[Exclusive Column] SCARRED FOR LIFE, July 2023 – Tony Timpone

The dog days of summer are upon us with record heat, but you can drop your body temperature a few degrees by curling up with a cinematic chiller.

A dozen (!) horror films are poised to invade multiplexes and specialty theaters over the next six weeks, with July highlights Final Cut (see below) and Talk to Me (covered next time) generating huge buzz. In the meantime, let’s see what movies left this month’s roster of international contributors Scarred for Life!

Michel Hazanavicius, director (The Artist, The Lost Prince, and Final Cut, in theaters July 14)

Spoorloos [a.k.a. The Vanishing, 1989]. I went to that movie not knowing what it was about. A couple much in love, on vacation… And after 20 very romantic and happy minutes, at a gas station on a freeway, the woman just disappears. Her husband can’t find her. It’s so realistic that it’s a pure nightmare. No monsters, no blood, just someone you love not here anymore, and you want to understand. Since I’ve seen it, gas stations on freeways are pure anxiety for me. Too many cars, too many people, I can’t stop thinking of all the possible dangers, and I’m suspecting everyone. A very good movie indeed.”

Timothy Woodward Jr., director (The Call, The Final Wish, and Til Death Do Us Part, in theaters August 4)

“As a 11-year-old boy, the movie Child’s Play [1988] had a profound influence on me, leaving an indelible mark on my young mind. One particular scene that etched itself into my memory was when Chucky, with his sinister grin, slowly emerged from under the bed, his tiny knife glinting in the dim light. The tension and dread that enveloped the room resonated deeply within me, sparking a fascination with crafting suspenseful moments and capturing the essence of fear in my own filmmaking endeavors. This film awakened a sense of curiosity and ignited a creative spark within me, shaping my love for storytelling and setting me on a path of exploring the depths of fear and imagination in my own work.”

Rodrigo Gudiño, founder/president (Rue Morgue magazine); director (The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh, Darknet and The Breach, now on digital and VOD)

“I’ve seen a lot of horror movies in my time, but when I think of one that scarred me for life that would have to be Mario Bava’s Black Sabbath [1963] and specifically the ‘Drop of Water’ segment from that movie. I first watched it when I was quite young—7 or 8 years old—and I can still feel the bone-chilling horror of seeing the old woman’s hideous dead face for the very first time. Horror grew to abject terror as Bava masterfully used a pesky fly and the titular water drip to bring the woman’s corpse to life. It took me years to track the film down as an adult, and I still get the chills every time I watch it!”

Carlos Conceição, writer/director (Tommy Guns, now on VOD)

The Lift [a.k.a. De Lift], a 1983 Dutch science-fiction horror film directed and written by Dick Maas. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old, but very impressionable. John Landis’ Thriller short for Michael Jackson had already scarred me. But this one was the last straw. There is a scene in this film where a man gets his head stuck by his neck between the elevator doors, then the elevator starts to descend, gently pushing him down. The scene seems to take forever. I remember the man’s cries. First, he screams in bewilderment, but then realizes what is about to happen and his screams become desperate and defeated. A truly ghastly transition. His body is pushed all the way to the floor, and then Maas cuts to the inside of the elevator shaft, to give us the honor of witnessing the decapitation. The head falls down the shaft like a coin in a wishing well. Then he cuts back to the hallway to show us the headless body rising and moving for a few seconds until it dies. I read somewhere that this film is actually a comedy.”

Stephen Hall, co-writer/director (The Gates, now on digital and VOD)

“The two most formative films for me have to be Evil Dead II [1987] and Dawn of the Dead [1978]. I remember being 14 years old, staying up late watching TV after my parents went to bed, flicking through the channels when I landed on BBC 2 and saw the opening scene of Dawn. I had never seen anything like it before, blood, gore, and a sense of reality that I couldn’t quite wrap my head around.

“Then, a few nights later, I was on the hunt for more like it! Way before the Internet and streaming, I caught Evil Dead II showing, on BBC again! These two films were a real light bulb moment for me, so different but kind of the same. I loved that these films were badass, warts and all. Sometimes we could see the strings holding Henrietta up or the stick holding the flying eyeball, it didn’t matter. I was strapped in for the ride. What I loved about Evil Dead II was how it crafts the scares and uses every tool in the filmmakers’ arsenal to grab the audience and shake them. For me, Sam Raimi is one of the all-time greats and so much of how he uses the camera to tell the story has stayed with me and set me on my path as a director.

“These films sent me down the road of grindhouse and video nasties: I Spit on Your Grave, Driller Killer, Henry, Cannibal Holocaust, Faces of Death… I had a lust for blood! Of course, I soaked up The Exorcist, the Romero …of the Deads, and all the usual MUST-SEE films. But it was this strange pocket of cinema that got me so interested. I loved how each of them pushed the boundaries of what we can sit and enjoy as an audience. Ever since then, horror has been in my blood. What I love about horror so much is that fear is a universal language, one that I started to learn, thanks to Raimi and Romero.”

Andrés Beltran, director (Bad Days, Llanto Maldito and Quicksand, streaming on Shudder July 14)

“I remember watching Nightmare on Elm Street [1984], known just as Freddy Krueger in Colombia, where I’m from. I was probably 7 years old when I saw it on TV, and it really scarred me for life. I mean, not being able to go to bed and fall asleep because Freddy was coming in your nightmares, that was a big deal when I was a kid! Also, the telephone and the bathtub scenes were pretty shocking to me. I still remember those scary moments.”

Alan Maxson, writer/director (Alien Planet, now on Blu-ray at www.AlienPlanetFilm.com and Amazon.com)

“I absolutely love movies that mix comedy with horror, and one of my all-time favorites from a very young age is Gremlins [1984]. I had a copy on VHS that I recorded off of TV until the sad day that my parents recorded over it for something they wanted to watch. Boy, was I upset! I was never afraid of the movie itself, but, holy cow, was I scared of the action figure my dad got me! It was a double pack with Stripe and Gizmo and for some reason, I thought the Stripe figure was going to come to life and get me. While I kept the Gizmo at home, my dad safely stored Stripe at his office until a year or so later when I was brave enough to ask for it back. It currently sits on a shelf in my office today! Thanks for keeping it safe for me, Dad!”

Manny Serrano, writer/director (Dark Tales from Channel X and Theta States, now on Blu-ray)

Altered States [1980] is a film I was watching at, probably, a way younger age than I should have been, and it scared me as much as it intrigued me. I didn’t totally understand all of it when I was young, but the images stuck in my head permanently, and the themes have bled into my own stories over time. The body-horror style regression that William Hurt endures as he attempts to discover an evolved self and state of consciousness, told through the most mesmerizing (and sometimes confusing) dialogue deliveries, with some short but terrifying sequences of primal animalistic violence. Nothing scared me more as a kid than the thought of looking down my basement steps and seeing some half ape-man creature at the bottom looking back up at me. The juxtaposition of it all hits every nerve of curiosity and creativity in my body. It’s easily one of my top films of all time.”

Patricio Valladares, director (Hidden in the Woods, Nightworld, Hidden in the Woods II and Invoking Yell, screening at Popcorn Frights, August 16)

“When people ask me about what movie was so creepy for me in my teens, the first thing I can remember is a movie that my mom picked up from a video store. (BTW, my mom loves giallos.) It was a VHS tape of The House by the Cemetery [1981], a fantastic movie from Italian director Lucio Fulci. I remember the movie being full of gore and violent deaths. Oh, man, I guess I would have been around 14 years old then. My parents went to the beach for work, so I watched the movie at night. All fine at first, but the old woman character with the little girl and the ghosts were so creepy. Then there’s the gory surrealistic scene where the child looks at a store’s showcase, and we can see a mannequin of a woman being decapitated and a lot of dark blood. The child was so shocked! The monster in the basement was insane as well. I love this movie!

“I’m a big fan of Lucio Fulci’s works. The way of narrating each scene, with lots of zoom-ins and close-ups. The makeup was pretty cool too! Spoiler Alert! The best for me was the end scene when we see the ghosts in the house’s window. And the photos of the grandmother and the little girl. That blew my mind.”

Gregory Mandry, director (Gnaw, on DVD and VOD July 25)

“I have always had a fascination with horror, having started watching old Hammer horror films in my childhood in the ’70s and progressing right through the video nasties of the ’80s. But as a director and writer, I have increasingly become interested in what I call ‘source stories.’ So, what am I talking about here? Well, when I was a kid, I remember my grandfather telling me a story of a garden in his childhood where occasionally, on a particular dark and stormy night, a figure holding a lantern could be seen walking around.

“So, where am I going with this? Well, I don’t recommend you go online and start randomly searching for footage and stories as you will get bogged down in a sea of… well, let’s be honest, people who are making a living pedaling all manner of gibberish. But when you have Danny Robins’ excellent The Battersea Poltergeist and Uncanny podcasts series, among many others, to fuel your imagination and you are itching to get a script developed, active, and in play, I always keep coming back to source material, and there is plenty of good stuff out there. Maybe you have one you would recommend?

“But, hey, don’t get me wrong, I still love a good horror film and I still enjoy a good romp of a movie; Alien and Aliens, watchable, watchable, watchable all day long, every day. Five by five, I am in the pipe. But I really love Peter Strickland’s Berberian Sound Studio [2012] with Toby Jones. It appeals to my love of all things ’60s and ’70s, non-linear and on the cerebral end of things. A bit like a spooky Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blow-Up, not a horror, but a mystery film I love.”

(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