It’s a Horror to Know You: Ben S.!
1. What is the first film that ever scared you?
The first film that really scared me was Flowers in the Attic (Jeffery Bloom, 1987). I was probably 6 or 7 and asked my mom to rent it for me on video after seeing a TV spot (inappropriate, mom! But I forgive.) The concept that a GRANDMOTHER could be abusive was truly more than my mind could take, and I turned off the movie as soon as Louise Fletcher picked up little Carrie by her hair and kicked little Corey across the floor. Also, there was just something about Louise Fletcher’s face in that movie. For what I think might actually have been years after seeing Flowers, I had to avoid the “F” section of the Horror and Drama sections of video stores around town because I was afraid of seeing the movie’s cover (I lived in fear whenever I browsed, because I never knew what genre they were going to place it in). Of course after that I became obsessed with it, and asked every adult and teenager I knew what happened after I turned it off. I needed to hear as many different angles as possible. I devoured the book in third grade (it got taken away from me and I immediately ran out to get a new copy, because I had to finish it!) Aah, trauma: Needing to know more, but being afraid to know more. It would be 4 or 5 years until I could actually watch the film, and even then it was a struggle for me to get through it because I brought so much baggage to the experience. After that I watched it 100 times and de-sensitized myself, and now I love it. I know not everybody thinks that it’s a great betrayal of V.C. Andrew’s novel, and I get that–but I think that it captures the novel’s tone. I’m sure that Jeffery Bloom would be happy to know that the film disturbed somebody.
Runner up: Flipping the channel from an original airing of The Golden Girls (or something similar) to come across the “laser in the mouth” scene from Halloween III: Season of the Witch. I immediately changed the channel, but ran it over in my head hundreds of times. When I finally saw the movie I was, like so many, disappointed. Now, like so many, I think it’s a great masterpiece.
2. What is the last film that scared you?
The Strangers (2008, Bryan Bertino). My partner and I rented it half-expecting to laugh at Liv Tyler being terrorized (even though I love her), and it scared the hell out of us both. I generally don’t do home invasion movies–they hit too close to my deepest fears. I thought Liv was great, by the way. House of 1,000 Corpses also scared me more than I ever would have expected. That also sort of goes under “most underrated,” for me. I love it unconditionally and don’t understand why so many people don’t–even though that’s their right!
3. Name three Horror movies that you believe are underrated.
Dead Silence (2007, James Wan): This movie got a lot of shade when it came out, and I don’t agree with it at all. I thought that the visuals were fabulously kindertraumatic, reminiscent of The Fog and Something Wicked This Way Comes and a lot of other movies that I love but not in an overly derivative way. The story was engaging, and the scary old woman gave me the creeps (possibly because she looked a lot like Hildegard Knef in Witchery, triggering an innate trauma response. See my previous traumafession!) It is one of the most fun horror movies I can remember seeing in the theater over the last 10 years or so, and it’s surprisingly old fashioned coming from the Saw people.
Haunts (1977, Herb Freed): I stumbled upon this in The Chilling Classics 50 Movie Pack and it, for me, exemplifies why I love those box sets. I know nothing about it, I know not where it came from–but it’s a really engaging, slightly-boring-in-a-good-way character study about a woman dealing with her past traumas, which may or may not be manifesting themselves supernaturally. There’s also a killer on the loose, and Cameron Mitchell and Aldo Ray. It is pretty reminiscent of “psychologically disturbed women” horror films like Repulsion, Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, Images, Perfume of the Lady in Black, and Black Swan. I never get sick of additions to this subgenre. In addition, the mysterious lack of any background info available on Haunts makes it even more, well…haunting for me. The movie’s also a little more ragged and unhinged and less polished than those other films, which makes its depiction of mental duress, on one level, more convincing and unsettling. Plus, I was struck by the amount of amazing footage of ’70s kitchens. See also: The Witch’s Mountain.
The Velvet Vampire (1972, Stephanie Rothman): I have to give a shout out to my favorite feminist ’70s exploitation filmmaker, Stephanie Rothman. Her masterpiece, to me, is 1970’s The Student Nurses. But Velvet Vampire is chock full of catnip: a bisexual vampire riding a doonbuggy, said vampire seducing Michael “Lance Rock” Blodgett by eating a piece of raw liver while wearing a frilly pink bathrobe and mourning her dead lover while lying on his coffin, a chic L.A. art gallery, Ingmar Bergman inspired dream sequences about sexual conflict. It depicts life as it is.
4. Name three horror movies that you enjoy against your better judgment.
It’s hard to answer this in an original way in a world where there’s an entire website devoted to reclaiming Poltergeist III (love the website, love the film!) Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning (1985, Danny Steinmann): I know everybody hates it because it breaks the rules and isn’t very scary, but I’ve always had a soft spot for this film. I like the character development. Also, thanks to this movie, I always half expect Jason to pop up behind me while I’m looking in the mirror. I don’t mind!
A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988, Renny Harlin): I feel like people complain a lot that Freddy was too funny, and that it’s too dated and trendy and Renny Harlin-ized. I love it for all of these reasons (I don’t really need Freddy to be funny–but I love that it’s like a string of commercials, sitcoms, and MTV music videos thrown in a blender with ’80s-’50s chic and The Long Kiss Goodnight!) But also I find Alice’s journey truly poetic and profound. What can I say? I also feel this way about the song “The Greatest Love of All.” Anyway, I find myself watching this entry in the series all the time.
The House of Exorcism (1975, Alfredo Leone/Mario Bava): I sort of love this batshit crazy bastardization of Mario Bava’s lyrical masterpiece Lisa and the Devil. I love that they thought that, by adding bizarre exorcism scenes, they would make Lisa and the Devil more palatable for American audiences. Instead the film is even less comprehensible–but to me it is oddly comprehensible on an intuitive level. I love that this movie used to be on TV on networks in the middle of the night. That it used to enter unexpectedly into people’s homes. The House of Exorcism is, as my friend once said of I Know Who Killed Me, an act of cultural terrorism. In Annie Hall there is a shot of a theater showing a double feature of The House of Exorcism and Messiah of Evil. It is used to demonstrate everything that is wrong with Los Angeles, and instead demonstrates everything about Los Angeles that is right. If ever there was a double feature of dreams…
5. Send us to five places on the Internet!
Cinema Treasures: A database of movie theaters where people share their memories of going to see films there. I like to google things like “THE VISITOR” AND “CINEMA TREASURES” to see what comes up. This is how I learned that Kim Basinger went to see EYES OF LAURA MARS in a theater in Santa Barbara eight times when it came out! I need to know why!
Cinema Du Meep: I found this from Kindertrauma. I will use this opportunity to thank its administrator for being a kindred spirit, appreciating Goldie Hawn, and endlessly helping me find films to watch.
The Complete V.C. Andrews: In honor of the first movie that ever scared me. You can read Wes Craven’s original screenplay for Flowers in the Attic here and weep for the missed opportunities. They also have scans of those amazing dual layer covers that I imagine many of us remember fondly.
BADMOVIEART: The writer of BADMOVIEART is a friend, and also one of the most insightful and hilarious film critics you will ever read. Only on this website will you find a retrospective of films made by Hollywood Pictures. If it’s sphynx, it stinks.
Eddie Ray Breaks That shit Down. When Eddie Ray says he is going to break that shit down he is not lying. He’s a genius.