[Exclusive Column] SCARRED FOR LIFE – September 2023 – Tony Timpone

By now, less than six weeks away, Halloween seems like an afterthought by the time the calendar hits October 31. The stores and media are always rushing the holidays. Cracker Barrel has had their spooky decorations out since July, while Costco put their Christmas trees up for sale before school even started. The holidays are all lumped together now. The Easter Bunny is not far behind.

For horror fans, Halloween is just a happy redundancy. We celebrate scary things every day! And a few of these scary things leave us Scarred for Life, like the movies that continue to haunt this month’s column contributors!

Doug Bradley, actor (Hellraiser, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Nightbreed, Pumpkinhead III and Thorns, screening at October’s Sitges and December’s NYC Horror film festivals)

“Time heals all wounds, they say (or wounds all heels, as John Lennon suggested) and my scars have certainly contentedly faded in the roughly 60 years since my first encounter with The Innocents [1961]. It’s an adaptation of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, and more specifically, of William Archibald’s stage adaptation. Archibald wrote the screenplay with Truman Capote; Jack Clayton produced and directed; Freddie Francis (whose work will be familiar to all fans of Amicus and Hammer, as well as David Lynch’s Elephant Man and Dune) provided the brilliantly atmospheric black-and-white cinematography, and Georges Auric (whose music I would come to love later for his work with Jean Cocteau, specifically La Belle et la Bête and Orphée) provided the score. Deborah Kerr headed the cast with a memorable cameo from Michael Redgrave and brilliant and distressing performances by the two children: Pamela Franklin as Flora and, especially, Martin Stephens (also known for his performance in Village of the Damned) as Miles.

“However, the presence of all these luminaries meant nothing to me when I first encountered the film on the BBC. I can’t have been more than 10. I loved ghosts, couldn’t get enough of them, and they also scared me stupid. The Innocents hit the mark. From the appearances of the ghost of Miss Jessel, the deceased governess, sitting statuesque among the reeds beside the lake, or at one of the children’s desks in the schoolroom as Kerr watches on, leaving a real tear behind as she fades away (this was breaking the rules of ghostliness, and really bothered me) through Miles’ candlelit recitation of a morbid poem with the face of the deceased gamekeeper Quint watching him through the window, to the disturbingly ambiguous ending… It was all too much for my tender sensibilities, gripped by the whole thing as I was. Heading upstairs for a pee at its conclusion, I vividly remember stopping at that difficult halfway-up point, suddenly very uncertain about completing my journey while simultaneously terrified about what might be following behind me. There followed a headlong dash to the bathroom, door slammed and locked, and I did what I had to do sideways into the bowl with my back against the wall. The bedroom lights stayed on for a good week afterward.

“A joy to be reunited with The Innocents many years later, to find it no less powerful and be able to recognize it as a brilliant piece of filmmaking.”

Jason Ragosta, writer/director (Sinphony: A Clubhouse Horror Anthology, now streaming on Screambox)

“The horror film that literally rewrote my DNA and changed me forever is Clive Barker’s Nightbreed [1990]. I was underage at the time, so I begged my father for weeks to take me to the theater to see it opening weekend. Barker’s visceral imagery mixed with seeing the monsters and the outcasts of society as the heroes, rather than the villains, changed not only how I approached my art, but also how I’ve lived my life. Plus, the added bonus of David Cronenberg playing one of the greatest villains of all time.”

Travis Greene, director(8 Found Dead, now in theaters and on VOD)

“As a young boy, I was terrified of everything. This only got worse when I watched my first episode of Tales from the Darkside. At 5 years old, I wasn’t supposed to be watching the show, but I snuck out of bed and peeked over my father’s shoulder, as he sat in his La-Z-Boy watching an episode entitled ‘Monsters in My Room’ [1985]. It’s about a sensitive boy named Timmy (played by a young Seth Green), whose toys come alive at night and torment him. Timmy’s verbally abusive, alcoholic stepfather doesn’t believe him and refuses to help. He wants Timmy to ‘be a man’ and face his fears, or he’ll ‘get the paddle.’ Without spoiling the ending, let’s just say Timmy teams up with the monsters and takes care of dear old stepdad. Toys coming to life doesn’t scare me as much as the real-life pressure parents can sometimes put on their kids to ‘just get over it.’ Well, that and the Tales from the Darkside theme music… that tune is terrifying! That night, I had my first nightmare. Ever since, I’ve loved the thrill of fear. It gives me a shot of adrenaline and fuels my curiosity.”

Joe Lynch, director (Wrong Turn 2, Everly, Mayhem, Creepshow TV series, and Suitable Flesh, in theaters October 27)

“Thanks to the A+ parenting of my mother, I watched a lot of horror movies growing up. (My first film ever in a theater was Dawn of the Dead…when I was 3. Again, my mom rules.) So, it took a lot to disturb or ‘scar’ me when I was a kid. That said, one of the films that truly left a mark on my tender psyche was definitely Chris Walas’ The Fly II [1989]. I had seen the Cronenberg remake in theaters with my dad, so seeing The Fly II felt like a cakewalk, right? Instead, our whole family, going to a Sunday matinee, was subjected to one of the saddest death scenes in a horror film ever when Martin Brundle (Eric Stoltz) discovers his childhood pet, who was taken away from him as a kid but was actually used in a botched teleportation by the evil Bartok scientists, now chained up in a dungeon, a gooey clump of flesh and bone. And then…he puts his mutated pooch to sleep, moaning and whining in the darkness as Martin (and the audience) sobs. The fact that Walas tapped into every child’s fear of losing their first best friend and created an empathetic creature effect that tugged at our heartstrings was no small feat, but any time I watch the film or someone even brings this scene up, ‘Niagara Falls.’ It’s a truly heartbreaking moment. However, that’s not the scene that scarred me. Oh, no.

“That scene was an otherwise simple moment when Martin is getting his blood taken intravenously in the second act. An extreme close-up on a needle into a vein, followed by a medical technician’s slip-up where the syringe breaks and leaves the needle inside Martin’s arm, blood squirting out of the broken end. A simple effect in an otherwise total gross-out flick, right? Yet I will never forget feeling as horrified as I was in that theater watching this otherwise innocuous moment of penetration, and to this day, I am absolutely terrified of needles. I can’t get blood taken out without the possibility of fainting (and have multiple times), every time thinking of this goddamned moment possibly happening to me.

“So, thanks Chris Walas and The Fly II…you tapped into both my childhood dread of the loss of a pet and the body horror veins of my worst needle nightmare, one I have never shaken.”

Mitesh Patel, director (House of Quarantine, Instant Karma, and Woman in the Maze, in theaters October 6 and on premium TVOD October 12)

“I remember watching Evil Dead [1981] with my friends when I was 10 years old. It was the most terrifying film I had ever seen. The demonic possessions and friends being forced to kill each other was new to me and left a lasting impression. I always liked the trope of a group of friends staying in a vacation house, but then things go awry. And it has influenced a few of my films, including Woman in the Maze.”

Ray Spivey, writer/director (Storage Locker, now on digital)

“As kids, my friends and I saw Vincent Price’s The Oblong Box [1969] at a theater on a military base. So, it could have already been out for a few years. We had bought Whoppers and gobbled them down fast. In the film, natives capture a colonist and hammer spikes into his hands. Not good special effects by today’s standards, but back then, it was a real struggle to keep the chocolate and other unknown substances in Whoppers down. Christopher Lee co-starred too! Not considered a good movie, but being buried alive, a fungus growing on faces and handspikes. Wow!”

Adam Ray Fair, co-writer/co-director (Piglady, now on digital)

“As a child, Candyman [1992] scared me. For one, I took the bait and actually believed that if I said ‘Candyman’ in the mirror, Candyman would actually appear. I’m also highly allergic to bees, but what was unique about Candyman was that they actually showed the villain’s face. In those times, horror movies like Halloween didn’t. I believe that what makes a horror movie effective is not giving away too much. Sometimes the buildup to the kill scene is scarier than the actual murder.”

Alex C. Johnson, producer/co-writer/editor (Piglady, now on digital)

Fire in the Sky [1993] scarred me as a child, I had nightmares for days after seeing the scene where Travis Walton (D.B. Sweeney) was bound to the chair and the aliens restricted him with a latex-type material—while the needle was inching closer and closer to his eye. Another scene that deeply disturbed me was when he fell into the pod containing the rotting corpses of long-forgotten abductees. That’s what makes for an effective horror scene.”

Micheal Bafaro, director (5G: The Reckoning, The Barber, 11:11 and Don’t Look Away, now in theaters and on VOD October 3)

“There are two movies that I saw growing up that had an equally chilling effect on me. The first one is D.O.A. [1950], or ‘Dead on Arrival’ [in which the protagonist searches for the man who slipped him fatal, slow-acting poison]. While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind in the horror genre, trust me, it left its mark. I saw it at a repertory theater in New York in the ’80s, and I can remember being absolutely rocked. But what made it stick even more was that less than a week later, a friend of mine found themselves in a strangely similar situation to that of the main character.

“The other movie that scared the crap out of me was Race with the Devil [1975]. I haven’t seen it for many years, but the one thing that still stays with me is the ending where the heroes finally get away, only to suddenly find their Winnebago trapped within a circle of fire. Oddly enough, later that same summer, some friends of mine went on a road trip in a VW bus and found themselves in a very similar situation.”

Lyon Mitchell, co-director/co-editor (Piglady, now on digital)

“One of my favorite horror movies is The Exorcist [1973]. The first original one! That one scared everything in me as a child. My parents told me it was scary, and I could watch it at my own risk. I did, and after that, I was never scared again to watch any horror movie. What makes a scary movie is the idea that the horror can happen to you.”

(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