*Note: I know I said Tom would be back for this episode, but his dad’s recovery is going more slowly than expected; he might need another surgery on the day before this episode comes out. So Tom decided to stay in Mississippi with his dad for another week. He will return to Florida on January 26th, and will be returning to the show after that date. Thank you for all your kind words of support. You guys are the best.*
Ah, the late 70s and early 80s. A golden age in terrible exploitation flicks available for rent in sketchy VHS rental shops. Those of us who are of a certain age (ahem) can remember scouring the racks in the horror section of the video store, trying to decide whether to rent Night of the Bloody Apes, Killer Nun, The Gestapo’s Last Orgy, or Cannibal Apocalypse. But if you grew up in the UK, it was apparently a lot harder to get your grimy little mitts on uncut home videos of these exploitation classics, because a lot of them ended up on the infamous list of “video nasties” that could be legally seized under the auspices of the British Board of Film Censors, who thought the movies were contributing to the moral turpitude of the nation’s children. So join Jenny as she takes a fun, gory tour through the Video Nasty Era and discusses a few of the films that were on the list (as well as a few that were inexplicably left off). YES, WE’VE GOT A VIDEO!
Song at the end: “Nasty” by The Damned. Clips at the beginning taken from the trailer for The Last House on the Left and the “Nasty” episode of The Young Ones.
13 O’Clock is made possible through support from our patrons and fans:
John, Joseph, Lindsey, Dan, Sandra, Paul, Matt, Jamin, Joanie, Arif, Samantha, Ashley, Eric, Tara, Michael, Lars, Veronica, Dean, Lana, James, & Kieron.
Channel art and audio & video editing by Jenny Ashford. Opening & closing music & sound effects courtesy of freesound.org users jamespotterboy, corsica-s, enjoypa, capturedlv, and justkiddink. Video clips courtesy of Videezy.
It’s another lazy Saturday afternoon, my horror honchos, and that means it’s time for another random double feature to while away the weekend hours. Today’s mix was a pretty strange juxtaposition, I gotta say, but it ended up a generally better viewing experience than last time, so let’s jump right in. Oh, and I know I usually forget to say this, but there will probably be some spoilers ahead, though I’ll try not to ruin anything completely.
First up, The Inhabitants from 2015, directed by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen. Hot damn, this was a good one. It had pretty much everything I like: a spooky old house in New England, an atmosphere of increasing dread that never showed too much or went too far over the top, and best of all, Salem witches, you guys! Yay, I love witches!
The setup of the story is simple in the extreme. Jessica (Elise Couture) and Dan (Michael Reed) are a young married couple who decide to purchase the March Carriage Bed and Breakfast when the elderly folks who previously owned it died (in the husband’s case) or got sent to a nursing home (in the wife’s case). One thing I should point out that gave this movie an added bonus of historical eerieness is that the house where it was filmed actually once belonged to the Reverend Samuel Parris, whose daughter and niece kicked off that whole Salem Witch Trial thing with their crazy accusations. Nice job, girls. 😦
So, pretty standard creepy shit starts to go down once the couple get moved in; floorboards creak like someone’s walking around, some kinda menacing teenagers hang out in the woods like they’re watching the place, and so on. Jessica begins to research the history of the house so she’ll be able to tell their potential guests some interesting anecdotes, and it turns out that the house was once the home of a 17th-century midwife who was accused of and eventually hanged for witchcraft. The couple find a “gently used” birthing chair in the basement, to boot. Eeeewwwwwww.
The festivities don’t really begin in earnest until Dan is conveniently called away for a few days on a business trip, leaving Jessica in the house alone. I won’t spoil too much, but when he returns, he finds that Jessica has…changed, and not necessarily for the better.
The thing I loved most about this movie was its consistently tense, claustrophobic atmosphere. The house itself is so eerie and so effectively filmed that the whole movie just drips spookiness during its entire running time. I also liked the measured pacing of the film; steady, not in any hurry to get anywhere, but subtly ratcheting up the dread as it went along. Another thing I really liked was that everything was done through suggestion; there was no splashy gore, not many jump scares, and a lot of plot aspects were left ambiguous for the viewer to puzzle over. For instance, who installed those video cameras in all the rooms? What were those teenagers doing out in the woods, and exactly what were they planning to do when they broke in? What ultimately happened to Dan and Jessica’s dog Wylie? Where did the “children” originally come from, and why did they need to be “fed?” These questions are not answered outright, but it doesn’t matter; it all just adds to the overall ambience. I would recommend this film unreservedly to anyone who enjoys slow-burn haunted house flicks as much as I do; I thought it was really fantastic and effective.
Next up was a film that was a whole different kettle of fish, and while I didn’t dislike it, it gave me a lot more mixed feelings than The Inhabitants did. Part found-footage, part torture porn, part self-referential homage, the 2014 Spanish movie Wax was directed by Victor Matellano and featured a bunch of genre-specific cameos, including Geraldine Chaplin (daughter of Charlie), Jack Taylor (who starred in some of Jess Franco’s films), and the voice of Paul Naschy. It was a fairly enjoyable movie on the whole, but I feel like it was a little unfocused and too long and drawn out to really ring my bell, if you know what I’m saying.
The conceit is this: Muppet-haired smart-ass and horror geek Mike (Jimmy Shaw) is hired by a TV producer (Geraldine Chaplin) to be locked into a supposedly haunted Barcelona wax museum overnight, and film a documentary-cum-reality-show while he’s in there. Interwoven with this narrative is the story of the subject of the museum’s newest exhibit—a notorious and cannibalistic serial killer named Dr. Knox, who had a thing for gadding about dressed like Vincent Price’s character in House of Wax and eating his victims’ internal organs while they were still alive.
So Mike is wandering around the dimmed museum, filming his reality show, and every now and then there’s an intercut of footage of Dr. Knox addressing the camera and describing whatever indignities he is visiting upon his current unfortunate victim. These interstitials are described in-film as being videos that were found in one of Dr. Knox’s hideouts after his arrest, and the museum has them playing on a loop near his wax figure. Fun for the whole family! These bits of the movie are actually fairly gruesome, but nothing to really put you off your lunch or anything, unless you’re super squeamish.
At about the halfway point of the movie, some paranormal-type stuff starts happening around the museum, like figures seemingly moving, props falling over, mysterious lights, and a red ball that is significant to the plot turning up in the darnedest places. Then, during one of Mike’s scheduled phone calls with the TV producer, it comes to light that Dr. Knox has escaped from prison, and wouldn’t you know it, Mike soon starts seeing him lurking around the museum and understandably begins to freak the fuck out.
One thing I will say about the found footage aspects of the film, is that I thought the trope was pretty effectively utilized here, especially near the end, when Mike is being pursued around the museum by Dr. Knox and only has that creepy green night-vision mode to see by. The museum itself, which I’m guessing is probably a real one, also looks terrific and suitably unsettling, especially in Mike’s POV shots, because you can really get the palpable sense that you’re walking through this spooky-ass place in the dark yourself.
But overall, I felt like the movie just didn’t hang together all that well, like it was trying to be too many things at once. And I was also left pretty confused by what was actually going on at the end of the thing. AHOY! SPOILERS AHEAD! Okay, so at the end, we’re led to believe that the TV producers had actually set the whole thing up, that Dr. Knox was not actually in the museum, and that they were deliberately trying to drive Mike crazy (or crazier) to make a good TV show. Were they actually planning for him to die of fright, or was that just a lucky side effect? Also, Mike’s wife and kid were killed by Dr. Knox? And he didn’t know it? I mean, he must not have known, because he didn’t seem any more squicked out by the Dr. Knox murder footage than a normal person would be. It wasn’t really made clear whether he even knew his wife and kid were dead, honestly. I mean, there was that one scene where he was kinda getting weirdly friendly with a wax figure of a prostitute and saying how much he missed his wife, but I thought that was because she had left him, like she said she was going to in that one flashback he had. If that’s not what happened, then what was the point of that brief flashback where she said she was gonna leave him? And when he showed the picture of his son Rob to the museum curator at the beginning, he referred to the kid in the present tense and didn’t act all sad or like the kid was dead or anything. So like, in light of the ending, were we supposed to interpret that as a symptom of his mental illness, or what? I just feel like that whole situation wasn’t conveyed effectively, and neither was the line between what was really in the museum, what was set up by the producers, and what was only in Mike’s imagination. It didn’t really ruin the movie or anything, but it was sort of frustrating nonetheless.
This one…eh, I could have taken it or left it. I wouldn’t really recommend it unless you think it’s the kind of thing you’d be into, but keep in mind that it’s kinda meandering and goes on way longer than it needs to. Not bad, but not great.
Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends. Goddess out.
I know, I know. I did say, in my previous piece on The Tenant, that I was going to try to avoid discussing the better-known horror fare as much as possible, and yet here I am, sorta already breaking that rule. My justification for what follows is two-fold: Firstly, I love this damn scene and I still vividly remembered it years after first seeing the film; and secondly, it’s not usually one of the scenes that people single out as being the scariest in the movie.
Wes Craven’s A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984) is a horror behemoth that not only spawned fifty squintillion sequels and spinoffs, but also established one of the most recognizable horror baddies of all time. There probably isn’t a horror fan alive who hasn’t seen it. While the merits of the sequels can (and have been) debated to death—and I for one tend to be one of those people who feels that most of them, while good films, veered too far into self-parody to be effectively frightening—I think it’s pretty much universally accepted that the original was one of the scariest horror films of the 80s.
The scenes that fans and reviewers tend to point to when they talk about “scary parts” are usually the more splashy ones (in both senses of the word), like the blood geyser that erupts when Johnny Depp is sucked into his bed (during the Miss Nude America pageant, no less), or Tina’s gorily and gloriously airborne murder. Another popular choice is Freddy’s appearance in Tina’s dream, his shadowed figure approaching through the alley, his freakishly long arms causing his finger-blades to scrape unsettlingly across the walls. These are all great options, but the one I want to feature is much less ostentatious, since as I keep repeating, the creepiest scenes for me are ones that are predicated on suggestion and atmosphere.
Main protagonist Nancy (Heather Langenkamp) is sitting in her English class, wearing a tragic combo of pale pink sweater-vest and high-waisted beige slacks (ahh, the eighties). Since her terrible dreams have been keeping her up nights, she’s understandably a mite drowsy. She struggles to keep her eyes open as the teacher drones on, and then as a student gets up in front of the class and begins to read from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
She blinks sleepily, but for a moment we don’t realize that she has dozed off. And then things start to get weird. She happens to glance to her right and sees that her murdered friend Tina is standing in the doorway of the classroom, ensconced in a bloody body bag. Tina’s hand reaches out inside the plastic. “Help me,” she says. And then Nancy turns back to survey the classroom, perhaps to check if anyone else is seeing this crazy shit. The boy is still standing at the front of the class reading Julius Caesar, but now he is staring straight at Nancy and reading in a flat, menacing whisper.
The first time I heard that whisper, I honestly got goosebumps, because for whatever reason, one of the things that disturbs me the most in films is when a character inexplicably starts speaking in a different voice. Incidentally, other examples of similar movie scenes that had the same chilling effect on my psyche were Danny’s croaking “Redrum” getting suddenly higher-pitched in The Shining, the Judge’s normal voice jumping into screeching cartoon mode in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, and the little old woman talking in the voice of Nicole Kidman’s daughter in The Others. I realize that this is a particular bête noire of mine, so readers’ mileage may vary, but for my money, the boy in Nightmare On Elm Street reading Shakespeare in the slow, hissing whisper is easily the most unnerving part of that scene, and for me it added a nice little fillip of terror.
Moving on, Nancy looks back at the doorway. Bodybag Tina is gone, but there’s still a big ol’ blood puddle on the floor to mark her presence. Nancy gets up from her seat and goes into the empty hallway. There’s a wide blood trail allllll the way down the hall, and at the end of it, there’s Tina lying in her body bag. Her feet are raised as though an invisible person is holding them up, and then she is dragged slowly out of the frame.
The entire scene is five minutes long, but it’s really only these first two minutes that are effectively scary. Once Nancy runs around the corner and crashes into the snotty hall monitor in the telltale striped sweater, and then descends into the boiler room where she confronts Freddy, big as life and oozing with green chest-goo, the frightening part of the scene has already happened. The little details of the buildup are what make the scene eerie for me; after that, it’s just a comedown from the high.
Stephen King, in his excellent 1980 non-fiction book Danse Macabre (which I read so many times that its pages eventually fell out) describes this principle with the following example: Say you have a scene where the protagonist is walking down a dark, creepy hallway toward a closed door. He knows there is something behind that door, and the viewer knows it too. The tension builds as the protagonist gets closer and closer to the door. Eventually, he gets to the end of the hallway and opens the door, but once the door is opened, the terror is basically dissolved. King imagines that a ten-foot bug is behind the door. The viewer might jump or scream when he sees the bug, but King argues that this is actually a sign of relief. “Oh, it’s a ten-foot bug,” the viewer may think. “That’s pretty bad, but I thought it would be a HUNDRED-foot bug.” What the viewer imagines is behind the door is always going to be much, much worse than what is actually there. Another relevant and obvious analogy would be a roller coaster; the scariest part of the ride is the slow ascent to the top of that first drop. Once you go over the hill, you can deal with the consequence and enjoy yourself, but the ride, while exhilarating, isn’t really scary anymore.
King then went into a discussion about how various horror writers and filmmakers had dealt with this principle in their work, and how effective they had been. Is it better to never show your monster? Only show it vaguely, so its true form is never really grasped? Or should you simply go balls to the wall and slap that bitch up on the screen and into everyone’s face in as unexpected a manner as possible? Readers of this blog should know where I stand on the issue (hint: somewhere between the first and second of those things), but I’m curious to hear different perspectives, if anyone would care to share them.
I may or may not be posting more of these in the next few days; I’m on vacation until after Labor Day, and the God of Hellfire and I are having an out-of-town guest who will need to be entertained, so I may not have as much time to do writeups. But whatever happens, the series will continue in due time. As always, thanks for reading, and I hope you guys are enjoying the posts. Goddess out.