Tag Archives: death

Oh, The Horror, Part 2

And now, back to the scary scary stuff! Woohoo!

Actually, probably not so scary by most people’s standards, but I’m returning to the list  of movies that have scared *me,* one way or another, through the years.

And for the sake of complete honesty, I’ll start with a couple that aren’t actually so awfully horrifying. In fact, they’re more funny than scary, but I enjoyed them just the same. “Tremors” and “Army of Darkness.” Both of these are gory, but they’re just so damn gleeful that it’s impossible to take them seriously. Another one along the same lines is “Shaun of the Dead,” which gave me the giggles but gave my daughter the serious creeps and she refuses to watch it again. So your mileage may vary on these. Oh, and “The Frighteners,” a very early Peter Jackson movie that’s light on the horror and heavier on the silly.

* The Stand, 1994. The is the TV miniseries version, but I think they got it pretty well. “The Stand,” the book, scared the beejeezus out of me the first time I read it and still does. The opening scenario of the experimental flu virus that “gets loose” is enough to keep me awake at nights, moreso now than ever.

* Prophecy, 1995. I first watched this because it’s a Viggo movie. Hey, I’m not too proud to admit it. But it’s kinda grown on me. It has some of my favorite angels ever, both good and bad. And the best Lucifer on film, and I don’t say that  just because it’s Viggo. LOL He’s creepy in an entirely different way than I’d ever imagined, and I like to be surprised.

* The Craft, 1996. This one’s a guilty pleasure. I only watched it to see if they got anything at all about the Craft correct, and the answer is, not so much. But it’s kinda fun watching girls wreak havoc. Hey,  I never said I wasn’t shallow. 😀

* From Dusk Til Dawn, 1996. You will believe George Clooney and Harvey Keitel, of all people, can fight vampires. And you will believe that Santanico Pandemonium could turn the straightest of  straights into something more… open-minded.

* American History X, 1998, while not technically a horror movie, is one of the most horrifying things I’ve ever watched.  It made me queasy and I felt like somebody had been punching me in the gut when it was over. I honestly can’t recommend it, but I think everybody in the United States should be forced to watch it. How’s that for a mixed signal?

* The Ring, 2002. I honestly can’t believe I watched this. This is the one with the drippy chick in the well, right? It was more or less a BOO movie. I guess I just expected more from Naomi Watts, an actress I generally enjoy. I guess if you had to remake this, you’d have to do it with haunted DVDs, right?

* Dark Water, 2005. This one gets no love, basically. But I thought it was quite creepy, my favorite kind of scary movie. And well acted, by Jennifer Connelly, John C. Reilly and Tim Roth.

* The Exorcism of Emily Rose, 2005. I really enjoyed this one because it’s set up unlike anything you’d expect. It focuses on the lawyer hired to represent a priest accused  of negligent homicide because of the death of a young woman during an exorcism. During the course of the trial, the story of the girl’s problems and the attempted exorcism is revealed. The priest is played by Tom Wilkinson, a fine British actor, and his lawyer is played by Laura Linney. Good movie.

* Bug, 2006. Yeah, now this one is creepy and unnerving. Ashley Judd and some dude I don’t remember are a sort of odd couple stuck together in a cheap motel room. He’s a war vet and she’s just sad and lonely. And then there’s a bug infestation. Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe it’s real, or maybe it’s a shared hallucination, but either way it’s entirely claustrophobic and unnerving to watch.

* The Host, 2006. A Korean horror movie with subtitles  that’s kinda entertaining but I didn’t see what the big deal was.

* Silence of the Lambs. Watch it. I can say no more.

* I Am Legend, 2006. The second half of this movie devolves into a fairly standard monster  movie, but the first half is possibly the best, most moving, most affecting depiction of the mental and emotional devastation of loneliness I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.

* The Orphanage, 2007. A Spanish movie about ghosts that is truly disturbing. At least I thought so. But then, I also loved  the Nicole Kidman movie “The Others,” so take it however you want.

* Sweeney Todd, 2007. Okay, technically it’s a musical rather than a horror movie, but come on… murderer upstairs and chick making meat pies out of his victims downstairs. That’s pretty awful, I’d say. And hey, Johnny Depp can sing. Who knew?

* Let the Right One In, 2008, the Swedish original. Very haunting. Very disturbing. The U.S. remake in 2010, “Let Me In,” is also good, but I recommend the original.

* The Road, 2009. A man tries to keep himself and, especially, his young son, alive in a post-apocalyptic world as they search for some remnant of civilization. Based on Cormac McCarthy’s devastating novel, this movie is just as wrenching. I highly recommend it, but not  when you’re depressed already.

* Testament, 1983. I saved this one for last because it might be the one that has haunted me the most of all the scary movies I’ve seen. “Testament” is the story of a family trying to hold together and survive in the aftermath of a nuclear tragedy.  If you’ve ever been tempted to dismiss the horrifying aftermath of nuclear fallout (say, for instance, you watched the TV show “Jericho,” which I enjoyed but boy did they sugarcoat the reality of nuclear aftermath), this movie will change your mind forever. I personally think this should be required viewing in every high school. But that’s just my opinion.

Now, tell me what I missed! 😀

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Oh, the Horror! Part 1

I like scary movies. Sometimes. Some kinds of scary movies. I’ve been thinking about movies that I actually found scary, and it’s not as many as you might think.

First, here’s how I categorize scary movies:

1 – The “BOO” movie. These are the ones that count on surprising you to make you jump. You know those horrible videos that make the rounds on the internet, where you’re told to watch something harmless “VERY” closely and you’ll see some small thing, like an animal or a ghost or whatever? So you’re watching closely and suddenly some awful monster image shrieks into the screen and scares the bejeezus out of you? That’s a BOO scare.

I hate those. If I think it’s nothing but a BOO movie, I  won’t watch it.

2 – The Gross-Out movie. These are the movies that count on gore, death, gory death, close-ups of mutilations and gory tortures and the like and call it scary. No. Not scary. Gross and disgusting, yes. Vomitous, yes. I’m looking at you, “Saw” and “Hostel” and all your kin. Those things aren’t horror movies, they’re just sickening.

If I think it’s a gross-out movie, I won’t watch it.

Which leaves 3 – the Scary Movie. I define scary as something that involves tension, characters I care about, an element of creepiness or the unexplainable, and something that makes me want to hide behind a pillow or watch between my fingers.

Before I move on into the movies, I have a confession to make. I’ve never seen a movie that scared me as much as two short stories have. If you want to understand what real horror is, I recommend “It’s a Good Life,” by Jerome Bixby and “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream” by Harlan Ellison.

The first movie I can remember  being really scared by was the 1941 “Wolfman.” When I was just a little girl, it was showing on TV one day. All I remember is  hiding behind my Uncle Dock on the couch and being scared.

In 1958, “The Blob” showed in one of the theaters in Amory (yes, there were more than one back then). My Mom and my Aunt Bob went to see it and they took me and my two-years-older cousin with them. I would have been about 3 at the time, and all I remember from that was being scared and hiding under my Mom’s legs. Oh, and the theater floor was really sticky. Some things never change.

The next movie I can remember really being terrified by wasn’t technically a horror movie at all. Sometime in the early ’60s I saw on TV the 1953 version of “The Great Houdini,” starring Tony Curtis. I was so totally freaked out by his magic tricks and especially the thought of being trapped underwater that I had nightmares for weeks. That was weird.

After that came a long dry spell of uber-religiousity and no movies except what made it onto TV. I learned to love Alfred Hitchcock and found “Lifeboat,” “Rear Window” and “The Birds” to be nicely chilling. The first horror movie I saw on the big screen after that was “Halloween” in 1978. Holy cow. I was scared witless! I still think the original “Halloween” is the scariest of that whole bunch and never needed to be remade. I saw “Halloween” in Cincinnati on a weekend night when flash flooding was slamming the area and my friends and I had to drive back to West Virginia in the foggy rain in the middle of the night after watching “Halloween.” Yeah, it was a seminal experience. LOL

The next year, I was so terrified by the TV ads for “Alien” that I had nightmares and was afraid to go see the movie itself. When I finally worked up the nerve, it was, in fact, scary as all get-out. I still find it scary, and  I’ve probably seen it four times now. Just for the fun of it,  here’s  a list of movies I’ve found worthy of being called a “scary movie.”

* The Shining, until the end when it did something so different from the book that it jarred me entirely out of the mood.

* The Thing (1982), which has a wonderful tense and paranoid feeling going on until the special effects monkeys got out of the box and spoiled it with silly monsters.

* Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, 1932. “One of us, one of us…”

* Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956. I think this one is more or less a perfect horror movie. No monsters. No explosions. No gore. Just sheer nail-biting tension and queasy fear.

* Village of the Damned, 1960. Who could watch those sinister all-alike children and not be creeped out?

* The Innocents, 1961. Arguably the best ghost story movie ever made. Based on “The Turn of the Screw.”

* Carnival of Souls, 1962. I only saw this movie last year for the first time, and I have to say that it’s weird and creepy. It probably wouldn’t be scary or surprising to a contemporary movie fan, but for its time it was out there. Way out there.

* The Haunting, 1963. Based on Shirley Jackson’s classic “The Haunting of Hill House,” this movie still has power to scare the pants off the unwary. It was remade sometime in the ’90s, I think, but that version is wretched. The original still holds power to mesmerize, to draw you in and leave you as heart-thumping terrified as the unfortunate people who come to stay in a haunted house. This would still go on my list of Top Ten Scariest Movies Ever.

* Scariest movie I never saw: “Night of the Living Dead.” When it came out in 1968, I didn’t want to be anywhere near it. One of my cousins, who was just a bit older than me, went to see it and then told me the whole thing! Aaaargh! So I got the nightmares without even seeing the movie. Still haven’t seen it. Probably never will.

* The Wicker Man, 1973. The makers battled studios and everyone to get this made the way they wanted it, and it’s a creepy masterpiece. Do NOT be fooled by the remake with Nicholas Cage. *shudder* “The Wicker Man” depicts a modern man running headlong into an ancient and isolated way of life, and it remains eerie, with a surprising, maybe even shocking, ending.

* Carrie, 1976. Needless to say, this one hit a little too close to home for a chick who grew up in an uber-religious setting. Man, did I feel for Carrie. Her rage was frighteningly cathartic.

* The Omen, 1976. “All for you, Damien!” Need I say more? This one has a bit more  gore than is absolutely necessary, but it’s fairly easy to see it coming and close your eyes.

* An American Werewolf in London, 1980. This one is a bit more gory than I like, but it carries it off with such wit and charm that it’s impossible not to like it. And really good music. 😀

* Poltergeist, 1982. The tree. Need I say more? Okay. The clown doll. Yeah. Go calm down. I’ll wait here for you.

* Cujo, in 1983, reminded me anew that I was terrified of big  dogs. Dammit, Stephen King, that was not necessary!

* Aliens, 1986. Ripley in the orange mecha suit facing down the queen monster.  I’m not sure I’ve ever felt so empowered as by that scene. And I love Ripley, totally.

* Prison. A 1988 haunted prison movie that I bet you’ve never even heard of. I wouldn’t have either, except that my crazed fandom of Viggo Mortensen drove me to search it out. It’s a decent scary movie, directed by Renny Harlin.

* Jacob’s Ladder, 1990. One of the rare movies that affect me and my husband equally strongly. We couldn’t even talk after it was over, just walked out to the car in a daze and drove… somewhere… in a daze. Emotionally wrenching, the exterior horror elements of demons and whatnot never overpower the interior horror that the main cast members are going through. Another for my Top Ten list.

* The same year, “Misery.” Kathy Bates is awesomely terrifying as the “very best fan” of a stranded writer. *shudder*

* The Reflecting Skin, 1990. This post-World War II story twines the stories of a younger brother who’s become fascinated by the idea of vampires and an older brother who’s home from the Pacific following the deaths of their parents. Child abuse, vampirism, lonely love and the aftermath of bombing in the Pacific mingle to make an eerie, tragic story. Hard to find. This is another Viggo movie.

* The Kingdom. This was released  as an eight-part TV series in Denmark in 1994. Directed by Lars Von Trier, it’s eccentric, haunting, funny, terrifying … everything you could want from a horror movie. If you can, watch the Danish original. There was an American remake later, with Stephen King, and while it’s okay I find it’s not nearly a effective as the original. Even with subtitles.

Ooops, out of time. Will finish this later, maybe  tomorrow.

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Hey Hey We’re the Monkees!

The out-of-the blue death of Davy Jones this week got me thinking about The Monkees and how much I loved them. I did. Still do. Had a major crush on Peter, but I thought they were all terrific. Davy, in fact, was my least favorite Monkee, at least until I found out he’d been a jockey.

More love.

The Monkees were a formative part of my youth. Such “radical” music as Dylan, Marley or The Beatles would never have been allowed in our house, but The Monkees came across as silly and harmless, except for their long hair and music, and I was able to sneak them under the parental radar. I just about wore out my Monkees albums and had every song memorized. I still remember an amazing number of them, all these years later.

But in retrospect, I realized that I learned some pretty important things from the Monkees. Herewith, my list.

* You can always choose to laugh.

* Puns are an acceptable form of humor; the more groan-y the better.

* If you say rebellious things with a smile, you’re more likely to get away with it.

* Take the chances that come to you. If they’re not perfect, so what? Make changes. If you can’t make changes, watch for the next chance and move on.

* Stand up for your own integrity.

* War is a losing – and a loser’s – game.

* Ask questions.

* Defy authority.

* Don’t take any of it too seriously.

* Follow your own path.

Maybe these don’t seem like much to you, but to me they were absolutely radical ideas. And I loved them. Love them. Hey hey…

 

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Early Encounters with Death

My maternal grandfather died when I was five years old. He was buried on my sixth birthday.

That was my first brush with death, other than the death of my first kitten, Smokey, who was hit by a car and killed about a year before that. I never saw Smokey’s body: My mom or dad took care of getting it out of sight before telling me what had happened. But with Pa, it was different.

I was never a huggy, kissy child, and my Pa was a very huggy, lovey grandpa, or so I was told. I never liked to sit on laps and be cuddled, so even as a small child, Pa and I had reached some sort of standoff, apparently. I’d agree to sit on his lap for a few minutes and suffer through a hug, and that’d be that. Don’t get me wrong: I loved my grandpa. I just didn’t like being held. Never did, not from the start.

So it was all good with us. Everybody enjoyed a laugh about prickly Judy, who didn’t like anybody hugging her, and that was my oddity in a large extended family that seemed to treasure oddity.

When Pa died, of heart failure on an icy December day, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Mostly, I have two memories from that time.

First, Pa was lying down in the living room. I’d never seen Pa lying down before. He was a rugged, rangy Southern dirt farmer, accustomed to hard work and hard play. He always seemed to be moving, even when sitting down. But he just laying there in the living room, inside the oddest bed. Of course now I know it was a coffin, but I didn’t really have any words or experience to account for that. The living room was full, as it almost always was, but everybody was being very quiet. And I remember it was colder than usual, that the living room fire was barely lit, and it was so very cold outside. My adult self reckons that was to hold the body off from decay for a little while, but to my child self it was just another oddity.

The second thing I remember is my mother’s sweater. I spent a lot of that time on her lap (Mama was the only person I’d voluntarily allow to hold me). She was wearing an open sweater (a cardigan) I’d never seen before, soft and solid black. It had small, domed buttons that were pearly gray-white. I sat on her lap for hours, playing with those buttons and keeping an eye on all the comings and goings between the living room and the kitchen, and in and out the front door.

My Pa had a large family – 13 children, probably half of them married and parents by then – and he was known and liked in the small rural community, so there was a lot of foot traffic.

But when push comes to shove, those are the only real memories I have of my first encounter with death: the pearly buttons on my mama’s sweater and the oddity that Pa was lying down in the living room.

Sometimes I think it was a good thing that I had that experience. I’m glad I had the chance to experience death as a natural, organic part of life, not as something that happens shut away in a special building with machinery and mysterious goings-ons. Pa was alive and then he died, and his body lay in rest in his living room, where he had so often sat and laughed and fussed and talked, and it was perfectly right that it should be so.

That was the first and last in-home “lying-in” I ever saw. But I think it might have been healthier than how we do things now.

ETA: Pa died on Dec. 13. He had 13 children at the time, and 13 grandchildren. Family legend says that he had gone out to bring in the family’s 13 head of cattle, and that the temperature had gotten down to 13 degrees the night before. I can neither confirm nor deny any of the legend, but I’ve decided to believe it. It’s a little bit of cool, no?

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