Friday, August 19, 2011

Musing on Scary Movies

Somebody asked yesterday, "What is a really scary movie I can watch?" The first answer that came to mind was The Shining because of Jack Nicholson's memorable creepy compelling performance of a loving father and husband going progressively insane while seeking shelter in a place that should have been avoided at all costs and the sense of tension and apprehension set up for the viewer as the film progresses.

Next up was an indie film I saw last year called Frozen that has put me off downhill skiing and ski lifts for life. Maybe several lifetimes. In this film three young twenty something friends are trapped fifty feet in the air in a lift gondola with no food, no extra clothing or survival gear, no cell phones, and no way to get down. They never should have gotten on the gondola "for one more run" just before closing at all. Worse is the fact that the ski resort is closed until the next week end...five days away. And, none of the three has told anybody where they were going. Talk about tension and the sense of impending doom as the three discuss what to do as they become increasingly desperate, then when they do take action, each logical solution turns into worse disaster. You feel their hunger and physical misery, their despair and sense of helplessness. And its, cold, so cold!

Well, thinking about these two films really got me going. I remember being totally freaked out by Jaws the first time I saw it and the first Aliens film. Then, there was Pitch Black. I'm shivering already. In these films the unexpected and the unknown beast, whether alien or mammalian, is the horror. I mean who isn't afraid of being dragged under dark murky water and eaten by a great white shark? Please, please get a bigger boat! Or just stay out of freakin' water more than ankle deep. And uh maybe when you crash land on a planet that used to have a colony that nobody's heard from in a long while, maybe you should concentrate on fixing the craft and getting out of there pronto. But then, you can't, can you? You need parts and supplies, and then there's the dramatic element of human intrigue with the mystery of the missing colonists that leads to...disaster...and death... and hopeful escape. Pity the guys in the red shirts, Captain Kirk, and beam me up Scotty! My recommendation here is if you find yourself in this sort of situation stay very very close to Ripley and Riddick!

Next up, the really terrifying Poltergeist. In that film, every single childhood fear was explored and exorcized in full living color with sound and state of the art special effects and by Industrial Light and magic and the creativity of the masterful Spielberg at his masterful best. My personal favorite moment was the scary clown doll under the bed. I mean who isn't really afraid of looking under the bed, especially in the dark? Who if we are honest isn't secretly afraid of clowns? Might something reach out and grab your ankles if you don't jump into bed quick? And, watch out for closets. Every kid knows they may be dark tunnels leading to alternate worlds full of monsters! And parents, like the parents in the film, are very very slow to figure it out.

Another film that scared the absolute bejesus out of me was the film Omega Man that starred Charleton Heston (which was remade as I Am legend with Will Smith). I had nightmares about that one. In Omega Man, a biological weapon developed by the US military has apparently killed all the humans. All except for Heston who is somehow immune. The dude is lonely and bored and he thinks it is safe to go out during the day 'cause there might be things that go bump in the night but can't deal with daylight. So he drives (a convertible for Christ sakes) into the deserted city where the camera shows you shadowy things scuttling around the deserted buildings and rubble. Why doesn't he drive a tank?! He eaves the car top down outside in the sun and goes in a movie theatre and screens Woodstock for himself, sitting in the dark. You just know this is not a good idea. If his wife wasn't dead she'd be scolding, "What are you thinking of?! Get home right this minute and lock the doors!" Well, Chuck gets absorbed by the movie, stays too long, comes out and its dusk. He looks around and says something like 'oops, better get home, cause THEY'LL be out soon!' OMG. Then they do come out. Color me screaming yellow.

Turns out the things in monk like robes with hoods hiding their deformed faces are former humans turned Zombies all of whom live only to kill poor Chuck. I had nightmares for a long time after that one. Actually slept with a nightlight.

Then, there was The Birds. Hitchcock turned those cute little winged critters into monsters of mass destruction in California town while for a part of the film the hapless citizens forget to look up as disaster builds. And I don't mean bird poop falling from the sky. Yes, Virginia. Sparrows and sea gulls and crows can be scary. And they'll do worse than mess up your hairdo. Hitchcock wasn't dubbed the master of suspense for nothing.

In Jurassic Park, the viewer knows that they should have listened to Jeff Goldblum when he said it wasn't a good idea to recreate living dinosaurs on an island and build a theme part around it. You wouldn't think even the red dogs and blue dogs in Washington DC would be dumb enough to recreate living T-Rexes and Raptors as a money making project. Or would they?

So what do these movies have in common, aside from being well written, well directed, well acted, and well produced? Well, most were based on books to begin with. Omega Man (Based on I Am Legend by Richard Matheson )and Jurassic Park ( Michael Crichton) was as was The Shining (Stephen King). Jaws by Peter Benchley was based on a true incident that occurred in New Jersey and Maryland in 1916.

They depend on characters that may be stock literary characters but who are dimensional and not cardboard. People who could be our neighbors or family who find themselves in scary situations without the training to face the danger or the full knowledge of exactly what it is until it's chasing them. They could be you or me. As a viewer you both identify with the characters and care about their survival, even if they do some pretty dumb things. There is a gradual build up of suspense and impending danger, and excitement. And, it's always dark at some point. Humans are instinctively afraid of the dark and what it may hide. After all, we began if Darwin was right, as little bitty critters hiding in caves or tall grass from bigger predators bent on eating us for supper. Our only defense was seeing them in time and being fast enough to RUN AWAY.

There are lots of other good scary movies. The Track OF The Vampire, Nosferatu, (The first) Halloween, Silence Of The Lambs, Seven, Misery, Carrie, The 13th Warrior, Psycho, The Exorcist come to mind. Some folks are scared by True Blood and Dexter on TV, two really well written and acted series. Some people are freaked by Dracula and Freddy and King Kong and Cujo or the Cloverfield monster, but those sort of things don't frighten me. Ghosts and vampires and were-wolves and big stomping Godzilla things are more interesting than scary.

I once lived in a haunted house and I can tell you that most ghosts are really more annoying than scary. All that moaning and crying and floating about, making crashing noises to get your attention and stuff. Gets old fast. "I mean, get a life! Oh, wait, you can't! You are dead! Well, scat! I'm busy here." Did I just make that up? Well, that's for me to know and you to wonder. I am a writer of fantasy after all...When I was very little, I really was afraid of The Wizard of Oz's witch with her green face and cackling and the talking door knob in Alice In Wonderland, mostly because talking door knobs seemed WRONG somehow. But that's fodder for another blog.

What are your favorite scary movies and why? What makes you eat your popcorn faster and you want to yell out, "No, no, don't open that door! Don't go down there?! Don't listen to him (her)? Danger, danger, Will Robinson! I have a bad feeling about this!"

Live long and prosper. Now, who ya gonna call? Ghostbusters?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Road Trip Dreamin' When the Best Laid Plans Go Awry.

Photo: better days with the Badger on the beach
Well boys and girls if I am going to be honest and I am going to be, I have to say that we were pretty bummed out that we couldn't take our summer vacation trip to Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Yes, sigh, we had to cancel when we discovered on my birthday week end that our RV was not in a drivable state. No RV, no road trip. No trekking around Gettysburg, no Hershey Park, no Chocolate Town, no Almost Heaven, West Virginia. No mountains, no lightning bugs, no cooler elevations. Nada, zip. Not even a weekend trip to the beach. Now, I don 't really expect anyone to actually feel sorry for me. Its not a third world problem. Definitely first world. So, I don't get to take another road trip to discovery in a thirty two foot motor home. So what? I'm not living in a box in the woods. The roof only leaks a little over the kitchen sink and there's food in the fridge. A/C to help cope with the mid nineties temps. A pool to cope with the excessive Florida summer humidity. Could be a hurricane coming, but heck we've felt with those before.

None the less I was bummed out. I wanted to go back to Beckley and the wonderful Tamarack Craft Center, visit a coal camp and go down the mine for 'Charlie's Dog' research. Danny and I wanted to stop at The Greenbrier resort in White Sulpher Springs and tour the secret underground cold war government refuge. I wanted to smell chocolate in the air in Hershey, get Civil War memorabilia and see The Eisenhower farm. Oh well, maybe next year.

It was, in a way, a good thing we couldn't go. The temps up Nawth are as high as in Orlando. No relief from the heat practically anywhere. Might as well stay home, hole up in a movie theatre and get sick on popcorn, which is what we did. Still its always nice to have a change of scenery and a break from the normal stresses of everyday life that everyone has.

The RV is in the shop over in Tampa. No telling how long its going to be out of commission at this point. Right now, we're hoping for a leaf turning trip to NC in the fall.

We're working on the book production in bits and pieces at night and lunch and in between sweat in' buckets on the weekends. That's all for this update.