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

Horror never skips a holiday, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. The day may be reserved for sweethearts, but more than a few stalkers are waiting in the shadows of lovers’ lane. To mark the special occasion, we’ve checked in with five filmmakers who made a gory mess of Valentine’s Day to find out what horror movies left them Scarred for Life!

Eli Roth, writer/director (Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel: Part II, The Green Inferno); writer/producer (Be Mine: A VR Valentine’s Slasher, now available on Meta Horizon Worlds and Meta Quest TV, plus at Crypt TV’s Instagram and Facebook pages)

“I was lucky enough to see Alien [1979] in a movie theater when it was first released. I remember seeing the commercials on TV and begging my father to take me, and I was the only one of my brothers who wanted to go. It was a Friday night, packed house. My only frame of reference for science fiction at that point was Star Wars. I didn’t know that science fiction could be scary. I didn’t realize you could make a monster movie in space. From the opening shot, I was mesmerized. Because it was just me with my father, I was very talkative during the opening credits. I asked my dad, ‘What does the producer do?’ He answered that the producer has to come up with the money to make the movie. I asked what the director did. He said, ‘Well, the director gets to spend the money and tell everyone what to do.’ I looked at my dad and said, ‘I think I’m going to be a director.’

“I was so terrified of Alien, I stood up to leave, but I had to know what happened to the cat, so I stood there, frozen, in the aisle, body facing the exit, but head turned to the screen, and watched the last 10 minutes of the movie that way. As soon as it was over, I ran out of the theater and threw up on the sidewalk. And that was the beginning of my directing career.”

Jamie Blanks, director (Urban Legend, Storm Warning, Nature’s Grave, Valentine)

“The first horror movie I ever saw as a kid was John Carpenter’s The Fog [1980] in 1981. It was screened on 16mm in the middle of winter at a surf clubhouse on the beach in Melbourne, Australia, on a very chilly evening. No film has scared me quite like that first viewing of Carpenter’s classic. The thing that stuck with me was the dread the film instilled in me when the rotting lepers would knock on the doors of their victims with those huge boat hooks and then patiently wait for the door to open. I still recall my knees shaking with fear waiting for a rotting arm to emerge from the mist and drag their next victim into foggy oblivion.

“After the film was over and I opened the clubhouse door to leave, I was frozen with fear to discover that an actual fog bank had rolled in and the entire beach was shrouded in real fog. It was the perfect way to have experienced The Fog for the first time, and the movie and its score was permanently imprinted on my young mind. It also awakened my love of movie soundtracks and filmmaking, setting me on my path to become a filmmaker and composer. Years later, I got to tell writer and producer Debra Hill the story and gave her a mini-replica of the Point Reyes lighthouse featured in the movie. We became friends and she helped me, as a mentor, on my journey toward directing Urban Legend, my first feature film.”

George Mihalka, director (My Bloody Valentine [1981], Eternal Evil, The Hitchhiker)

House of Wax [1953] scared and scarred me. I arrived in Canada as a 9-year-old kid not speaking English or French. Television became my best friend. First things I watched were sports, hockey, and wrestling; didn’t need much language for that. As I started to understand English better, I happened on House of Wax one Saturday afternoon matinee at the local theater. I was about 13 at the time but looked older so I got in.

“I had nightmares for months; the melting wax figures [at the beginning] and when it’s revealed that dead bodies were used to make wax figures haunted me even after the nightmares subsided. I remember those images just as vividly now. Vincent Price, Charles Bronson, what a cast. Didn’t much like horror films after that till I started making them. The melted face of hot dog kid in My Bloody Valentine was my homage to House of Wax.”

Patrick Lussier, director (Dracula 2000, The Purge TV series, Drive Angry, Play Dead and My Bloody Valentine [2009])

“I saw Peter Medak’s 1980 film The Changeling on opening night in Vancouver, where I lived and where most of the film was shot. The familiarity of the locations made the story all the more real to me back then. But it’s George C. Scott’s quietly devastating grief that grounds the film and makes the horror that unfolds all the more relentless and terrifying. The dread of the metallic ‘banging,’ the moving POVs of the entity that haunts the house, and I’d argue the best seance sequence in any film are all second only to the horror induced by a bouncing rubber ball. Goosebumps every fucking time I see that film.”

Todd Farmer, screenwriter (Jason X, The Messengers, Drive Angry and My Bloody Valentine [2009])

“As a 10-year-old I loved Battlestar Galactica. The actor who played Starbuck [Dirk Benedict] had been in a little movie called Sssssss [1973], so when I later saw him on the Sssssss VHS cover, I convinced Mom to rent it. There is a scene where actor Richard Shull is killed by a constrictor and later when the film cuts back, you see just a glimpse of Shull’s foot vanishing into the snake’s mouth, swallowing the man whole. My wee brain broke. Later still, Starbuck is turned into a snake. I still haven’t recovered. Not only have I disliked snakes ever since, my perception of their abilities has been forever exaggerated. Spiders can crawl all over me and I’m fine, but if there’s a snake within a mile of me, I’m going to need fire and a battle axe.”

Ryuhei Kitamura, director (Versus, The Midnight Meat Train, Nightmare Cinema, Godzilla: Final Wars, and The Price We Pay, now on VOD)

Phantasm [1979] by the great Don Coscarelli. I wasn’t really into horror movies yet when I was 10, but I was really scared and also fascinated by this masterpiece. The Tall Man, Sentinel Sphere, Finger Bug…all nightmarish visuals and music. Every moment of the movie freaked me out, but what made me scared most was the overall atmosphere with a boy’s fear of losing someone, fear of being all alone. I was a lonely kid and I totally connected with Mike’s character. My all-time favorite horror movie.”

Christin Baker, director (Scare BNB, streaming February 28 on DIVABoxOffice.tv)

“Just the box of A Nightmare on Elm Street [1984] scares me. The scared face, the gloved hand with blades, kept me awake at night. I remember as a kid I would watch it with friends, trying to be cool, but I would sit as far to the side of the TV as possible so I could obscure the TV and not get the full effect. After that, I didn’t watch another horror movie until I was in my 20s, and it was Jaws. That’s how long I had to take a break!”

Harry Owens, writer/director (The Unsettling, now in theaters and on VOD and digital)

“The first time I saw Don’t Look Know [1973] by Nicolas Roeg, it terrified me, lingering with me for days after. It is one of the films I return to regularly, and it continues to impact me more with each viewing. I like how it is first and foremost a drama examining the loss of a child, but how the horror elements layer on that make the experience of John Baxter’s grief more visceral for the audience. The unfamiliar city, strange accidents, and the appearance of what seems to be his dead daughter in her red coat all lead to an ever-increasing sense of dread until the final, unnerving reveal and shocking finale hammer home how trauma can muddle one’s perception and consume one’s life.”

Brad Rego, writer/director (The Killing of Jacob Marr and Cryptid, now on VOD and DVD)

“When I was a kid, my brother and I would spend the occasional weekend at my grandfather’s place. My grandfather is the only member of my family who was super into movies, specifically science fiction, and horror, and he found out that on this particular Saturday night, local Boston station TV-38 was showing Friday the 13th, Part III 3-D [1982] in, well, 3-D. Like the old 3-D, the blue and red kind. Being about 9 or 10 years old, I was never allowed to watch an R-rated movie at home, but my grandfather had a much more fluid approach. Besides, it was on broadcast TV, how bad could it be?

“So, we spent all Saturday afternoon having to drive to three different Cumberland Farms to find a pair of red and blue glasses in order to watch the show properly. Everything was set, and the movie started that night. Things were all good until two things happened, a one-two punch of sorts. Jason shot a guy in the eye with a speargun, and Jason squeezed someone’s head until their eye popped out. Both incidents coming directly at the camera in all the cheesy ’80s 3-D style you can imagine. There was something about those two eye effects that horrified me. I don’t think I ever saw my eyes as that vulnerable before. For weeks afterward, every time I went to bed, turned out the lights, and closed my eyes to sleep, I would see those eyes popping out of that dude’s head, over and over again. I could imagine that arrow going into my eye, and it would give me horrible nightmares. To this day when I recall that movie, those are the two shots I think of immediately.”

Robbie Banfitch, writer/director (White Light and The Outwaters, now in theaters; see list here https://fandan.co/3jjjkuW)

The Changeling [1980] was the only scary movie I remember turning off because I was so scared. I spoke about it on a horror podcast at length due to how some of its sequences have stuck with me and influenced my horror over the years. I get chills to this day every time Joseph’s voice comes over the soundtrack, and the camera floats through the halls.”

(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