[Gruesome Exclusive] – Scarred for Life

’Tis the season…to scream for your life! Everyone watches horror films and TV during the month of Halloween fun. But what about the movies that latched onto our brains at a tender age and refused to let go? Let’s continue our regular survey to see what scare flicks left today’s current genre practitioners Scarred for Life! 

Adam Robitel, director (The Taking of Deborah Logan, Insidious: The Last Key, Escape Room and Escape Room: Tournament of Champions, now VOD, digital and disc)

“Oh, God, there were so many retina-scarring moments from the horror films of my misspent youth. Much of it has to do with what you saw and when. Some greatest hits…

“Rawhead Rex taking a baptismal piss on some dudes. Phoebe Cates’ monologue about finding her dead father dressed like Santa in her chimney in Gremlins. Speaking of Christmas, watching Silent Night, Deadly Night at 10 and seeing Mr. Kringle himself sexually assault a woman on a highway. That one was hard to process in the fifth grade. I definitely went through my Faces of Death phase. The screaming monkey brains banquet left a mark on my psyche. Eventually, I worked my way up to Cannibal Holocaust. I had my share of Freddy Krueger dreams. I remember leaping out of my bunkbed after watching an episode of Freddy’s Nightmares, convinced my football poster had turned into Freddy’s face, screaming like a banshee. I almost gave my mother a heart attack with that one. As a kid, we’d play Jason in the woods. Many hockey masks were lost.

“As a recovering Catholic with my own share of family ghost stories and demons, it was the supernatural stuff that scared me the most, particularly if it was based on a ‘true’ story. The disturbing story of The Amityville Horror tied to the vicious DeFeo family murders. The flies. The priest. The eyes in the window. James Brolin’s beard.

Poltergeist, and the profoundly frightening use of suburbia as supernatural nightmare, certainly frightened Hersheys out of me. However, the movie that scarred me the most was Sidney J. Furie’s The Entity [1982], and the idea that a ghost could literally sexually attack you. What Barbara Hershey’s character endures—holy God! And not only that, these things can follow you… And that grating soundscape they used!”

Noomi Rapace, actress (Prometheus, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows and Lamb, in theaters October 8)

Alien [1979] was more sci-fi than horror, but that’s the one. It messed me up deeply. When there are evil creatures that really want to harm you…I had really vivid nightmares! My nightmares were very specific, and they came out of that film. I never told [director] Ridley Scott about that when I did [the Alien prequel] Prometheus, because I wanted to be cool to him. So, I didn’t go into it.”

Valdimar Jóhannsson, co-writer/director (Lamb, in theaters October 8)

“It was a short, Luis Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou [1929, a.k.a. An Andalusian Dog]. When they cut the eye, that was the most horrible thing I ever saw. Even though I watched it later in life, I am very sensitive when it comes to my eyes, so that scene was very hard for me. Anything but the eyes!”

Tony Gardner, makeup FX creator (The Blob, Return of the Living Dead, Zombieland: Double Tap and Chucky, premiering on SyFy and USA October 12)

“When my brother and I were little kids, we visited our aunt and uncle in Tennessee for a few days. Our first night there, we decided to sleep in their living room where they had a fire in the fireplace. We stayed up way too late watching old movies while everyone else went to bed.

“We were in an isolated old farmhouse that we weren’t familiar with in the ‘middle of nowhere,’ the fire in the fireplace was dying out and a movie called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark [1973] came on TV. The movie was about an old house that this couple moves into that was pretty creepy. They open up a boarded-up old fireplace and accidentally free these tiny misshapen humanoid creatures that proceed to terrorize them.

“Our aunt and uncle raised German Shepherds, so there were random noises in the house throughout the night. (We had never owned a dog.) Needless to say, my brother and I didn’t sleep much that night, and we were basket cases by the next morning.”

John Harrison, writer/director (Dune, Tales from the Crypt, Book of Blood, Tales from the Darkside: The Movie and Creepshow, now on Shudder)

“The one horror film most influential on me was Robert Wise’s The Haunting [1963], based on Shirley Jackson’s novel (which I also love). I saw it for the first time when I was maybe 12 or 13 on late night Chiller Theater TV where I grew up in Pittsburgh, hosted by the inimitable Chilly Billy Cardille. By turns relentlessly creepy and pulse-quickeningly suspenseful, and without any special effects,this black-and-white masterpiece was a collision of the paranormal and the psychological. A seminal moment in my movie education. It made me aware, even at a tender age, of the power of visual storytelling on a susceptible imagination.”

Scott Kosar, writer (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Crazies, Bates Motel and Chapelwaite, now on Epix)

“My parents took me to a screening of Rosemary’s Baby [1968] when I was 5 years old. All I remember of the film was the infamous scene where Rosemary is impregnated by the devil. So, I have my parents to thank for introducing me to Roman Polanski. Oddly, I was more fascinated than scarred by the experience. But hey! I’m a ‘horror writer.’ Anyway, the horror experience was truly the earliest memory I have of my life.”

Elza Kephart, co-writer/director (Graveyard Alive and Slaxx, now on VOD, digital and DVD)

“I am slightly embarrassed to admit, but the movie that gave me my first ‘Scarred for Life’ moment was The Exorcist II: The Heretic [1977]. I was 11 or so, watching TV in a friend’s basement (why do so many 1980s Scarred for Life moments start like that?). The moment when the evil entity fights over the heart of the psychiatrist truly terrified me! I don’t know why, but it scared me so bad, I asked my friend to turn off the television. She wanted to tease me, so she kept it on. Then the locusts appear. I was so scared by the locusts (why?) that I ran upstairs. Afterward, I couldn’t get the image of the hands fighting over the heart out of my mind. I told my mother I needed to go see a psychologist! Which was ironic, since the mother of the friend whose basement I watched The Exorcist II in was a psychologist. Ha!

“Cut to spring 2021. I participated in a podcast which asked me to name and rewatch the film that scared me the most, and then discuss it on the podcast. I naturally turned to The Exorcist II, which I hadn’t seen it in over 30 years. I discovered something then: It was so bad!!! I can’t believe a movie that was so terrible could have scared me so much. I wish it was something bad-ass like the original Exorcist or Texas Chainsaw, but no. It was the lame Exorcist II. At least I ‘exorcised’ my terror by rewatching it again!”

Elle Callahan, writer/director (Head Count and Witch Hunt, now in theaters, VOD and digital)

Thirteen Ghosts [2001]—fuck that movie. I was recently at a hometown wedding, catching up with five of the girls I grew up with. Obviously, horror films came up, since that’s my job now, and one of my friends grabbed my arm—hard—looked me dead in the eye and said: ‘Do you remember Thirteen Ghosts?’ A shudder passed over the entire group. We are full-grown adults now and even the mere mention of that film still upsets us. Only flashes of scenes remain. I honestly dare not look them up because I’m afraid of triggering some repressed trauma from watching it at such a young age. A haunted, modern, glass-walled house. Invisible angry spirits that roam the halls. Special glasses that allow you to see the true terrors that our human eyes cannot. A blood-soaked naked woman who lurked in the bathroom. A glass door that shut on a man and sliced his body clean in two, the front half slipping down onto the floor to expose all his organs…

“Honestly, this movie could be hilarious to watch now as an adult, but I’d rather not take a chance. Fuck that. I can only hope one of my movies haunts someone like Thirteen Ghosts still haunts me and my friends.”

Elizabeth Mitchell, actress (Lost, The Expanse, The Purge: Election Year and Witch Hunt, now in theaters, VOD and digital)

The first horror movie that scarred me was Poltergeist [1982]. The feeling of dread with the child being trapped in another dimension, and, of course, the clown under the bed. Those are things I will probably never forget. I live in a forest, and the scratching sound of branches on a window still sends shivers down my spine. I snuck into a theater to see this movie many times. Why did I go back for more, despite being terrified? I have no idea.”

AnnaLynne McCord, actress (Excision, Tone-Deaf, 68 Kill and King Knight, playing Knoxville Horror Film Fest, October 21-24)

“Oh, my, Jaws [1975]! Jaws literally scarred my entire childhood and a major portion of my adulthood. I went from my mother having to put a life jacket over my clothes because I loved water so much to being afraid that the shark was going to come through the vent in the pool and eat me!”

Tony Timpone