I live in a one bedroom apartment in Los Angeles. In Chicago, for a great many of my years there, I lived in a two bedroom condo in Lakeview. The common thing about both of these places (other than a few layout similarities which are quite striking) is that our master bedroom is not attached to the bathroom. We have to (and had to) leave the bedroom to make use of the toilet. In the middle of the night, if urination is necessary, we must open the bedroom door, pass through a small hall area and into the darkness of the bathroom. No biggie, right? Well, when you're me, or in some cases, my less-easily-shaken other half, it can be a mental challenge to tread these waters in the dead of night. For you see, I have a fertile imagination. For many years in the aforementioned Chicago condo, we had an ongoing joke that several specific movie spectres, ghouls and creatures roamed our little hallway at night...and every time we would have to "make water" (thanks DRIVING MISS DAISY), we'd have to get past these entities which hung out between our bedroom door and our bathroom door.
I have recently added a new image to my late night jaunts to take a piss. And it got me to thinking about which images/scenes from horror films (my love) tend to come up when I am half asleep and tripping over my own feet as I follow the dim nightlight which casts eerie glows in the bathroom mirror. And from there on, I began making a list (a rather small one) of images and scenes from horror cinema which elicited a very hearty response upon first viewing, which so struck me in their total eeriness, or which have really stuck with me...in some cases deeply disturbing me with their almost primordial power. Something deeper which cannot necessarily be explained.
So here's that list. I don't know if it will ever grow, but these are the moments/images which I still hang onto as "the ones". If you're not well-versed in these, you may want to stop here...as there will be SPOILERS.
In no particular order:
CABIN FEVER: I saw this film in the theatre, and while I really enjoyed it then (and highly recommended it to several friends who later mocked me for it) I've yet to revisit it since the original viewing. Not sure how it holds up, but I do remember the demise of Ms. Jordan Ladd (daughter of my favorite Charlie's Angel -- Cheryl Ladd). The image of her out in that shed, being eaten alive by the German Shepherd, and then turning to reveal the damage to her face/mouth by the flesh-eating bacteria...ugh. Just ugh. I was so disturbed by this image, it stuck w/ me for days, if not weeks. I also vividly remember returning home following the viewing and immediately getting online to check out reviews, etc., then randomly paging down to continue reading. And what should come up? Here's the photo of that moment. Icky. Something deeply unsettling about it and the scene in the film which it inhabits.
PET SEMATARY: The entire tale of "Timmy Baderman" as told by "Judd" (Fred Gwynn). I don't necessarily think this film has held up over time, but "Timmy" (who was one of the "residents" of our Chicago hallway) always messed w/ my head. Even now, just discussing him...his cackling face, bloated corpse and that ill-fitting suit -- gives me the willies. Wowzers.
DEMONS: There are two particular images in this film which have stuck with me. The iconic, cover-art image of the demons ascending a foggy staircase at the far end of a hall in the cinema (the stuff of nightmares), and basically ANYTHING involving a post-demonized "Rosemary" (Geretta Geretta),
but specifically the reveal of her transformation in the theatre's bathroom. She's just scary as hell and the makeup is truly terrifying and top-notch.
LAKE MUNGO: This is the most recently-viewed flick on this list. It's now become one of my recent favorite visions to re-visit in the late night hours as I address the needs of my over-active bladder. I won't show any photos, or reveal any details, cuz chances are, many of you (my avid readers of 0) probably have not seen it. Suffice to say, it's the big moment toward the end of a tremendously effective horror film (done like a pseudo-"48 Hours" crime documentary). Why was the recently deceased daughter of the family the film follows -- in such a strange mental place prior to her death? So very creepy, and still in my memory several weeks later.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: I saw this a bit after the hype, but genuinely enjoyed it...and was TERRIFIED by it. The build-up of tension in this picture is unparalleled. Just the sense of dread as they return night after night to their bedroom, turn on the camera and head off to dreamland...and then things just keep getting worse. But the moment for me (and another recent image to cross my mind in mid-pee stream in the middle of the night) is the baby powder test by the lead characters. When the camera rolls, and they hit the hay...suddenly movement and some lovely hoof-prints. Yikes! For days following the initial viewing of this film, I would open my bedroom door at night and expect to see hoof-prints in an expanse of white powder on my hardwood floors. Nasty.
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004): Ah yes. Little Vivian -- the neighbor girl who's a bit "bitey" and who gets things going for our heroine, Anna. Vivian, btw, is another one of our Chicago hallway guests. The oft-discussed first ten minutes of this film, were a big challenge for me. I was so upset (I was *this* close to having an honest-to-God PANIC ATTACK) upon my first viewing, I had to determine if I should actually get up and leave the theatre. Had it not been for the cut to the credits, my heart would not have been able to take it. And there are two images which stand out as deeply creeply (ha). One is our precious little Vivian. Of course she looks spectacularly gory and zombi-fied, but it's what she represents. Neighborhood girl whose company you enjoy, and who is a part of your suburban, relaxed life, comes into your home (sacred and safe) and mother-effing BITES your husband early one morn. And there's your intro into the end of the world. You little bitch.
The second image is one of the random zombies who shows up in the film's climax. As our group rushes back through the sewers, following their excursion to Andy's Gun Store, there is one dude in the lead of the flesh-eaters. First of all, the fact that the zombies are running until they reach the bottom of the stairs, and then see their prey and slow down to re-examine the situation (like wild animals) is uber-creepy. But, as they ascend, we get a close-up shot of the zombie at the head of the pack. Frankly, every time I watch this film, I have to cover my eyes when the zombie's moment in the spotlight comes up. It just freaks me out. The make-up? The performance? The angle of the shot? Who knows, but this dude messes with me, so I just don't let him do it anymore. Got it?
DAY OF THE DEAD (1985): It's my favorite film of all time. It's the film holding the record for the most number of viewings...no joke, at least 1000 times I've seen this one. I know it by heart. It is my love. It is my inspiration. It is my nightmare. But of course, among the many terrifying moments and images contained in Romero's masterwork, there are a couple of stand-out bits. The first is to be found in the opening credits. As the zombies of Ft. Meyers hear the call of a frazzled Miguel, and work their way out from wherever they are now calling "home", we see a flutter of a crumpled newspaper in the wind. It flips up (with a lovely musical flourish) and there you have it. For 30 years (give or take), zombies have been my life. They influence my writing, my dreaming and even my daydreaming (as I wonder how I would react in a zombie situation at random points in my day). And the newspaper headline, "THE DEAD WALK!" is an image which conjures every bit of fear which has been instilled in me regarding the living dead. It haunts me.
The second moment comes in the film at the very end. Our trio of survivors are now rushing down the walk toward the helicopter and beyond that, there is the horde of hungry zombies. As John moves to prep the chopper, McDermott covers them. Sarah then heads to board the chopper. As soon as she opens the door, multiple rotting hands reach out to grab that lovely face. A scream, a music cue and a quick cut. Just another "boo" moment, right? Well, not in my case. The first time I took in this flick, I was about 12 years old. I was so terrified...so DEEPLY terrified by this film, that when Sarah and McDermott are placed into the corral in the film's climax, I took it upon myself to cover not only my eyes, but my ears as well for the next 20 minutes or so...as my family and best friend continued to indulge in this Romero-created world. I was told that it was over when our trio of survivors reached that chainlink fence...so, apprehensively, I returned...only to be greeted by the above-described "boo" moment. I've never been the same since. Zombies = me. This film and its images (these two specifically) are why. For the second DOTD image, I found no proper pic to support it. Forgive.
POLTERGEIST: My recent quantifying of favorite films, found this gem as my #3 favorite of all time. To recount how many of the moments in this classic (why the hell are they gonna remake this?) find that hidden "g-spot" of fear in my subconscious, would require a book on its very own (I frankly have toyed with the idea of penning a book about this very film). Clown dolls. Television static. Closet lights. Corpses. Electrical problems. That nasty "MGM-Lion Roar" creature outside of the children's bedroom (in a hallway...hmm) in the film's climax. I mean, hello? Of all of these creepy-bits, I find it interesting that the moment I've chosen as an icon for this film, is a line of dialogue. It's Tangina's "the beast" speech. The actors so sell this scene, it's hard not to marvel at the absolute horror of what she describes. No pyrotechnics, no horror makeup, just Zelda doing what she did best. And this leaves me (and the rest of the viewers) with our own imaginations to see what she tells us is happening in Carol Anne Land. And of course, they had to ruin it in the sequel by showing us some of that "other side", to sad, laughable effect. Sigh. Speaking of the sequel --
POLTERGEIST II:THE OTHER SIDE: I'll make this short and sweet and just direct you to the clip. Wanna argue with me 'cause this film has lots of problems and a stupid ending? Watch this and then we'll discuss. Uber-spooky. I think that Reverend Kane would have made a fine addition to our Chicago hallway creepy-clan. What say you?
ALIENS: Another post - DAY OF THE DEAD situation on our hands (and on this list). Only a year after Romero "delighted" me with "Bub" and his underground co-horts, I fell in love with Cameron's (still amazing) sci-fi/horror adventure. What's the connection? Well, other than the suspense, amazing make-up and captivating performances of this stellar cast (an Oscar nom for Weaver? Rightfully so) and two super-strong female heroines, there was the horror (and in my mind, zombie aspect). The eeriness of the film became more difficult for me when Hudson (Bill Paxton) finally found the colonists, all together in some remote area of the settlement. I don't think I had the same out-there idea about what they would find (as I did in STAND BY ME), but when the soldiers reached their destination, and we began to see goo-encrusted appendages at strange angles and ghastly-shiny dead faces of random people, well -- my mind began to go there. And when Dietrich comes across that one remaining living host...my fear went into high gear. Then that half-rotten, crusty and pale (not unlike a zombie mug) woman OPENED HER EYES, to gasp, "Please...kill me", I was done. The film remains in my #4 all time fave position. And while it's terrifying and icky (those aliens and their "buggy" movement), this is the one bit which reached deeper, and ends up on this iconic list.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974): A truly under-rated and under-seen film. Despite it's very slow burn, this has EVERYTHING going for it. You know what's going on, but the reveal of "the call is coming from inside the house", still packs one helluva wallop. And damn Olivia Hussey for going upstairs. But without it, we wouldn't have this truly amazing moment. That damned eye in the crack of Margot Kidder's bedroom. Probably one of the highest-pitched and longest screams by me, at any moment in any horror film viewing. "Agnes, it's me, Billy." Indeed it is.
THE DESCENT: I found this film (which immediately was added to my all-time fave list) a solid 6-months before it was released in the US. A close friend (thank you, RNH) sent me a burned copy of the UK release with only a close-up, black and white image of "Sarah" as the DVD cover, and these words, "the scariest thing I've seen in a very long time." These were my only indications about what I was going to see. This film is another definition of slow burn. You get to know these characters. You get to like these characters. You get to see them in real danger, and with real histories. Then, at the 55 minute mark, you're thrown a curve-ball, the likes of which has never been seen on the football field (can you tell I'm an avid sports guy?). My other half and I certainly must have woken up our entire building when we happened upon the first complete reveal of the "crawlers" (the fourth and final member of our Chicago Creepy Clan -- now officially known as the CCC). Had no idea (even w/ the frequent clues of another inhabitant in the caves -- I can be a bit slow, but leave me alone, I was immersed in the story/characters) that this film would take such a turn. And of course, months later, the US trailer started airing on our television, giving away this most remarkable and terrifying detail. Way to go, you marketing morons! Every chance we got, we would show this to friends, itchily and delightfully waiting for their reaction to that first "crawler" camera image. Suckers.
STAND BY ME: It's not a horror film by any stretch, although the source material is by the "king" of horror himself. And while this film has found its way to my all time favorite (expanded) list, it didn't always hold such high regard. I saw this film soon after my initial viewing of DAY OF THE DEAD, and that is why it took some time to find it's way to my list. The fact that our four leads are on their way to see a dead body, and the fact that I had been (just a year before) COMPLETELY TRAUMATIZED by Romero's DAY...well, you can imagine the places my brain went as STAND BY ME progressed. Not helping matters was the line from "Teddy" (Corey Feldman), as he prods the group to move faster, "Yeah, by the time we get there, the kid won't even be dead anymore." And that was it. On first viewing this film was not a coming-of-age story, or a remarkable feat in child performances, or even a quest to confront one's own grief over a long-lost brother. For me, it became a steadily increasing stressful adventure, which would surely end in the discovery of a zombie. And when they actually showed the very dead face of Ray Brower, just feet from the train tracks, the image was forever burned into my brain. I've seen the film a number of times since then, and even if I were to watch it today, I would no doubt cover my eyes for that deeply disturbing close-up. I even hesitate to search for the image online to post here, but here goes...hold for just a moment. There it is. There's Ray Brower. Not as creepy as I remember, and perhaps I can now move past this childhood phobia/fear. But don't try and tell me that at any moment, that face won't re-animate, and Gordy and the gang will be running from more than Ace's gun (yes, I know they didn't run from Ace, I'm just making my point). Sigh of relief, but still. Ick.
ZOMBIE: Fulci's trash-classic. When I first saw this, back in my youth, there were some moments which actually made me gag (the discovery of the Doctor's wife in the remote home on the island -- body opened and the great feast on her innards), but there are two images which stick with me on a deeper plain. It should come as no surprise that one is the infamous broken-door/wood slat/eyeball moment. That scene can still make me nauseous. It's so nasty, so well done and so...well, GROSS, it completely deserves mention on this list. To this day, still as impressive as can be.
The second moment, one which is far creepier to me...on some strange, sub-conscious level, is the reveal of the zombie wandering alone in one of the island's little villages. It's a wind-swept and empty street with the dude below staggering through the shanty-town. Simply, this guy scares the shit out of me!
THE SHINING: There are two images from a, frankly, image-heavy film, which I find the most disturbing and appealing (how do you choose?) Probably the choices of many horror geeks, but they are here on this list anyway. One: The first reveal of the Grady girls, and Two: the recurring shot of the wave of blood unleashed as the elevator doors open. Nothing more to say other than, "Like duh, Klug."
THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE (1974): Of all the many, many crazy and downright freaky-ass images (Leatherface's first startling appearance), the one I need to highlight is easily one of the biggest "boo" moments I ever experienced in my early horror days. I vividly remember nearly hyper-ventilating, it caught me so off guard (the whole damn film did!). Sally is laboriously pushing Franklin through the heavy brush, desperately yelling out "Jerrrrrrry!", while Franklin whines on and on, "Push, Sally. Push." The flashlight bobs back and forth, and then Franklin says something along the lines of, "Did you hear that?" Then the flashlight moves up and there is the roar of the chainsaw, and Leatherface's best "deer in the headlights" impression. Holy crap. I mean, HOLY CRAP, this scared me. At my old age now, if I saw this for the first time, I doubt I would have avoided a trip to the hospital. For that, the moment deserves a place on this list.
HALLOWEEN: In a classic film oozing w/ amazing "boo" moments and nauseating suspense (Laurie's tumble down the stairs and Michael's ensuing chase -- good heavens!), there has always been one particular shot which holds a special place in my heart. It was kind of fuzzy, seemingly distorted...and so basic. But it really still terrifies me. Laurie looks out the window at Tommy's house, and from a distance, sees Michael just standing there in front of Lindsay's house. No movement. No features. No nothing. Just his silhouette. Where is he looking? Or at whom? Shivers.
THE EXORCIST: The granddaddy of all horror films. You want terribly scary images? How much time do you have? This is THE EXORCIST, friend. You've got the crucifix "masturbation", the demon voice, the pea soup, the levitation, the "drawer pull" (ha!), the "you're gonna die up there" pissing episode, the unsettling Dick Miller make-up, the iconic image of Max Von Sydow in the fog in front of the McNeil home...and the list of frightening/disturbing images just go on and on. Heck, there's even the terrifying "spider walk" (which I read about in the book and had to wait until 2000 to see in the film's re-release -- it didn't disappoint). But the image I must include here on this list, is "Captain Howdy" him/herself. Those quick and unexpected flashes of that ghastly white face, at multiple times throughout the film...well, they still elicit shudders, squeals of horror (and delight) and the unleashing of those unnameable deep-set fears. I had the occasion to meet Eileen Dietz (the actress behind this nightmare-inducing visage) on a few occasions, and that is the autographed photo I post here. Don't tell me this image, even out of context, doesn't just send your fear centers into hysterics! I present "Captain Howdy". And as a side note, read the book. Um, yeah, it's worth your time. Deeply upsetting experience...so much I revisited it another two times. :) And of course, Pazazu deserves a special "creep-me-the-hell-out" mention.
Honorable mentions: "Happy Father's Day" from CREEPSHOW, the afore-mentioned OPEN WATER and THE REEF, and although I couldn't think of one particular image from the original DAWN OF THE DEAD, I know that most of the film's content messed with my nerves as well.
That's my list folks. Hope you enjoyed it! I know I've enjoyed carrying these grisly and disturbing and bloody images with me for most of my life and into my current expensive therapy sessions. I'll be here all week.