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

New Yorkers can expect to be Scarred for Life when the annual Tribeca Film Festival rolls back into town this week. Running June 5-16, the fest’s 22nd edition will launch another slate of creepy Midnight discoveries, in addition to several dark delicacies sprinkled throughout the International Narrative Competition, Spotlight Narrative, and Escape from Tribeca sections.

Before they mess us up with their new movies, we queried six Tribeca filmmakers to find out which early cinematic experiences left them Scarred for Life! (Sample the entire festival lineup here).

Sarah Gyllenstierna, writer/director (Hunters on a White Field, playing Tribeca Film Festival, June 5-16)

“A Clockwork Orange [1971] by Stanley Kubrick scared me to death. I went to see it by myself at the movies as a teenager and was scared for such a long time after that I actually have never rewatched it since. Maybe it’s time. What I remember as most horrific is the home invasion and rape sequence. The choice to have Malcolm McDowell sing ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ elevated that sequence to something unforgettable.

“While many other directors’ movies featuring stylized and stylishly shot and edited violence come across as gratuitous, exploitive and wanting-to-be-cool, Kubrick’s command of his art, to me, comes through in how this movie’s depiction of sadistic violence—no matter how incredibly shot, edited and scored, etc.—never felt entertaining or cool, just chilling.”

Calvin Lee Reeder, actor (V/H/S, You’re Next); writer/director (The A-Frame, playing Tribeca Film Festival, June 5-16)

“It could be said that Maximum Overdrive [1986] is the greatest movie ever made. Most people would dispute that claim, but in a world where truth is flexible, taller tales have been told. See, not many movies merge my favorite things: Americana, splatter, and totally implausible science fiction. This one does so take that, Citizen Kane. Seeing Maximum Overdrive as an impressionable child was a privilege, but it ought to be mandatory. Kids should be raised with a healthy fear of machines gaining autonomy and slaughtering the human race. What else will prepare them for the world they’re about to inherit? Call me crazy, but I believe one day Maximum Overdrive will replace school altogether.

“This was the only movie the great Stephen King ever directed, and I can see why: It’s perfect. You don’t fuck with perfect. It stars Emilio Estevez fresh off St. Elmo’s Fire, and the soundtrack is wall-to-wall AC/DC. Machines kill men, women, and children indiscriminately. Am I making myself clear? RoboCop is cool, but Maximum Overdrive is divine.”

Daniel Emeke Oriahi, director (The Weekend, playing Tribeca Film Festival, June 5-16)

“The first is Basket Case [1982]. This film left a lasting impression with its gritty New York setting and the eerie relationship between Duane and his deformed twin Belial. The final scene, where the brothers fight and fall to their deaths, was particularly unforgettable.

“Another film that profoundly affected me was An American Werewolf in London [1981]. The transformation scenes were groundbreaking and terrifying, and the chaos that ensued when the werewolf rampaged through the streets of London was unforgettable. Watching it at a young age, the realistic special effects and the tragic storyline left a lasting scar.”

Tolga Kara çelik, director (The Shallow Tale of a Writer Who Decided to Write About a Serial Killer, playing Tribeca Film Festival, June 5-16)

“I didn’t have any money to spend the night in a hotel or something like that, and it was freezing. I was in London with a friend; we were trying to pass the night because I had a flight early in the morning. So, we got into this theater, bought our tickets to a random movie without checking it just to feel cozy and warm and maybe to sleep a little. Man, it was What Lies Beneath [2000]. I remember being so scared just because we were not expecting that. We were in to relax, but I was so awake after seeing the film. What Lies Beneath is still traumatic to me.”

Marcus Dunstan, co-writer (Feast, Saw IV-VI); director (The Collector, The Collection, The Neighbor, and #AMFAD: All My Friends Are Dead, playing Tribeca Film Festival, June 5-16)

“The first movie that I watched through splayed fingers? Dario Argento’s Suspiria [1977]. There was a letterboxed VHS copy within the ‘Foreign Features’ shelf of Family Video in Grand Rapids, Minnesota. Those ravaged voices within Goblin’s wicked score melded with the Technicolor matrix system presentation instilled a thunderous lesson: Horror can be beautiful! Terror can be a concerto! And the heart can beat just as thunderously protecting what shocks, not just what awes, especially when it is such brilliantly vicious imagery that it evokes the feeling of touring a burning museum—packed with the diabolical works of a painter Dante would admire.

“Also, The Night Stalker [1972], John Llewellyn Moxey’s made-for-television movie was so very impactful that it was also released in theaters, where the hiss of Barry Atwater’s vampire sent chills in a tide. This was the introduction to Carl Kolchak, played brilliantly by Darren McGavin, who didn’t shy from depicting himself as a fallible anti-hero who demonstrated genuine fright. Carl was the only person willing to risk his life time and time again to help us not just believe in monsters but to remind us that in doing so, we are not alone no matter how lonely life can be. McGavin’s perfectly pitched wry intros, and haunting outros to each episode of the subsequent series [1974], echo in the shadows long after viewing. The footprints left by The Night Stalker lead to the hope in its horror brethren. The world is safer with Carl Kolchak, and the impossible is plausible through the prism of a dogged reporter with a knack for facing our fears with us. Thank you, Carl Kolchak.”

Thordur Palsson, writer/director (The Valhalla Murders and The Damned, playing Tribeca Film Festival, June 5-16)

“I was around 6 years old and watching a film called Ronja, the Robber’s Daughter [1984]. It’s an adaptation of a Scandinavian children’s book. One would think this wouldn’t be scary … but let me tell you, it was! I still remember it as if it were yesterday. Picture medieval times, a castle, and a man running around in his bedroom while his wife is having a baby. Oh, and there are crazy lightning strikes outside that, at one point, break the castle in half. And then, we are introduced to flying bird women. We hear their horrifically scary voices as they taunt the man, making him go crazy and start shooting arrows out the window. If that isn’t scary enough for a 6-year-old…”

Thea Hvistendahl, director (Handling the Undead, now in theaters)

“An early memory that changed my perception of what was possible was watching Bad Taste [1987] in a basement on New Year’s Eve with tons of other kids when I was about 5 or 6 years old. What I remember the most was how one character eats a brain out with a spoon. I found that incredibly disturbing and started to imagine what it would feel like to have your brain eaten. We saw the film just after having watched Poltergeist that same evening. It was too many frightening sights in one night.

“But the film that probably changed my life the most was Mulholland Drive [2001], which is probably not a horror, but absolutely a very unsettling film with some really creepy and disturbing scenes, and most of all, a very uncanny atmosphere. Watching that for the first time when I was a teenager was what really got me interested in films. I had to watch it six times in a row because I didn’t understand anything, but it intrigued me so much. And I’m forever grateful for how that film changed my perception of what film could be like and how it opened a whole new world to me.”

Ole Bornedal, writer/director (Nightwatch, The Possession, The Substitute, and Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever, now streaming on Shudder)

“If any director scarred me for life, it can be no other than Roman Polanski. First of all, Repulsion [1965], which I guess was one of the very first psychological horror films, truly understood the understatement of horror—and didn’t have a madman or a crazy, revengeful monster in the lead. If Janet Leigh was the victimized blonde in Psycho, then Polanski turned it all upside down and made the blonde the actual killer. And, everything happening in almost provocative silence!

“But later on, it got even more scary when he made The Tenant [1976], which is a masterpiece of horror. Monsieur Trelkovsky is a modest man who rents a small, dark, sinister Paris apartment from a not-yet-dead female tenant, who tried to kill herself by throwing herself out the window. Gradually, Trelkovsky, played by Polanski himself, realizes that the other tenants in the building are trying to turn him into the former tenant! Thus, guiding him to follow her fate. They are all demons. My God, for the first half of the movie, you identify with this poor man and believe the rest of the world to be raving maniacs. Then you realize that he is actually the maniac and not the world around him! Meaning, that you as an audience is absolutely lost! You identified yourself with the wrong person! And now you’re all alone left by yourself in this movie! That was a true shock.”

Amanda Nell Eu, director (Tiger Stripes, in theaters June 14 and VOD July 9)

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari [1920] was probably the film that changed my life and got me hooked into cinema and filmmaking. I was a teenager and I was delving deep into horror films when I discovered stills from this film. It enticed me so much that I finally got my hands on a VHS copy from a small video store in London. I used to spend all my free time in the art studio at school, and I based so many of my art projects on this film. I loved the nightmare imagery and how weird and twisted the architecture and sets were constructed—it totally blew me away. To this day, I have the film poster framed up on my wall because it was such an important moment in how I got sucked into the world of cinema.”

Kiah Roache-Turner, writer/director (Wyrmwood: Road of the Dead, Nekrotronic, Wyrmwood: Apocalypse and Sting, now on digital; on disc July 30)

“When I was a kid, my older brother got a job at a video store for the express purpose of being able to get access to R-rated movies when he was still underage. He secretly brought home a bunch of really disturbing and gruesome films to watch and hid them in the house. I found them and watched them all when I was 8 years old. One of them was called The Exterminator [1980]. There’s a scene in it where a man hangs another man over a giant meat grinder and slowly lowers him into it and as he screams, we see the bloody meat sliding out the bottom like red, gory spaghetti tendrils … I never forgot that image. That was me Scarred for Life. Now I’m a horror film director!”

(See here for a link to past Scarred for Life columns. Follow me on Twitter: @tonytimpone1 and Instagram: timponetony)

Tony Timpone