[Exclusive Column] – SCARRED FOR LIFE – Jason Eisener, Kyra Gardner, Adrian Konstant, and more – April 2023 – Tony Timpone

We have a busy horror screen scene upon us, with major films in theaters (Scream VI, Renfield, The Pope’s Exorcist, and Evil Dead Rise for starters), plus plenty more streaming and dropping on digital and disc every day. As the Top 40 DJ says, “The hits just keep on comin’!”

If you want to go beyond your current “must-see” list, you may be inspired to add or revisit a few more titles, courtesy of this month’s Scarred for Life contributors.

Rob Tapert, producer (Evil Dead, Evil Dead II, 30 Days of Night, The Grudge, and Evil Dead Rise, in theaters April 21)

“I had two seminal movies as a child that set me up for a life in horror. As a young child of 7 or 8, I got up late one night. My mom was ironing and watching some black and white monster movie. I now know it was called Attack of the Crab Monsters [1957], a Roger Corman title. With eyes wide open, nestled amongst freshly-ironed laundry, I watch as a cave collapsed on scientists, and one of them losing his hand to falling rocks. I was totally horrified. Later in the movie, I remember a man having a giant crab take his head. I had nightmares about this for years. It truly set me up as damaged by horror.

“A few years later, I went to a Saturday afternoon horror matinee. I don’t remember the second movie, but clearly remember the first—Robinson Crusoe on Mars [1964]. It was a movie I would later watch many times. Adam West played a ghost of an astronaut who died crashing on Mars. I found the idea of a ghost visiting his old friend a terrifying piece of cinema. From that point on, I feared ghosts visiting me when I did not want them. These were the two movies that I felt informed my worldview of horror from a young age.”

Adam MacDonald, director (Backcountry, Be Mine: A VR Valentine’s Slasher, Pyewacket and Slasher: Ripper, now streaming on Shudder and AMC+)

“A clear moment in a horror film changed the course of my life. When I was young, single-digit young, my older brother invited me to watch a movie at his friend’s house in the early 1980s. He wouldn’t tell me the title, no matter how many times I asked, but it was clear that he wanted to see my reaction to it. Uh-oh. Nothing would prepare me—VHS tape goes in—click and PLAY…

“A mist swells around trees and earth, we are deep in the woods and suddenly on the move, gliding over water, rocks, and tree stumps with ease, the music is ominous and eerie, vibrating under your skin, is that a voice joining in? I was transfixed. I felt a deep primal fear in my core and nothing really happened yet! What the hell is going on? Then the moment came, a card game.

“A girl pulls out a playing card and holds it in front of another girl who tries to guess its suit. We see that she is wrong every time, even though her friend says she is getting them right. A voice cuts through the scene from a third girl staring out the window who shockingly calls out the cards suit and number correctly—and it’s this, this moment when she goes on to say, ‘Ace of Spades…Jack of Diamonds…Jack of Clubs.’ She spins from the window revealing her demonic white eyes and deep guttural voice as she rises to the ceiling…I nearly died.

“That scene played in my head for months after. I could not shake it, whether riding in the back of my parent’s car in broad daylight or in the middle of the night, there it was. I felt sick, scared, but also oddly excited, and I wanted more. Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead [1981] was my gateway to horror, finding its way into my work consciously and subconsciously. I would not be where I am today if my brother hadn’t brought me there that fateful day.”

Jeff Katz, producer (Snakes on a Plane, Infernal, Shoot ’em Up, and The Pope’s Exorcist, now in theaters)

“When it comes to the subject of being scarred by a film at a young age, the answer for me is obvious, and it is, realistically, two-fold. The nightmare figures of my youth come from two movies with two absolutely freaky performances that stick with me to this day. First, the great Julian Beck’s performance in Poltergeist II: The Other Side [1986]. I saw this movie in the theater, and it scared me way more than the original, entirely because of Beck’s work.

“The second, equally traumatizing figure, is that of killer BOB as played by Frank Silva in Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me [1992] (and introduced on the classic Twin Peaks series). The fear of BOB was like a virus with my friends and me when we were kids, and the work of Frank Silva in conjunction with David Lynch is one of the reasons I’m in the movie business today. Scary stuff.”

Kyra Gardner, writer/director (Living with Chucky, now streaming on Screambox and digital; on Blu-ray April 21)

“As someone of a younger generation, I grew up with the early 2000s horror movies terrifying my childhood. I remember I was around 7 or 8 years old when I first saw the 2002 American version of The Ring. In the first five minutes, we’re met with the horrifying image of a young girl’s distorted dead face brought to the screen by makeup effects artist Rick Baker. Looking back now, that’s one of the only things that still scares me in horror movies these days—when a character’s mouth or jaw is horribly distorted. I love that stuff. That girl’s face and Samara’s character coming out of the TV in the most twisted, bone-chilling fashion, were images burned into my brain from a young age.

“Some of my friends were starting to get flip phones at the time, and as a joke, one made their ringtone the ‘seven days’ voice. I hated it so much. I couldn’t look at horses or television screens the same after seeing that movie. I’ve now watched the 1988 original Japanese film Ringu and enjoyed it too.”

Luke Momo, co-writer/director (Capsules, now on demand)

“My Aunt Mary mysteriously showed my brother and me horror films whenever she babysat us. We saw [the survival drama] The Edge [1997]when I was 6 or 7 years old. It terrified me with its graphic bear attacks, and it’s contemplative ideas and feelings stuck with me. The covetousness, the betrayal, the deceit…but also compassion and mercy. It’s surprisingly philosophical.

“‘Most people lost in the wild die of shame because they thought it would never happen to them,’” Anthony Hopkins’ character muses. ‘They didn’t do the one thing that could save their lives—thinking.’ My Aunt Mary always made sure to watch these movies with us. Whenever I got too scared, we’d hug tenderly and I would feel a bit relieved.”

Alex Wyse, co-writer/co-director (Summoning Sylvia, now in theaters and available on VOD and digital from the Horror Collective)

It was a family weekend getaway, the adults went to the video store and asked for a good movie for all the kids to watch together, and the video store employee recommended Poltergeist [1982]. I was 4 years old, and to say I was traumatized is an understatement. I didn’t sleep for months. I started writing scary stories about people’s skin falling off to work out my fears. And now, I guess I’m still working out my fears by making scary movies.”

Wesley Taylor, co-writer/co-director (Summoning Sylvia, now in theaters and available on VOD and digital from the Horror Collective)

“I grew up on ’90s slasher films, but there was one thriller at the start of the decade that changed me: Misery [1990]. Directed by Rob Reiner and starring James Caan and Kathy Bates. I had never seen anything like it before. As an obsessed super-fan, Bates is simultaneously terrifying and strangely hilarious. Terror and hilarity, a combination I can’t seem to get enough of.”

Jason Eisener, director (Hobo with a Shotgun, The ABCs of Death, V/H/S/2, and Kids vs. Aliens, now streaming on Shudder)

“I was 10 years old when I saw a TV spot in our living room featuring horrific glimpses of a man being dragged down a spooky hallway by aliens, slammed on a table as surgical tools were prepared and held against his will by a skin blanket that melted over his body. The words ‘based on a true story’ under the film’s title—Fire in the Sky [1993]—were enough to send my young mind spiraling in fear. I would track down every book, film, and TV show about alien abductions. I thought I needed to be prepared in case they came for me!

“Eventually, seeing the film on VHS lived up to my expectations. One of the most terrifying moments doesn’t even feature aliens: A couple receives prank phone calls pretending to be their abducted friend, only to discover that one of the calls was from their missing friend. They find him in a thunderstorm outside a gas station, curled up naked next to an ice box.

“Several moments in Fire in the Sky fueled my childhood nightmares and fears that would later inspire my V/H/S/2 segment, Slumber Party Alien Abduction, and my new film, Kids vs. Aliens.”

Lee Thongkham, director (The Lake, The Maid); producer (Night of the Killer Bears, available April 18 on digital)

“Wes Craven’s Scream [1996] is a horror movie that takes a self-referential approach, playing with the conventions of the genre while also delivering genuine scares. It’s clever writing, sharp humor and willingness to subvert expectations revitalized the slasher subgenre and inspired a wave of imitators and sequels. For many horror fans, Scream is a classic that not only scared them, but also made them rethink what horror movies could be.

“The film’s self-awareness and commentary on horror movie tropes and conventions, combined with its suspenseful and gory scenes, made it a groundbreaking movie in the horror genre. Scream revitalized the slasher subgenre of horror movies and influenced many imitations and parodies. For many viewers who watched Scream at a young age like me, it became a defining horror movie that introduced them to the genre and left a lasting impact on their perception of horror movies.

Scream gave me inspiration to produce Night of the Killer Bears, where we wanted to have an iconic mass-murdering killer, a guessing of who done it, and teenager drama with slasher style. We wanted to break ground in the slasher genre for the Thai cinema.”

Adrian Konstant, writer/director (Shifted, streaming on Screambox April 18)

“There is one movie that I watched as a young boy that rocked the foundations of my life. It scarred me and scared me and as an adult, I still experience flashes and impressions that are burned into my psyche.

“Growing up in Germiston, near Johannesburg, sparsely-stocked video stores were the rule and only select titles made it this far into apartheid South Africa. At a sleepover, on the floor of a small apartment, I watched Curse II: The Bite [1989] and was witness to the gruesome horrors of a man bitten by a radioactive snake, who then slowly transforms into a giant snake himself.

“In my mind, I can still see J. Eddie Peck’s mouth cracking open so that a giant snake can slither out. Truly, images and sounds burned into me. Going back and watching a few scenes now, I wonder if my own love and appreciation for backlighting was born here too. If we had more money, we would have cracked someone’s head open in Shifted.”

(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