[Exlusive Column] SCARRED FOR LIFE – March 2023 – Tony Timpone

You never know what movie will leave you Scarred for Life. Who said it has to be horror? This month, we report on a few of the usual suspects, like the early ’70s two-punch Don’t Look Now and The Exorcist. But a drama about the civil war in Cambodia? A Jim Jarmusch Western? An Australian mystery about missing schoolgirls? …

The feeling of true horror has no cinematic boundaries. It can go beyond genre to elicit a lasting nightmarish effect. It’s all about personal experience, individual phobias, and a fragile psyche that can leave one Scarred for Life!

Jeffrey Combs, actor (Re-Animator, Doctor Mordrid, Castle Freak, and Lurking Fear, all streaming now on Arrow Video)

“When I was about 8 or 9, I went to a Saturday matinee without knowing what was playing. It turned out to be The Brain That Wouldn’t Die [1962]. Not the greatest movie. Definitely low-budget and somewhat silly. But the ending imagery horrified me—a woman’s severed head on a table looking directly into the camera. As the camera slowly tracked in, she desperately pleaded over and over, ‘Kill me! Kill me! Kill me!’ I vividly recall walking home haunted and shaken as I contemplated her nightmarish predicament.”

Mattie Do, writer (Creepshow) and director (The Long Walk, now streaming on Ovid https://www.ovid.tv/browse):

“The film that scarred me for life and that has probably influenced my work to this day is The Killing Fields [1984], directed by Roland Joffe and produced by David Putnam. My father showed it to me when I was a little girl, and every time there was something horrendous happening, like a child killed by a landmine or the main character stumbling into a mass grave/pit of discarded rotting bodies, he would pause the film and explain to my shattered elementary school self the atrocities of war and the brutal reality of what refugees like him and my mother escaped from. I remember clearly the tension of Dith Pran not being able to develop a passport photo to leave with his foreign colleagues, and his life in the refugee camp, a camp similar to the ones my parents themselves lived in on the border of Thailand during the regime change in Laos. When I cried, my father would quietly tell me that I didn’t need to shed tears, because he and my mother had already gone through that horror so that I wouldn’t need to cry anymore.

“To this day, I think about how power, corruption, and greed can make humans a thousand times crueler and more monstrous than any genre ghost or beast, and that reflects a lot on my work.”

Sarah Adina Smith, writer/director (Buster’s Mal Heart, Birds of Paradise, and The Midnight Swim, streaming on Ovid https://www.ovid.tv/browse March 17)

“The film that scarred me is Picnic at Hanging Rock [1975]. I love that film without understanding why. I love it more than I actually like it. It didn’t move me emotionally or challenge me intellectually. But it left me with a feeling of being drawn away to the other side, and that’s a feeling I’ve never been able to shake. The film itself is a spell, and it forever stirs inside my heart like a tiny ghost that can’t get out.”

Shal Ngo, writer/director (The Park, now on VOD and DVD)

“When I was a wee lad, I walked in on my dad watching Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man [1995], which remains one of my all-time favorite films to this day. There’s a sequence where bounty hunter Lance Henriksen happens upon a man that Johnny Depp has killed in the previous scene. The man’s head lies in a burnt-out campfire, and the arrangement of the wood makes it look like he has an angelic halo around him. Lance comments, ‘Looks like a goddamn religious icon’ before stomping on the man’s bald head with his boot. Blood shoots out the man’s nose, and his brain pokes out through his skin. I was horrified, I was fascinated. It was the most violent image I had ever seen, rendered in such a poetic and strange manner that it’s stuck with me ever since.”

Jamie Hooper, director (The Creeping, now on VOD and digital)

“I have a distinct memory of watching Don’t Look Now [1973] on a 4:3 TV at my Nan’s house when I was way too young. I didn’t understand what I was watching, and the audio was even muted because my family were talking, but the foreboding atmosphere and imagery of off-season Venice really stayed with me, along with the terrifying dwarf lady in her red coat.

“I also remember watching The Terminator [1984] late one night in a hotel room when we were on holiday. The self-surgery scene, especially the razor blade to the eye, always stuck in my memory as an extremely visceral image.”

Alessandro Antonaci, co-writer/co-director (You Die and Sound of Silence, now on VOD and digital)

The Ring [2002]: This is the first horror movie I’d ever seen, and it literally made me fall in love with the genre. I remember watching the trailer thousands of times after watching the film in theaters, just to give you an idea of how much I loved it! After I saw this movie, I became obsessed with the supernatural horror subgenre, and I’m 100 percent sure this movie is the main reason why I’m making horror movies today. Elegant and beautiful camerawork, atmospheric and breathtaking cinematography, stunning performances, a very simple and clean take on the horror elements with no crazy and distracting CGI. And it was scary… Really scary. Plus, a super-strong lead character like Rachel made me fall in love with the ‘final girl’ characters for the first time; Naomi Watts was incredible. It’s one of the most iconic horror movies ever in my opinion, and today it still very much inspires me as a creator and director.”

Stefano Mandalà, co-writer/co-director (You Die and Sound of Silence, now on VOD and digital)

The Others [2001]: This was one of the first horror movies I saw. I immediately fell in love with it because of its elegance, pace, and style. I love haunting and scary stories from the past, but I love them even more if they’re melancholic and sad. And this movie has it all. The first time I watched this film, I really did not see the ending coming. I was rooting for this lonely and sad woman, and I was very sorry for her when I realized what she had done. I loved how such a deep and interesting character—Nicole Kidman’s lead Grace—ended up being the ghost haunting the house, when usually it’s the opposite. Great storytelling, breathless setpieces, and atmosphere, beautiful costumes. I personally love writing, and this story was very inspiring to me. I also love digging in the past and looking for fascinating mysteries, filled with fear, secrets, but also sadness.”

Daniel Lascar, co-writer/co-director (You Die and Sound of Silence, now on VOD and digital)

“What Lies Beneath [2000]: I personally love this movie for the images and the story. Director Robert Zemeckis, who I love also for many other movies he made, uses a cinematic language that refers to the great classics which are very important to me. Zemeckis, throughout the film, wanted to pay homage, in his own way, to the most important master of thrills: Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, in the film there are several quotes from some of the great filmmaker’s masterpieces such as Rear Window, Rebecca, and even Psycho. Also, what kind of horror would it be without fascinating clichés and obligatory quotes? I studied history of cinema at university, a lot of theory of transforming what’s in the script into images on the screen. Cinematic narrative is very fascinating to me, and this movie has it all! It’s a movie that I keep in mind when we work on our projects. Now, since I met Alessandro and Stefano, we can transform theory into practice ourselves, and that’s the best feeling ever!”

Penelope Sangiorgi, actress (Sound of Silence, now on VOD and digital)

“I’m not a horror expert, but growing up we had a lot of anime streaming on daytime television, and I remember this one episode of Shaman King [‘The Power of Yoh,’ 2021] where the main character gets his soul sucked out of his mouth by his nemesis. It wasn’t particularly gory, but I remember not being able to sleep for a few nights. I was really disturbed by the whole idea of losing your soul, and the way it was directed really struck a chord.

“I wouldn’t call myself an anime expert either, but amongst the shows that we could find on TV, like Naruto or One Piece, you can see how effective anime can be at horror, both in its graphic and in its spiritual form. Since then, I noticed that any storyline related to the soul or mind of a character has me hooked more than anything related to their physical pain. It’s interesting how long we streamed these shows without child restrictions, but maybe it’s a good thing!”

Jon Wright, director (Grabbers, Robot Overlords, and Unwelcome, now in theaters and on digital)

“Flashback to the ’80s… I had a friend at school called Steven Chance who was loaded and had a massive house on the fanciest road in our town. He had a separate building in the sprawling garden, which was his playroom—his parents called it ‘The Den’—and he’d have kids over for slumber parties most weekends. Steve’s parents allowed him to rent R-rated VHS tapes from The Video Factor, our local video store. Either they didn’t care about ratings, or they didn’t understand.

“So, one Saturday night we had a sleepover and watched The Exorcist [1973]. We were (if memory serves) maybe 12 years old? The Exorcist was the most terrifying film I had ever seen, by a country mile. The makeup effects, the transgressive language, that thing Regan did with the crucifix, the earnest references to Satan’s evil power—scared the shit out of me. And I was thrilled by the feeling, knowing it was make-believe, and I was actually safe.

“I asked Steve if I could borrow the tape and take it home with me, on the promise that I returned it to the video store on time. He agreed. So, the next night I rewatched The Exorcist on my own, wearing headphones after the rest of my family were in bed. I was scared the first time, but this time I was really scared. Disturbed, even. There was no clowning with my friends to lighten the mood. The film got inside my head and freaked me out. As I went to bed, I had a clear sense that the devil was lurking in the shadows. He was under the bed. In the darkness behind the door. In my mind’s eye there was a full, yellowish moon outside my bedroom window. I don’t know if I’m making that bit up, but that’s how I remember it. I had vivid nightmares for the next couple of weeks. Waking up in a blind panic, eyes wide, soaked in sweat.

“A lot of horror directors you meet had a similar experience. They watched a film too early when they were too young. Most people are put off horror films for life. Some people, though, love them forever. They want to make them. It isn’t enough to just watch them, they have to be inside them, living them. I’ve never made a super-scary film. So far, it’s been creature features, teen comedies, more on the goofy side of life. But hopefully, one day. And some kid somewhere in the world can watch it too young and scare the shit out of himself. In a good way.”

(See here http://gruesomemagazine.com/author/tonytimpone/ for a link to past Scarred for Life columns. Follow me on Twitter: @tonytimpone1 and Instagram: timponetony)

Tony Timpone