Gruesome Reviews

[Exclusive] SCARRED FOR LIFE – Tony Timpone

New year, old fears. What classic horror films still give you the willies? Let’s continue our regular survey to see what fright flicks left today’s current genre practitioners (and a few past favorites) Scarred for Life!

Neal Marshall Stevens, writer (Monsters, Hellraiser: Deader, Thir13en Ghosts) and author (A Sense of Dread: Getting Under the Skin of Horror Screenwriting)

“Have to go way back for this—to Bert I. Gordon’s The Amazing Colossal Man [1957], which I first saw when I was around 8 years old. Poor Glenn Manning, caught in an atomic blast, begins to grow 6 feet a day. And because his heart can’t pump enough blood to his brain, he becomes dangerously demented and starts rampaging. But wait. Scientists have come up with a way to at least stop him from growing. But unfortunately, it has to be injected directly into his bone marrow. That led to the nightmare scene that imprinted itself permanently on my young mind…

“The heroes take a helicopter to Glenn’s location, toting a hypodermic needle around 6 feet long, carry it up to the confused Glenn. ‘Remember, we’ve got to get it directly into the marrow!’ the scientist says—and then they proceed to ram that thing directly into his ankle!

“The thought of getting a hypo rammed into your ankle is horrible enough—and Glenn Manning responds as anyone would. Well, sort of. He reaches down, grabs the giant hypodermic needle, scowls—and then flings it straight down—impaling one of the hapless men right through the middle of the body, pinning him to the ground like a hapless butterfly!”

The Vang Brothers, writers/directors (Bedeviled and They Live in the Grey, streaming on Shudder February 17)

Abel Vang: “Growing up, we were sheltered by our parents from horror movies. One day, while they were away, Burlee and I went over to the local video rental shop and decided that we’d pop our cherry. We were just kids, around 7 and 9. Between all the scary and gruesome VHS horror movie covers, we decided on what we’d considered then to be the least frightening cover art—a woman half-buried in the dirt with one arm extended upwards while being strangled by a zombified hand. That was Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead [1981].”

Burlee Vang: “As horror virgins, we thought we’d made a safe choice. Boy, were we wrong! We were so terrified that we decided to turn the film off right after Cheryl’s possession. It wasn’t until the next day that we finally worked up the courage to finish it. Over the years, The Evil Dead has turned out for us to be a gem of auteur filmmaking that we find ourselves revisiting again and again—and it’s still the one horror movie we won’t watch alone in the dark.”

Jeremy Kasten, director (The Wizard of Gore, The Thirst and The Dead Ones, now streaming on Kino Cult)

“In the 1970s, there were few standards for what children should not see. My young brain was poked by many wrong films. The strongest nightmare inducer came when I was 4 years old and saw the 1925 silent The Phantom of the Opera projected at a camp. I happened to stay late with the older kids, and the guy who ran the camp delighted in freaking the kids out with silent horror films. As a child, I hadn’t seen enough movies to make a distinction between old and new. Or silent. Lon Chaney’s performance, makeup, and the subterranean setting haunted my sleep for years to come.”

Corin Hardy, director (The Nun, Gangs of London, and The Hallow, now streaming on Shudder)

“There were four main ‘viewings’ that stand out for me, that I can recall that twisted feeling knotting inside my gut and warning me that what I was watching was something completely new and something that caused my body to realize it was experiencing sheer cinematic terror for the first time ever. (I am sure many who grew up in the 1980s will have the same four films: Alien, Twilight Zone: The Movie, An American Werewolf in London, and Salem’s Lot.) It is a visceral reaction. Mental, psychological, physical, emotional. There were, of course, many more ‘scares’ throughout my teenage years to come, but as you know, you gradually build up a kind of level of protection or a desensitivity to them, almost like genre antibodies, once you start to experience horror in all its different guises and subgenres and begin to recognize the various tricks and treats. And that’s what we look out for still—the thrill of the new scare! But these were definitely my first four big impacting reactions that were instrumental and ultimately inspirational to my young, to-be-horror-loving mind… All occurred between the ages of 7 and 10 years old.

“But perhaps one of my earliest experiences in sheer terror was when I watched Salem’s Lot [1979]. I recall this increasingly claustrophobic queasy feeling steadily closing in on me as well as a forbidding sense that, ‘We shouldn’t be watching this.’ As the movie played, this developed into pure white-knuckle terror when it reached the scene with Ralphie Glick scratching at his brother’s window…

“If you were there, and you saw it, you all know what this felt like. For me, especially, there was something in the fact that they were brothers, as I also had an older brother. Your older brother is meant to look after you and protect you, and in this case, it was somehow petrifying knowing that it was the younger brother who this had happened to (e.g., me) and that he was returning to his older brother (who is lying in bed hooked up to a drip or some medical gear and is kind of an invalid as well, which I found pretty traumatic too). The way he slowly floats out there, the smoke curling around him and how he hypnotizes his brother into letting him in, and then rises up, dominating him and then turning evil and sinking his teeth into his own brother’s neck—that was it, I was frozen with fear. And this is before seeing the most shocking rendition of a vampire in Kurt Barlow as well as all those creepy reflective ‘cat’s eyes’ on the vampires… Utterly terrifying to the point that I had nightmares for a whole year that my parents were vampires. One night, when I had a flu-like fever during a violent storm, I was convinced that my parents, who had gone out for the night, would be returning home to eat me.

“So, yeah, Tobe Hooper’s Salem’s Lot was the first film that scarred me for life! I now look forward to what my friend Gary Dauberman has got cooking with the upcoming remake.”

Jefferson Moneo, writer/director (Big Muddy and Cosmic Dawn, in theaters and VOD February 11)

“There are three particular horror films that really stand out to me, each in its own way, starting with The Exorcist [1973] and The Blair Witch Project [1999]. But on a purely traumatic level, nothing will ever exceed The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974] for me. The amount of full-on screaming in that film still haunts my mind. I remember finishing it with a friend of mine and us looking at each other, slack-jawed, like ‘Holy shit, that was intense.’ Extreme close-ups of bloodshot eyeballs, gross-out shots of massacred flesh, in-bred maniacs, and the deafening whir of that damned chainsaw. Just a total sensory overload. Sigh. To be young again.”

Benjamin Louis, director (Stoker Hills, now in theaters and VOD)

“I grew up Catholic in Haiti, and our family home was located right across the street from a church sitting on a hill. Also integral in our culture are the voodoo tales as early as I can remember. There was a movie theater just a couple blocks from our house where they mostly played kung fu and horror movies. We were lucky to also have a TV at home with a VCR. My favorites were sci-fi and slasher horror movies, but I was scared of supernatural movies. Then we played The Omen [1976] on a VHS tape, and that movie gave me nightmares for weeks! Till today, I still think the character Damien is very disturbing to watch. I had to switch to kung fu movies for a while to clear my head.”

Stefan Lernous, writer/director (Hotel Poseidon, now streaming on Arrow)

“Not one film or fragment. It’s never just one.

“Even as a child, I loved Roger Corman’s adaptions of the Edgar Allan Poe stories. I was particularly fond of The Raven [1963]. The scene that scared me senseless as a kid was when Vincent Price opens up the tomb of his father, and the dead wizard reaches out from the dead. Also: the dream sequence in The Premature Burial [1962], in which a fail-proof plan, well, fails. Another movie I saw as a kid was the classic The Wicker Man [1973]; the end scene haunted me for months on end.

“In my early teens, it was the strangeness of Xtro[1982]that shocked and scared me. Especially the birth scene and the images of the thing stuck to the bathroom wall chilled me. I also had a fascination with The Return of the Living Dead[1985]. It had a fun, sexy, scary vibe to it. Only in my late teens, I ‘got’ that movie. I found the Tar Man pleasantly scary and the half-a-corpse on the table disgustingly interesting. Re-Animator[1985]andHellbound: Hellraiser II [1988]definitely scarred me. Both in their own way changed and influenced my look on horror, fun, and performance. Jeffrey Combs is a fantastic actor (in just about everything he’s in), and his intense delivery of Herbert West’s lines move me! I love the depth of Clive Barker’s theatrical universe; it’s no holds barred, and some of the more prosaic lines strike a deep chord with me.

“I could go on. It’s never just one.”

Brian Trenchard-Smith, director (Dead End Drive In, Night of the Demons III and Turkey Shoot, streaming on Arrow February 21) and author (Adventures in the B Movie Trade)

“The film that opened me up to horror was Mario Bava’s 1960 black and white masterpiece Black Sunday, at the time banned in the UK, starring the ever-compelling Barbara Steele. From the opening spiked-mask-torture/witch-burning scene and throughout the witch’s revenge, the film exuded a sense of creeping dread. I saw the uncut French-language print, with Salvador Dali in the audience, not the badly dubbed US version, with the music score replaced by Les Baxter, diminishing Bava’s carefully crafted atmosphere. When you are 18 and you see scorpions emerging from the eyes of a grinning skull, you know you have found your genre.”

Linnea Quigley, actress (Night of the Demons, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, and The Return of the Living Dead, now streaming on HBO Max)

Jaws [1975], for sure. Out of all the memorable scenes in the movie, I was really freaked out by the first one, where Chrissie is attacked and eaten. All of a sudden, I looked at sharks totally different. I was afraid even going in a pool because I would think of that Great White and get scared! I don’t like the ocean because of Jaws! I only stick to swimming in most lakes, unless alligators are around!”

Tony Timpone