Thursday, March 25, 2004

The Monsters are Coming! The Monsters are Coming!

I've enjoyed reading Stephen King's column in Entertainment Weekly. Not that I'm a huge fan or anything but the last two columns I've read were thought-provoking; one of those "jump off the elliptical trainer and think 'gee, I ought to write something in my blog in response" kinda thing. So here I am.

In the first column King lashes out at the ratings system and Jack Valenti--and how he basically brings every movie maker to his/her knees. Jack had put the whole thing into place after being shocked by the word "screw" and the phrase "Hump the Hostess" in the 1966 release "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" And while I don't remember the "M" ratings first issued for films recommended for "Mature Audiences" (all audiences allowed but there is mature content), I do remember the "GP" rating which eventually changed to "PG".

I'm not going to take sides here over the whole ratings system--my intent here is to lament over the absence of honest to goodness scary movies. How did I get here from there? Simple. King used the modern-day "Dawn of the Dead" as an example of a misrated "R" movie.

I have not yet seen the new Dawn of the Dead and chances are, I probably won't until it's on HBO in the next 6-9 months. And even then, I'll have to watch it alone because Chris absolutely hates scary movies. But I'm not chomping at the bit to see it anyway since I think it'll be a lame re-make. I was eleven years-old when my mom took me to see the first one and it was the first time I saw someone (or something) dive his hands into a living person's stomach, ripping apart his flesh like a pan of lasagne and serving up his entrails to the rest of the zombie clan. Watching that, I thought I had reached the scary saturation point in that there was nothing left in the world that could scare the shit out of me. Turns out I was wrong because there was still the Halloween and Friday the 13th movies and the first "Nightmare on Elmstreet" film; but pretty much after that, nothing else scared me anymore and I am convinced that after all of those films, no one could really make a scary movie anymore.

Sure, ok, I thought "The Ring" was kinda scary; but when I was younger, it seemed like a new scary movie was released once a week. And not just gratuitously-violent, gore-filled movies like "Dawn" either; I mean movies that made me cover my eyes with my hands, only to peek through the fingers. The movies that make you sleep with the light on for a week afterwards. Take "The Exorcist" for example. Now that's a pretty frickin scary movie. I had the opportunity to see that film on the big screen again a few years ago when they released the Director's Cut and I'll tell ya, I was just as scared then as I was the first time I saw it; and the new footage where Linda Blair does the spider crawl down the stairs made me even MORE afraid. Or how about the Omen movies? What's so damn scary about these types of horror films is that they're playing with our primal fears of the unknown. Is there a devil named Satan? What does he look like?

When I was younger, scary stuff was even on TV all the time. By the time I was old enough to remember things, "Rosemary's Baby" aired on ABC and "Night of the Living Dead" appeared once a year during prime time; but beyond just movies, there were also shows based on the supernatural. How about the "Night Stalker" or "Night Gallery"? Even the first Rankin and Bass TV special (the folks who brought us Santa Claus is Comin to Town and Year Without a Santa Claus) was a full-length feature called "Mad, Mad Monster Party." The storyline begins with an evil scientist (the voice of the late, great Boris Karloff) who decides to go into retirement and throw one last bash to name an heir; he invites the Mummy, the Werewolf, Thing (a sea creature), Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde; Frankenstein and his mate (the voice of Phyllis Diller) and one normal family-member--his nephew Felix Flanken--who is a bumbling idiot, allergic to everything. Now granted--this wasn't a "scary" movie--but the theme was MONSTERS.

MONSTERS were everywhere including (I was convinced) my backyard where, only a few hundred yards away, there was an old cemetery of the town's founding families dating back to the 1700s. Any time we had a thunderstorm, I heard voices in my head: "they're coming for you Margaret..."

It didn't help either that my brother and sister used my monsteria against me, either. Being the youngest of two huge partiers, I was subjected to heavy threats of "if you tell mom and dad we'll have the boogey man come to get you." Once my brother even fooled me to thinking that my sister had been taken by witches in the woods. He took me outside in the black of night and carried me on his shoulders deep into the woods where I watched shadows play among the trees. It's no wonder I was truly scared and mesmerized by the Blair Witch Project. Call it what you will--but I thought that was a great movie and certainly not for the production value, but for the fact that it conjured up an old childhood fear that had been locked away for many years.

So why, after all those years of horror movies, did the monsters go away? Maybe it was because instead of being afraid of the supernatural, we needed to be afraid of our living enemies. Let's face it---just when the Halloween/Friday the 13th movies died down (pardon the pun) a rash of nuclear war/end of the world movies hit both big and small screen like "The Morning After" and "War Games" and stupid patriotic movies like Rocky 4 (not that all movies in the mid-80s were bad...thank you John Hughes). Then, once the cold war was over, we retreated like good civillians and scary movies became a dying breed--only to have the occasional "gotcha" like "The Blair Witch Project" and so on.

I don't think there will ever be another resurgence of scary movies and I think it's a shame. There are some great ones that are just begging for airtime on cable. I miss TNT's "Monstervision" or their old "100% Weird" series that showed some great cult classics much like the ancient "Chiller Theatre" or "Creature Feature" did back in the 70s (we must never forget "Children Shouldn't Play with Dead Things" or "Let's Scare Jessica to Death").

Oh well...maybe for now my monsteria should be focused on the real terror: our current administration.

This entry was written in honor of my witch-sister Teresa who would have turned 41 today.

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