[Exclusive Column] SCARRED FOR LIFE – February 2024 – Tony Timpone

Never underestimate the power of TV horror to scare the heck out of us. Recent cable shows like The Outsider, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, and The Haunting of Hell House have certainly proven that. But dig back a little deeper (pre-Millenium), and you will find a number of TV programs and telefilms that have traumatized five of this month’s Scarred for Life contributors.

Zelda Williams, director (Lisa Frankenstein, in theaters February 9)

“Perhaps this one may seem out of left field given that the movie itself isn’t usually interpreted with horror in mind. But I remember having a very visceral reaction as a child to the boat tunnel scene in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory [1971]. The flashing lights, the projections of bugs, eyes, and beheaded chickens while the passengers become steadily more unsettled, and at its center Gene Wilder’s wide-eyed madness and spirited poetry reading. Then, it terrified me. Now, I couldn’t love it more, and it certainly feels very informative of where I wound up creatively. There is horror, and fun, in vibrant madness.”

Alex Winter, actor (The Lost Boys, Bill & Ted films); director (Freaked and Fever); and actor/producer (Destroy All Neighbors, now streaming on Shudder)

“Growing up in the ’70s, the popular genre of made-for-TV horror movies was profoundly effective, but today, it gets little attention in discussions of classic horror films. Long before the days of home video or streaming, there was something incredibly terrifying about watching a good TV horror movie in the comfort of one’s own home in the middle of the day and having the benign, domestic quiet punctured with visceral fear. These are the TV movies that scarred me for life, and I consider horror classics of this genre: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark [1973], The Turn of the Screw [1974], Bad Ronald [1974], and Salem’s Lot [1979].”

Scott Haze, actor (Antlers, Venom, What Josiah Saw, Jurassic World: Dominion, and The Seeding, now on VOD)

“I know people don’t think Jaws [1975] is a horror film, but for me, it is. It’s a movie that took me so far into that story that I felt like I was on that boat and experiencing it. And when you see those buoys pop up and [hear] that music, Steven Spielberg did such a good job with that. Jaws changed cinema. That was the first summer blockbuster.”

Mark Alan Miller, producer (Books of Blood, Nightbreed Director’s Cut) and publisher at Encyclopocalypse Publications

“I was 4 years old the first time I saw Dark Night of the Scarecrow [1981], and there are myriad snapshots that have forever burned themselves into my mind’s eye: Bubba Ritter holding the limp body of Marylee Williams. The angry mob hunting Bubba down and finding him in the scarecrow costume. The woodchipper fall. The grain silo suffocation. And without spoiling anything, the final freeze frame on the flower, as we hear Marylee talk about a new game she wants to play. That was 39 years ago, and I can still access the terror I felt watching that Sunday matinee in 1985. I can safely say I am definitely scarred for life.”

Frank Santopadre, co-host (Gilbert Gottfried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast!; audiobook narrator (Day of the Living Me: Adventures of a Subversive Cult Filmmaker from the Golden Age)

“A TV movie called Gargoyles [1972] was to blame for more than a few sleepless nights back in the early 1970s. I can’t recall the storyline or even any key scenes; I only remember that it starred an actor named Cornel Wilde, who also played composer Frédéric Chopin in the cheesy biopic A Song to Remember (which could have benefitted from a few scenes featuring winged demons, to be honest).

“Looking back now with fresh perspective, the plot sounds ludicrous in the extreme (‘an anthropologist/paleontologist and his daughter, while traveling through the southwestern U.S., stumble upon a colony of living, breathing gargoyles’). But unfortunately, screenwriting guru Robert McKee wasn’t available to calm my anxieties by pointing out the numerous logic and storytelling inconsistencies. All I know is that this fever dream of a movie terrified the bejesus out of 11-year-old me. And thanks, former FANGORIA editor, for making me relive that trauma decades after the fact! Sadist!”

Daniel de la Vega, director (Dead Man Tells His Own Tale, White Coffin, and On the 3rd Day, now streaming on Shudder and AMC+)

“Without any doubt, the movie that dragged me to the dark side of fiction was Peter Medak’s The Changeling [1980]. I was 9 years old, and I’ve never forgotten that movie. The scene in which the crime takes place in the bathtub left me in silence and thinking about what I had just seen, how fragile we are in the face of a hostile universe. We are all at the mercy of a superior and unknown force that can drown us without remorse and without being able to avoid it. This caused me great anguish that, to this day, drives my fictional works. Horror cinema anesthetizes my existential doubts, it allows me to stage my fears under the security of a mise-en-scene.

James Roberts, writer/producer (Here for Blood in theaters, digital and streaming on Screambox February 9)

“There was a Canadian horror show made for kids called Are You Afraid of the Dark? The episode was ‘The Tale of the Dead Man’s Float’ [1995], about a ghost that would drown kids in a pool. One of the kids figured out a way to use chemicals so they could see the ghost, and in doing so, revealed that it was a horrible, rotten, waterlogged corpse. Made me scared of my own backyard pool for years.”

Mike Taylor, director (There Is a Monster, now on digital)

“‘In space no one can hear you scream.’ That was the tagline for Alien [1979]. And although I didn’t scream, I certainly jumped in my seat. A lot. I had not seen anything like what I saw in that movie. It truly was alien. The spaceship that was huge and obviously lived in. The planet that held soon-to-be-discovered mysteries. But back to those jump scares. The egg opening up and the facehugger lunging out. Yeah, that got me. The thing bursting through John Hurt’s chest had me squirming and grabbing the arms of my chair. It was nonstop. The alien slithering down from the pipes in the shuttle. Inside I’m screaming to myself, ‘Just get it out of the ship!’ Such a perfect film.”

Sébastien Drouin, director (Fearless and Cold Meat, in theaters and VOD February 23)

“Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead II [1987] had a strong influence on me. I saw it in a movie theater when I was 17, and it made me understand how important the camera movements and the sound mix are. In Raimi’s films, the camera isn’t just used to shoot the actors. It is an actor on its own. The angles, the movements and the focal lengths used by Raimi create meaning, emotions, fear, laughter, confusion and suspense. It’s pure visual cinematic language. The sound design manages to evoke the off-screen indescribable demon and the madness of the actors. It represents what can’t be shown. It stimulates your imagination. You can see this influence in Cold Meat during the 360-degrees sequence one shot in the car, or when the camera goes through the windscreen to speed away from the tiny car, caught in this huge blizzard.  Raimi brought something new at that time. I still watch Evil Dead II once a year to remind me what can be achieved with the camera and the sound.”

Jon Bennett, actor (Dark Heaven and Thorns, in theaters February 23)

“I remember at a very young age watching the Twilight Zone episode [‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,’ 1963] with a psychologically distressed passenger played by William Shatner on an airplane watching a monster on the wing take apart an engine. I remember very distinctly that I was supposed to have been in bed. But I snuck down to the living room while my older sisters watched on the couch as I peered from around the back of it in stunned horror. At the time, my dad traveled frequently by air throughout the East and Midwest for his job. Shortly after watching that damned episode, I tried to convince him not to leave. I wasn’t able to explain why without getting my sisters or myself into trouble, so I made up an elaborate story that the airport was shut down and would be so for several weeks. I was around 4 years old at the time, so you can understand that my protestations to keep Dad home garnered some curious amusement from both my father and mother as I weaved this ridiculous web which understandably did nothing to convince either of them to keep him from flying.”

(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