
recollection of my horror adventures in the intervening years, but that night left me in tatters. I think my eyes were wide as dinner plates for a week.
You dirty bastards...give me back my hand.
PHANTASM (known as THE NEVER DEAD in Australia) is a Phan-tastic film (sorry), and is an early piece by Don Coscarelli (whose next film was another important one in my household, BEASTMASTER). In this case, my aversion to review-style synopses in my columns comes in handy, because this film defies encapsulation. In fact, it is similar to a lot of Euro-horror in its reliance more on images than plot. There is Jody, a troubled youth who recently lost his parents. All he has left in the world is his brother, Michael, and Michael's best friend, Reggie (played by horror mainstay Reggie Bannister). Then there is the dark side to the film's equation, in the form of The Tall Man (the truly frightening Angus Scrimm), who seems to oversee some sort of inter-dimensional slave-trading company. Or something. None of that matters. What matters are the spike-balls that fly through the air and drill into the heads of suddenly unhappy people, and the immensely goddamn creepy portal. Where does the portal go? Good question. All it is is two metal poles sticking out of the floor, but somehow the mere thought of it gives me the willies, even as I write this. Then there is young Bill Thornbury's (as Jody) stellar performance when the severed finger he took off the Tall Man turns into a gnarly insect and flies all up in his hair. Except there is not an insect, because that would have required a budget; it's all pantomimed. Quite impressive.
THE BROOD is an entirely different animal. This is David Cronenberg's third film (after cutting his teeth doing shorts and Canadian TV for almost a decade) and is, in my opinion, when he really came into his on. And talk about star power: Art Hindle, Samantha Eggar, Oliver Reed? Come on. This film is supremely creepy, even as an adult, but especially so from the point of view of a child, considering that for all intents and purposes, the murders committed in the film are perpetrated by children. The story is both a story about the difficulty about getting on with your life after a painful divorce (even though the couple in question is not technically divorced) and a stinging indictment of psychiatry as an institution (much as his THEY CAME FROM WITHIN did with the "sexual revolution" of the 70's), but told as only Cronenberg can tell it: with lots of squishy grossness. The concept of Psychoplasmics itself is as ingenious as it is awful: the idea that you can externalize all of your inner anger and insecurities through discrete physiological events. Except Dr. Raglan never counted on the extreme psychosis present in Nola, and people pay the price for the mistake with their lives.
Let us skip ahead a few years, when at the tender age of fourteen I had what would prove to be the most catalytic event of my post-AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON life: a viewing of EVIL DEAD 2: DEAD BY DAWN (1987). I vividly recall speaking to a pay-per-view operator on the phone
(see how old I am? I wrote my first column with a hammer and chisel) and trying to convince her that I was older than I sounded, and it was totally cool to let me watch the movie. I somehow managed the trick, and it quite literally changed my life.
Motherly love, the Canadian way.
EVL DEAD 2 is a non-stop, frenetically-paced, cartoonishly violent demon epic. Since there is often confusion as to its status (sequel? Remake?) I'll lay it out quick: Sam Raimi wanted to cast Bruce Campbell, his longtime friend and star of his first film, THE EVIL DEAD, in his next film, CRIMEWAVE. Except the money people balked. So for his third film, Raimi figured if he did an EVIL DEAD sequel, they had to let him have Bruce. Except Raimi didn't have the rights to his own film, and the original cabin had burned down anyway. So Raimi did a combo remake/sequel. If you pay close attention, you will see that around 15 minutes into the EVIL DEAD 2, there is a scene that perfectly mimics the end scene in the first one. That is the point where the remake becomes sequel.
The reason this film affected me so strongly, I think, is that I recognized that most people wouldn't get it. They wouldn't see the poetry in it, they would stifle the laugh when Bobby Joe swallows the eyeball, even though it was funny. At that point, I knew I was destined to always love the films that most other people would never even know existed. And as exasperating as that can sometimes be, I would never change it in a million years. It gives me a large part of my identity, and the internet age has allowed it to finally give me a sense of community. I might be the weirdest person in any respective room, but I am just one of the geeks when I go online.
Since time is running short, I will cut this off with a few words about how film plays into my romantic relationship. When I was first getting to know my girlfriend, heretofore to be known simply as H, she mentioned seeing a movie with a friend of hers about giant killer rabbits. I said, "Oh, NIGHT OF THE LEPUS." She was astounded that someone else knew of the film. That probably wasn't the point where I really hooked her, but I like to think it was. She once drove through a blizzard with me to see a midnight showing of BUBBA HO TEP (Bruce Campbell and Don Coscarelli together – nice synergy). She has suffered through my increasingly elaborate and worrisome obsession with SHAUN OF THE DEAD (to the point where she made me a kick-ass club to use with my Halloween costume of Shaun, complete with bloodstains). For my last birthday she bought me a copy of DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS!, a film most girlfriends wouldn't even watch with their guys. And just last night, as Horror Find marks our yearly anniversary, she presented me with the following DVDs: MEMENTO, HARD CANDY, TOURISTAS, and AUDITION. As if that isn't cool enough, she also told me she hunted the store down to make sure she had the widescreen version of each. That, my friends, is love. May you all find a significant other that doesn't tolerate your eccentricities, but accepts them, and you, as you are. Happy Anniversary, baby.
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Eating the flesh of lesser film geeks since '72.
Zombie Boy is not a Hollywood insider, just a movie|
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