[Exclusive Column] SCARRED FOR LIFE – Aug. 2023 – Tony Timpone

If you are a regular reader of this column (and if so, thank you!), then you may have noticed that being Scarred for Life by a movie may not be such a bad thing.

Many impressionable children survived those early deeply distressing viewing experiences and became filmmakers themselves, and they now strive to “pay it forward” by sowing nightmares in new generations. Others try to exorcize their cinematic childhood demons by paying homage in their own work to the movies that messed them up so deeply. You will find both examples in this month’s edition of Scarred for Life!

Abdelhamid Bouchnak, writer/director (Dachra, streaming August 11 on www.OVID.tv)

“Watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre [1974]as a child absolutely traumatized me, particularly the scene with the first victim in the doorway at the front of the house. Seeing Kirk convulsing on the floor had such a profound effect on me that I went so far as to recreate it in Dachra!

Cannibal Holocaust [1980] is another example. Like many, seeing such an early example of the found footage genre meant that I was completely convinced it was real, only learning later on that the cruel and disturbing events depicted in the film were staged.”

Elise Finnerty, writer/director (The Ones You Didn’t Burn, now on DVD and TVOD; streaming on Shudder in September)

“When I was about 6, my parents thought it would be a good idea to take the family out to dinner at one of those ‘themed restaurants’ in NYC during Halloween. You know, the ones that have people jumping out at you in masks all night and have horror movies playing on screens all around you while you dine. So, I’m sitting with my family eating chicken nuggets and minding my own business, when I see on the giant screen in front of me a terrifying little red-haired doll named Chucky gnawing on a woman’s arm [Child’s Play, 1988]. I screamed my head off and my parents got the check right away. From that moment on, I was scarred for life and became terrified of dolls. I couldn’t sleep over friends’ houses until they put all their dolls away. I also had an older brother that thought it was fun to hide dolls around our house and shut all the lights off and watch me suffer. You can see now how this inspired me and how I handle older brothers who mess with their sisters in my movie, The Ones You Didn’t Burn.”

Laurence Vannicelli, writer/director (Mother, May I? now in theaters and on digital)

“I saw Blue Velvet [1986] at age 13 at my friend’s house (that friend, it just so happens, is Marc Riordan, the brilliant composer of Mother, May I?). Something was revealed to me in that movie, some truth about the darkness in the human soul… A connection between surfaces and evil that shook me far more than the traditional horror films we would go see in theaters. I go back to that movie over and over, not for its particulars, but for what it teaches us about what’s possible in movies. We went back to it again when we started discussing the score for this movie. Back then, Marc’s mom was not happy when she found out we watched Blue Velvet, but I think we did all right.”

Dwight H. Little, director (Halloween 4, Marked for Death, The Phantom of the Opera, and Natty Knocks, now on VOD)

“When I was very young, The Birds [1963] was on late at night on the small tube TV in our Ohio living room. When I saw the image of an old man with his eyes pecked out of their bloody sockets, it scarred me for life! Sixty years later, I can’t get that image out of my head.”

Douglas Schulze, writer/director (The Dark Below, Hellmaster, Mimesis, and Thorns, playing London FrightFest http://frightfest.co.uk/, August 26)

“I’ll never forget the raw brutality of Wes Craven’s original The Hills Have Eyes [1977]. I managed to sneak into the R-rated film without any parental supervision. I sat alone in a mostly empty matinee holding onto a skateboard I used to ride up to our local two-screen theater, the Stagedoor. When the sun sets in that film and the cannibals attack, I was truly horrified for that family on screen. The remote desert location added to a kind of vulnerability I’d never felt in a movie before, nor have I since. In some ways, the brutality exceeds that of Craven’s earlier The Last House on the Left, and Hills is far more cinematic.”

Corey Stanton, writer/director (Trader, now on VOD)

The Witches [1990]. As an avid fan of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, my 5-year-old self was very excited to check out a Roald Dahl adaptation I hadn’t seen before… and then Anjelica Huston tore her own face off! The grotesque visuals in Nicolas Roeg’s wonderfully dark children’s horror haunted my dreams for longer than I care to admit. Even now, as a 30-year-old director who admires the film’s incredible prosthetic design and puppetry work by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop, I still have trouble watching the trailer without feeling a chill run down my spine.”

Stewart Thorndike, writer/director (Bad Things, streaming on Shudder and AMC+ August 18)

“I could name so many, but if you say young age, I saw David Lynch’s The Elephant Man [1980] when I was 11. I made a pact never to say ‘The Elephant Man.’ I would always call it ‘The John Merrick Movie.’ It’s not a horror film, but it was so moving and horrifying, the way he’s treated. And I haven’t seen it since I was 11 years old, but that film had a big impact on me. It wasn’t nightmares, it was just that people were evil or could be cruel. The cruelty of it and the beauty of it.”

Ellie Foumbi, director (Our Father, The Devil, in theaters August 25)

“I watched the original Carrie [1976] on TV when I was about 10 years old, and it completely changed my relationship to my body. I didn’t understand what menstruation was at the time and became convinced that it would give me powers like the main character. Even after my mother explained the biology behind the process, I would practice trying to move objects with my mind. It took another two years for me to accept that those superpowers would never be manifested.”

Anthony C. Ferrante, director (Boo, Nix, Headless Horseman, and Sharknado, theatrical Special Edition www.sharknado10th.com in theaters August 15-16)

The Brood [1979] is one of those horror movie gateway drugs. On the surface, like so many early David Cronenberg films that he wrote and directed, it appears to be a traditional exercise in gore and death. However, if you dig under the surface, there’s so much more happening. I was pretty young when I first saw The Brood, and I didn’t quite understand all the elements of the film, but I did understand how unsettling, weird, and different it was. And it scared the crap out of me, particularly the hoodie-wearing kid-like monstrosities that terrorize the film’s protagonists. When the woman enters the kitchen and the monster in the red hoodie is standing on the refrigerator ready to kill, it’s the type of ordinary everyday situation where you never would expect someone to be there. Yet, every day after seeing the movie, you’re staring up at the top of the refrigerator to make sure a belly-button-missing monster isn’t going to mallet you to death.

“Another scene that continues to haunt me is the one where the teacher is attacked by two of these creatures in front of horrified schoolchildren. That’s where Cronenberg always excelled at, finding the horror in the mundane and elevating it in ways that get under your skin. Like the scene when Samantha Eggar gives birth to more monstrosities at the end. The Brood is part of Cronenberg’s trifecta of thought-provoking, genre-breaking horror that continued with Scanners and Videodrome, but none of these films quite got to the level of scarring an impressionable young kid who accidentally stumbled upon this quiet yet powerful cult classic.”

Tristan Barr, actor/director (Subject, streaming on Screambox August 22)

“I watched Bad Boy Bubby [1993] as a young child. I remember it being impactful, as my parents got me to close my eyes at the darker moments, but it was strangely inspiring and funny. Subject was largely inspired by Park Chan-Wook’s Oldboy [2003], which again when viewed at an early age, the revelation left me disturbed but highly entertained. I guess there is comedy in the perverse. The other film that I always think of is Wake in Fright [1971], as the feeling that film creates is something I have definitely lived growing up in Outback Australia.”

(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